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Online Learning @ College of the Canyons
Using a Search Engine

The search engine is a valuable tool for Internet research.  You may have a favorite search engine already, but some search engines are better than others, depending on the research you are conducting. 


A search engine allows you to search a huge database for information by issuing URLs that answer your inquiry.  Generally, the broader your search requirements are, the more Web sites will be offered to you. 

Preliminary Searching Tips:

1.  Choose a search engine, directory or library in accordance with the kind of search you are performing and the kind of results you are seeking.  (Listed below is a section suggesting the search engines best used to perform designated tasks).

2.  Determine your objectives.  Are you searching for broad topic information or a specific document or article?

3.  Use a search engines advanced search features to limit the number of responses you receive.  (See information in the next section).

Choosing Search Terms And Syntax

1.  Enter synonyms, alternate spellings and alternate forms as search terms (e.g. dance, dancing, dances).

2.  Enter all the singular or unique terms that are likely to be included in the site you are seeking.

3.  Avoid using common terms (e.g. Internet, people, World Wide Web).  The broader the search, the more likely you are to receive irrelevant search results.

4.  Determine how your search engine uses capitals, plurals and other variations of words.  Enter your choices as appropriate for the search engine you are using.

5.  Use the search engines Help menu to determine unique searching syntax.

6.  Use a phrase or proper name to narrow your search.  This will bring the most relevant results.

7.  Use "and" or "+" or "not" or "-" to limit the results if the search engine allows for this.  For example, search for "Action Movies" on, using the introductory search feature. There were over 2,980,000 entries.  Now, type in "Action movies" + "Mel Gibson." Note that the number of entries decreased to about 68,500.  Now, enter "+ Lethal Weapon" to the search. Entries decrease further to only about 8230.  Maybe you wanted all Mel Gibson action movies, except for the Lethal Weapon series.  Go to the advanced search function. Enter "Lethal Weapon" on the space identified by "without the words." The results increase again, to about 49,200. (This information was obtained on March 3, 2003. Searches will vary from day to day).

8.  As each search engine uses a slightly different set of rules, become familiar with the different search engines you will be using for your research.  What will work on one site may not work on another.

Determining which search engine is right for you

         (Links to all sites referenced here can be found at the end of the section.)

To browse a subject area: Yahoo, Google

To search Usenet:  Yahoo, WebCrawler, HotBot (associated with Lycos), DejaNews or Google Groups (associated with Google).

To search as much of the Web as possible:  AltaVista, Ask Jeeves, or Google.

To search every word on a site or in a document:  AltaVista, Google or HotBot.

To locate an obscure or hard-to-find document:  AltaVista or Google.

To locate a popular site or easy-to-find document:  WebCrawler, Yahoo,, Ask Jeeves

To retrieve a large number of results:  AltaVista,, MetaCrawler, Google, Ask Jeeves.

To retrieve fewer, but relevant results: WebCrawler,

To search only titles, URLs or keywords:  Yahoo, AltaVista or

Ask Jeeves or
Google and Google Groups

A few hints for Advanced Searches

Be specific!  Leave out nonessential words such as articles and prepositions.  Search engines tend to ignore them anyway.

Use "Boolean Operators" such as and, or, and not.  Some search engines will allow "+" and "-" but be sure to check the advanced search feature or the help menu before using these symbols.

Surround key words and phrases with quotation marks. This will limit the amount of hits to the exact phrase. For example, using quotation marks around the words Lethal Weapon will assure that you are given primarily information regarding this movie series. Otherwise, you may be steered to sites that have "lethal" and "weapon" prominently present, but have nothing to do with the movie series.

 * I would like to thank Susan E. Frederickson and the CVC Regional Center II at Rio Hondo College for allowing me to use information published in their Online Survival Guide for this tutorial page.

Some additional tips for Advanced Searches using Google, Ask Jeeves, and Yahoo: 

The Basics of Google Search:

Google will return Web pages that contain ALL of the words entered in the search box.  There is no need to use "and" or "+" in the search box.

Make keywords as specific as possible.

The order in which the words are entered will be reflected in the search results.  If you don't get the desired result the first time you enter the words, try rearranging them and searching again.

Searches on Google are NOT case sensitive.

Google does not support "wildcard" searches. (Some search engines allow for you to search using an asterisk (*) in place of letter/s if you don't know all of the letters of a word or term).  Google searches for the EXACT word/s used in the search box.

The Google help page ( offers useful services and tools and Web search features.  If you are unsure about keyword usage, check the Google Web Directory located at

Google will allow you to save certain search preferences. See:

Narrow a search using "+" or "-": You may use a plus sign or a minus sign between keywords to narrow your search results.  Remember that you must use a space before the sign being used (e.g. television shows + spies, or biology marine. Note that you dont need to follow the sign with a space for it to be valid).

There are many other useful Google links located at

The basics of Ask Jeeves ( search:

Ask Jeeves changed its search style a couple of years ago, removing the unique ask me a question type of search and replacing it with a standard search engine format.  You may still ask a question, but the search results are usually quite high in number. uses a Spell Check program to help you with your search.

Word order does matter.  To produce the best results, enter the keywords in the manner they would be normally used in a sentence (e.g. "Lethal Weapon 2," and not "the second Lethal Weapon movie.")

Specify one question per request.  If you are performing research on two different topics, request two separate searches. Do not ask for 20th century psychologists and how to care for a Bonsai.

Feel free to browse.  To "Browse by Subject," click on the designated icon at the bottom of the homepage.  Each topic area has a selection of specific categories from which to choose.  Clicking on a category will open another sub-menu of even more specific topics. This should help you to successfully narrow your search.

If additional help is needed, you may find an answer in the Jeeves Search Tips, the FAQs section of "Help" or email by filling out a feedback form.  For more information click on the "Help" icon at the upper-right corner of the homepage.  When the Help page opens, click on "Tell us what you think," fill out the form and email to

Advanced Searches using Yahoo:

You may instigate a Yahoo search while on the Yahoo homepage.  The search feature is located at the bottom of the page.  Enter a keyword or phrase in the space provided, and click "Search."  Yahoo will provide two sets of matches.  The first set, usually quite small in number is the "Sponsor Matches" set.  The purveyors of these sites paid to have them listed prominently.  The next set is the "Web Matches" set, and a much larger number of sites are listed. 

A list of related search links appears at the bottom of the page.  You may use these links to narrow down your search, or to trim down the number of sites offered, click on the Advanced Search link that appears beside the search box. 

Advanced Search will give you the option of the following:
      Include all of the words
      Include this exact phrase
      Include at least one of these words
      Exclude these words
      Search: (either the Web or the Yahoo Directory listings)

Additional options include the selection of a particular language, a country, a particular date, keyword locations, or the domain used.