In the age of digital journalism, advanced online search techniques are becoming requisite skills for successful careers in journalism.
With hundreds of millions of sites indexed, Google is undoubtedly the most powerful search engine, but it’s easy to miss out on a lot of that power if we don’t know the best techniques for asking questions. Although Google will almost always have answers, the goal is to find the relevant ones.
Fortunately, there are a number of search techniques that journalists (and researchers in general) can use to dramatically improve search results. Like everything in life, it requires a bit of tenacity, but it’s not hard to learn. This guide is intended to help professional and citizen journalists better understand how Google works. It explains how to use a variety of search operators and techniques to narrow down search results. Let’s get started.
1. Consider Exact Phrases
Looking for a needle in a haystack? One of the most basic techniques in searching Google is to explicitly declare what you’re looking for by entering phrases in quotation marks. This is especially relevant when the phrases have three or more words in them. If you just enter a bunch of words, Google will assume those words could be in any order. But if you put quotation marks around them, then Google knows you’re looking for that phrase in the exact word order, and returns results that potentially bring you closer to the right answer.
So, for example, if we are interested in searching for “lagos farmers market,” and we’re looking for results that exactly match our query, putting the search words in quotes gives us fewer, and invariably more targeted results. In the screenshots below, searching without quotation marks returned 254,000 results, whereas the use of quotation marks reduced the results to 323, eliminating a whopping 253,677 irrelevant results.