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Finney: Simple tips to improve your Google searches

March 25, 2015

FinneyDo you get frustrated by the vast number of results you have to fumble through to find the needle in the haystack of Google search results? Whether it is finding a specific document, research on a certain topic, or an attempt to locate a person, the Information Age has generated a childlike impatience when searching.

The key to good search results is proper phrasing of search criteria or else you’ll end up with garbage-in=garbage-out or, in this case, a Gooooooooogle number of results. Just like most robust databases, Google has advanced searching capabilities. Regrettably, most people simply type a string of words and cross their fingers when searching, resulting in having to sift through seemingly endless results. But by merely adding a little punctuation, such as a period, dash, tilde, quotation mark or colon, precise results are waiting.

Quickly confine search results to a certain price or date range by placing two periods between the measurements. For example, tornado 1995..2000 limits results to those with references to time periods between the years of 1995 and 2000. Additionally, minimums and maximums can be set by removing one number. The phrase tornado 1995.. sets a minimum of 1995 and searches through the current year while the phrase tornado ..1995 sets a maximum searching only through the year 1995.

Synonyms are often the culprit of countless unwanted results. Searching for apple recall generates an overabundance of links to both food and technology recalls. To limit results to only the intended type of apple, simply add a dash in the criteria. For instance apple recall -food will eliminate results about food, while apple recall -technology might make you rethink your next trip to the orchard. Inversely using the tilde character, located above the tab key, will include only similar terms. So, apple recall ~food finds apple recalls related to food while apple recall ~technology delivers results related to technology. While these may seem like interchangeable methods, it is dependent upon the keywords of each specific result. For example, an article about an iPad may be recognizable to humans as technology, but if not coded as technology the phrase -technology will still include the result while ~food would eliminate the result because it is also not coded as food.

Finally, enclosing criteria in quotation marks will search for an exact phrase rather than each term individually, which is especially helpful when searching for names. Tyler Finney Indianapolis searches for any combination of those three words, making John Morton Finney Center for Education in Indianapolis a valid result because it meets two of three of the search criteria. Slightly altering the phrase to “Tyler Finney” Indianapolis restricts results so that both words Tyler and Finney must appear while Tyler Finney Indianapolis” requires that all three words be present.

Although many websites have search capabilities built-in directly, they can be searched directly from Google by typing site: website criteria. Case in point, site:http://www.theindianalawyer.com “Deanna Finney” returns links from Indiana Lawyer mentioning “Deanna Finney.” To search only the title rather than the entire body of an article, use intitle:criteria (i.e., intitle:“test cheating”). To find specific document formats use filetype:extension criteria so filetype:pdf CFR 21 returns results in PDF format while filetype:ppt CFR 21 returns PowerPoint format. Common extensions include .doc (Word), .xls (Excel), .ppt (PowerPoint), and (.pdf) PDF.

The next step is knowing where to search. Google has several specialized sub-sites to limit the scope of a search rather than searching the entire Internet.

Google Scholar https://scholar.google.com/ provides a singular place to search across literature including caselaw. The scope of the search can be altered to search “Articles” with the option to include patents or to search “Caselaw” with refinement options including federal courts, state courts, and the opportunity to select specific courts. Click the arrow at the end of the criteria box to display a form to help build a better search including limiting fields like authors and publication dates.

Patent Search www.google.com/patents shows the phrase “Search Patents” in the criteria box, but is otherwise identical to the standard Google screen. Upon entering a patent number or description, results are displayed providing a link to an overview of the patent including images, description and key facts about the patent. Additionally each result provides a related link allowing the ability to search for similar patents quickly and easily.

Public Data http://www.google.com/publicdata/ offers quick chart creation based upon a variety of public data collected from organizations like the Centers for Disease and Prevention, U.S. Census Bureau and the World Bank. Searching for keywords like “unemployment” allows a user to select the data provider and immediately receive a chart that may be filtered to include and exclude criteria. Chart types include line, bar and bubble, and maps. To utilize a chart, simply right click and choose “Save Image As” and save locally to your computer for reusable access, or click “Copy Image” to paste into a document or email.

For additional information, visit the specialized search section of http://www.google.com/intl/en/about/products/.•

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Deanna Finney (deanna.finney@miscindiana.com) is a co-owner of the Indianapolis based legal technology company, Modern Information Solutions LLC. Areas of service include traditional IT services, software training, and litigation support including trial presentation services. www.miscindiana.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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