Google Like a Pro

A word from Marisa, as you know, I love making shit accessible. Here I have talked Cody into turning what he does for university students and professors alike into content that can help you. We recognize the privilege of having an undergraduate degree or more so here Cody is leveraging that knowledge into digestible content that will get your own research further without crippling amounts of debt & no job prospects.

Introducing our in-house Smarty Pants, Cody.

Hello everyone, Cody here. I’m going to do my best to explain the ins and outs of a good Google search. I’ve been a librarian at the University of Manitoba for over six years and I’ve constantly assisted people in finding useful and authoritative information for their term papers, theses, or more advanced research projects. Ever since I was in graduate school (library school as we call it), I’ve thought “Why don’t students at all levels learn about information literacy?” Information literacy is the ability to find, evaluate, organize, use, and communicate information. It’s probably the most useful life skill one can possess. Not only does it help you filter out the BS and take in more factual information, but it also makes you look smart, and as an old professor of mine once said, “life is about looking smart.”

The first thing you need to know is that no one source will always be correct and “truth” is hard to find. Searching for information is what this post is about, but it can be difficult to separate searching for information from the accuracy of that information. Being able to judge whether the information you’re looking at is accurate or not is a whole other can of worms. My next post will be all about information authority (spotting fake news); keep your eyes peeled for that if you’re interested.

For better or worse, Google is the place we all go to look up information, whether it’s the weather, or who killed JFK, you’re bound to find something about everything. If you’re going to use it, you might as well know how to use it well.

How Google Works

Understanding how a tool works usually helps us figure out how to use it best. Here’s some things you should know about how Google works:

  1. Always looking for new webpages to index
  2. Saves, or caches, a copy of each page
  3. Adds every word to The Index (huge list of websites and search terms)
  4. Decides which sites to rank at the top using an algorithm of 200+ factors
  5. Keeps track of what people search and what result they click on to improve results

Keep in mind that Google cannot help you find everything, here’s a handy infographic to help you understand what I mean (Google only searches the Surface Web):

Image of an iceberg above and below the water level. Everything above the water is what you can find with a Google search, the large portion below the water is what is not available through search engines, like dynamic content, behind paywalls, unlinked content, and scripted or non-text content.

Googling

You might be thinking, “Google is easy to search, I don’t need you!” Fair enough, but if you don’t learn something in the next few paragraphs I’d be surprised and delighted.

First, I’m going to lay down my overarching rules:

  1. Don’t just rely on the first page of results.
    • Google boasts the best search engine algorithm in the world, but sometimes venturing into the wild yonder of the second or third pages can surprise you.
  2. Don’t always use autocomplete
    • It can be useful, but sometimes can get you off topic
  3. Be specific, every word counts
    • More on this in the tips below
  4. Capitalization and punctuation don’t matter
  5. Look at multiple sources, many is better than one (this is more of a life rule)

Tips and Tricks

There are many tips in this next section, some of which are more trick like than others, give yourself a bit of time to practice with each one. Copy and pasting my examples can help you to understand how they work.

Tip #1

If searching for something specific, put phrases/titles/lyrics in quotation marks:

Tip #2

For odd words that Google thinks you’re misspelling but you’re not, put them in quotation marks also:

Tip #3

Use “OR” to search alternate terms (synonyms):

Tip #4

Use the minus (-) sign to filter out those words or phrases that you don’t want to appear in the search results, say we are looking for education related content that is high school and above:

Tip #5

Use two periods (..) to search number ranges, this example is a year range:

Tip #6

If you don’t know the entire name or phrase you’re looking for, use * to imply a missing word. This works great for people with three names:

Tip #7

Search for a word or phrase only within a certain website (one of my favourite tricks):

Tip #8

Searching for a specific kind of file, like a pdf or Word doc? Here’s how to search by filetype:

Tip #9

You can also search for websites that are similar to one you already use, here’s an example:

Tip #10

Searching by image is another cool option with Google Image Search. For example if you find an image on Pinterest that doesn’t have any information attached and you want to find out more about the image, just upload a picture from your computer or paste the image url. This is also known as a Reverse Image Search, other websites like TinEye.com offer similar results.

Practice!

Here’s three scenarios that will test your knowledge. The answers are hidden, no looking until you try.

Scenario #1:

Recently, I wanted to write about this really yummy French sandwich with tuna and peppers and anchovies and stuff called a Pom Mignon, or something like that. For the life of me, I don’t know precisely what it is called. I spent half an hour last night typing every possible spelling I could think of into Google, but could not find it.

Answer

•What are the main keywords that would have to be on the webpage we’re seeking? •What might be spelled wrong that you should just leave out?

Recommended Search: french sandwich tuna peppers anchovies

Scenario #2:

Find a picture of a UManitoba football, lacrosse, or soccer team on a field from 2015

Answer

Recommended Search: lacrosse OR football OR soccer site:umanitoba.ca

You can also go to Google Images and set a date range with Search Tools.

Scenario #3:

What is this building called, and where does it rank in terms of tallest buildings in London?

Image of a building in London, England that is shaped like an oval.
Answer

Suggestions:

Take a picture of it and do a Google Image Search

Or search for London iconic buildings, or London skyscraper that looks like a rocket, etc.

Remember: in this case autocomplete is your friend!

Wikipedia often has the most up-to-date information, because it’s so easy to edit, but as always, make sure to check multiple sources.

That’s all for today, next time on Research 101: Information Authority: How to Spot Fake News

Cody


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