Web searching in focus

When searching the World Wide Web you are searching across millions of documents and websites held all over the world.

Sometimes browsing through a wide range of results is fun.  But at other times you are looking for specific information and you need to think carefully about your search terms - try to be as specific as possible.

Search tips

  • Search with phrases rather than single terms - in most search engines you can do this by placing quotation marks around your phrase, eg: "Treaty of Waitangi"
  • AND: finds both terms
  • OR: finds either term
  • NOT: finds the first term but not the second
  • NEAR (N) finds the terms within so many words of each other in any order, WITHIN (W) finds the terms within so many words of each other in the order specified, e.g. 5N or 5W
  • Truncation, e.g. librar* will retrieve library, libraries, librarian, librarians, librarianship etc.  Different search engines use different symbols to indicate truncation (e.g., *, #, ?)

This is a link to a table listing the search terms supported by some of the more popular search engines.

Many search engines include Advanced Search screens - these can be very helpful in making your search more accurate and usually employ the above combining words. They usually also allow you to narrow your search to between certain dates.  See Yahoo Advanced Search .

Each search engine is slightly different, but most include a Help Section, a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section, or some form of instruction that explains searching techniques for that specific site.  It is a good idea to take a few minutes to read these Help pages before you start searching: e.g. Google search help screen .

Here are more tips for searching Google:

Tips specific to Google

A shortcut on Google, if you are fairly confident with your search strategy, is to click "I'm feeling lucky" rather than "Google search" - this will take you directly to the first webpage returned from your query (e.g. you go directly to the Departments of Conservation website if you search "doc" 'I'm feeling lucky').

You can also request that the search engine prioritise results from a particular website by adding the URL (the universal resource locator or 'address') of the webpage after site: (e.g. "kakapo site: www.doc.govt.nz " will prioritise items about the kakapo from the Department of Conservation  web site).  

When looking for New Zealand web pages with Google always specify that - by clicking 'pages from New Zealand' before your search or by typing in "site: nz" after your search terms.

You an also limit your search results on Google to just results from one type of webpage by adding the type of organisation to your search (e.g. site: ac will return results from academic sites).