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Research on the Free Web Tutorial: B. Searching with Google

Google Mechanics

It's good to be the king

Google is currently the king of search engines, so it's useful to know what it can do for you and how you can make it do what you want However, study after study has shown that college students, um... well, they're just not very skilled at searching on the free web. They're pretty bad at it, actually. (Sorry, guys.  We're just the messenger.)

Google has made it so easy to "satisfice" (do something that's just good enough; minimum standards) that most people haven't bothered to develop their search skills and strategies.  So when you finally hit that situation when satisficing isn't enough - and you will hit that in academia - you don't have what you need to succeed.  Think we're just blowing hot air?  Look at this example:

Do you know what that search does?  Could you search like that? So that when you had to find stuff about, say, genetic mutations of the wing structure of fruit flies for your intro biology class you could confidently type in:

Can't do it? then your Google skills need an upgrade.  And if this is the main tool you use for personal web searching, don't you want to be better at Googling stuff for your everyday life? (two for's a deal).

This page covers the mimimum you (a college student) must know about the mechanics of how to search Google. 

You must learn...

  • How to maximize your academic searching within Google.
  • How Google displays results.
  • How to interpret the results.

Google Basic Search

For additional information, check out Google's Basic Search Help and Operators and More Search Help pages.

Basic Techniques:

  • AND - Using AND is not necessary as it is already implied between terms; unlike other search tools, you don't need to type this in.  Your search will return pages with all your words unless you indicate otherwise using either the OR operator or the minus sign.
  • OR - Using OR returns pages containing either search words (OR must be in capitalized between words.)
  • Quotation Marks - Using quotation marks (" ") returns pages containing words together in a phrase.  It is also used with a single word to make sure that google brings back only that version of the word, otherwise it will search for all variations (e.g. "child" will NOT also search children or childish but searching for child without the quotation marks will.
  • Minus sign - Using a minus sign (-) immediately before a word returns pages that do not contain the word.
  • Tilde - Using a tilde (~) immediately before a word will return pages containing synonyms to the word. (Google discontinued the use of this search operator earlier this year.)

Advanced techniques for the Basic search box:

  • Whole word wildcard (*) can be used to fill in a blank in a phrase, for example, "why did the * cross the road" -chicken will get you jokes on why other things crossed the road
  • Google Command Line Codes:  There are a number of preset ways you can restrict your search, for example:
    • site: can be used to restrict your results to a particular site or domain, such as or
    • define: will look for definitions of a word
    • link: will search for pages that link to the site you type in.  This can be especially valuable in academia, to follow the trail of who is linking to a significant site.
  • There are many other options available at the Google Search Features page


A comment on videos in this tutorial:

  • The videos in this tutorial are provided as an enhancement.
  • They are not required, but do serve to explain some of the concepts/skills in graphic form.
  • We have selected them carefully to be informative, entertaining, or thought provoking.

Google Advanced Search

Linked from the Google Results page at the bottom, or click the gear icon in the upper right corner for drop down choices


Much of what you can do in Google Advanced search can be done in the basic search box, but you have to know how to code what you want. 

It may be easier to use the advanced search screen, where the choices for how to search are laid out in front of you.  Some of the most useful are:

  • preconstructed boxes for typing in:
    • phrases (quotation marks)
    • excluded terms (minus)
  • Ability to limit
    • the language of the page
    • the geographic region where the page is coming from (not what it is about
    • to more recently updated pages (date limiter)
    • to a particular site or domain (site:)
    • to a particular filetype such as PDF


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Get More out of Google!

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Searching Google Infographics Poster

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