Basic Search Tools
As we've said before, choosing the right keywords is the essence of effective searching. It's especially important for Web searching, because there's so much information out there—some of it worthwhile, much of it totally useless—and there's no single company or organization responsible for organizing and making sense of it.
But coming up with good, unique keywords is actually just half the battle. You also need to know how to enter and combine keywords, taking advantage of the basic search tools offered by the major search engines. Your success rate will improve dramatically once you learn what these tools are and when and how to use them.
Specific procedures vary from one search engine to the next, of course. In fact, some search engines have a different set of instructions depending on whether you're using their simple or advanced versions. But certain general concepts apply across the board. That's what we'll cover here.
Once you have this basic understanding of the tools that are available, you'll be better equipped to deal with just about any search engine you encounter on the Web. The chapters in Parts 2 and 3 will fill in the details for some of the best of them.
Searching in Plain English
For new Web searchers, one of the best tools going is plain-English or natural-language searching. Most of the leading search engines have developed techniques that are amazingly good at finding what you want based on a simple question—especially if the question includes at least one unique keyword or phrase.
One problem with plain-English searches like the one shown in Figure 3.1 is that they typically produce a very large number of hits. But as long as the information you're looking for shows up at or near the top of the list, it doesn't really matter.
Figure 3.1 Plain-English searches like this often produce excellent results. Many search engines encourage you to simply "ask a question." While the search returns 21,000 hits, the hits on the first page will probably answer your question.
Another problem you're likely to encounter when you type your first plain-English search is fitting it into the small search box that's provided by many search engines. Don't be misled into thinking that you're limited to typing a very short question. The box in Figure 3.1 may look small, but at most search sites, you can type a question containing at least 10 words. The first part will simply scroll out of view on the left side of the box.