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This chapter is from the book Finding the answer

Finding the answer

So, now you have something that you want to know more about and you are on the quest for knowledge. Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can more easily find the information that you seek.

Effective web searching

I’m sure you have used Google thousands of times at this point, but are you getting the results that you want quickly? Here are some tips on how to effectively search the Web for the answers you seek.

Types of searches

The most common searches use keywords and phrases. However, you can get even more specific results by incorporating search operators or even targeting specific sites. Let’s take a look at each of these.

Keywords, keywords, keywords

Keywords are the cornerstone of web searching. Making sure that you devise the best combination of them can make a huge difference, like the difference between trying to hit a target with buckshot or with a laser.

In order to achieve more laser-like precision with your keywords, here are some tips from Google itself:

  • Every word matters, so it is best to keep it simple.
  • Use the words that will probably be used on the pages you seek.
  • Use descriptive words, and as few as possible.

Phrases

Sometimes you are looking for a group of words together. To limit your search results, it is helpful to create a phrase (also known as a string) of the words you are looking for. A phrase is a series of word enclosed in quotes, and the search engine will generate results of the phrase with the words in the exact order given. For example, if you are looking specifically for pages with the phrase web design resources, then your search phrase would be “web design resources,” and the results would be pages with only that full phrase in the content.

Hello? Operator?

To further limit your search results, it also helps to use operators that will give your search certain helpful parameters.

  • Terms exactly the way you state them: +. Use the plus (+) sign directly in front of a word when you want that exact term to be used as the search parameter and not that word plus synonyms. Example: +css ie hacks.
  • Exclude terms: -. Use the minus sign (-) to exclude some terms from the search results. Example: web conference –california.
  • Wildcard/Fill in the blank: *. Use an asterisk (*) to find your term plus any other term that is associated with it. Example: illustrator tutorial *.
  • Either one term or the other: OR. Using OR is for finding results for one of your terms or the other one. Example: web design OR webdesign.

Site-specific

Do you already know the site that the content is on, but just don’t know how to find it? Then you can specify this in your search parameters as well, by putting the search terms and then specifying site: in front of the name of the site you want to limit your search to. For example, to find articles with the words design trends on smashingmagazine.com, you would enter: design trends site:smashingmagazine.com as your search phrase.

Culling through your results

Once you generate some promising links, here are some recommendations for choosing which ones to follow:

  1. Read the short description: This will be text taken directly from the page, and will give you an idea whether the content will be relevant.
  2. Check the URL of the page: Looking at the page URL before you even see the page will give you a lot of information about the source website. You can do a cursory glance to see if it is from a recognizable or authoritative-sounding source, and save yourself from going to a site that doesn’t provide the information you seek.
  3. Check the “cached” version of the page: The description looks good, the URL seems legitimate, but you want to cut to the chase. With the cached page, you can easily scan for your keywords, which will be highlighted in different colors. It is a great way to find out quickly if the page is worth reading in earnest.

OK, so you have decided to follow a link and you are on the page. Here are some ways to check that the content will be valuable to you:

  1. Check the author and her or his credentials: If the article has a section about the author, read it and see if his or her background lends them authority. If the site is by a single author, read the about page if there is one for the same reason.
  2. Check the date of the content: Sometimes you go to an article that looks great, but then you find that it was written ten years ago. Sometimes information is ageless, but when you are looking to have the most current, you may want to dismiss older sources. Beware of content that has no date at all, for you have no idea of how relevant or current it is.
  3. Don’t be shallow: While it is important to check the date of the content, don’t completely dismiss pages that may be poorly designed, don’t have the latest graphics, or lack the most current look-and-feel. The content may still be relevant and well worth reading.

Types of sources

The type of source that will be the best for you will depend on what information you are looking for and, again, how you best assimilate information. Almost everything on the Web counts as a legitimate information source as long as you document its origin: articles, pdfs, slideshows, videos, podcasts and images. So, if you are visual learner, articles will be fine for you, whereas if you are more auditory, then a podcast or recorded book might be better. If you are more kinesthetic, then watching a video or a screencast tutorial might be the best way for you to absorb the information.

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