American Association of Blind Teachers

Telephone: (865) 692-4888

Home  |   Join Us  |   Subjects Our Members Teach  |   Contact Us  

William Henry

One of the challenges for blind teachers, regardless of the subject matter or level at which you teach, is the chronic problem of frequently having to take more time to do many professional tasks than sighted colleagues. While online searching has greatly simplified our lives, if all you are doing is entering a word or phrase in the Google search box, there are a number of tricks that can greatly improve both the speed and quality of your searches. If you are using the advanced search page of your favorite search engine, you may already be familiar with the following information and want to skip this article; but, remember, there will be a quiz next week.

Phrase search and exact word search.

Let’s begin with a simple two word search where we want our results to contain both of our search terms, warming and global, somewhere in the document. As you probably already know, all that is necessary is to type the terms in the search box with a space between. If, on the other hand, the search is for a phrase such as “lesson plans” or “freedom of the press,” the entire phrase should be enclosed in quotation marks to insure that you’re not getting hundreds of thousands of results with lesson and plans somewhere in the same document but not always as a phrase.

Synonym search

The tilde (~) operator is the opposite of enclosing a single word in quotation marks; it searches for related words, not just the variant of the word you entered in the search box. Typing ~president will yield results containing presidents and presidential in addition to president.

Alternative searches

What if you are looking for results that might contain the phrase “global warming” or “greenhouse effect” or the word “climate”? The OR operator is specially designed to yield results with one word/phrase or the other word/phrase or both. For example, your search would look like this:
“global warming” “greenhouse effect” climate

Frequently, search engines locate this feature on their advanced search page.

Excluding concepts

There are times it is helpful to narrow your search by excluding specific words or phrases. To do this, simply place the word NOT before the word or phrase you want to exclude. Note that it is important to capitalize NOT and follow it by a space. If you were looking for information related to blind but your results were crowded with links to businesses featuring window blinds, you might refine your inquiry by typing
blind NOT window
You might further improve the search by adding the tilde, ~blind NOT ~window. Incidentally, while Google recommends using a minus sign instead of the NOT operator, I have found the NOT to be far more effective.

Title searches

A title search can sometimes bring you more relevant results than merely searching for words that can appear anywhere on a Web page. It’s more likely that a document that contains your search words in its title will be more relevant than a document that does not. For this reason, many search engines use title words as an important factor in ranking results by relevancy. As you might imagine, the number of pages featuring the search term Watergate is staggering, but by using the title operator
this number is reduced 95% with the top results being of significantly higher quality.

Related sites

Have you ever located a really excellent site but then struggled to find others of similar quality on the same topic? The related operator is designed to help solve this problem. It enables you to locate sites the search engine thinks are most like a site you have already identified as useful. This is especially beneficial if you are trying to identify other highly specialized sites. For example, there are, as you might imagine, few sites like the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy; however, you can save a great deal of time by searching for

Searching within a site

Looking for information within a large, topic rich site can be both time-consuming and frustrating. The site operator, however, can solve this problem. Let’s say you’re looking for information on Mongolia and think that the New York Times might have published articles on your subject. Without the site operator, conducting such a search efficiently would be virtually impossible. However, by using
Site: Mongolia
You are given a manageable number of results that appear on the newspaper’s site.

You can also use the site operator to limit results within a particular domain. For example, if you are only interested in high-quality results from sites with educational domains, your search might look like this: Mongolia

Complex queries

You can combine the operators listed above to create much more targeted searches. If you wanted to locate lesson plans that other teachers have used to teach a section on punctuation in their high school English classes, you might search for “lesson plans” English “high school” punctuation NOT ESL
For something manageable and appropriate. It may take a few extra minutes to craft such searches, but it is usually worth the effort.

Although Google’s operators have been used in the above examples, virtually all search engines use similar underlying logic. You should consult the help page of your favorite engine to see how it might deviate from what has been described here.

Top of Page