04 Search Techniques

We go over several standard search techniques and strategies.

Class held on 09/21/2009. (student notes; possible questions).

Class structure

  1. Go through “At beginning of class” info
  2. Lecture through the slides (as a PDF)
  3. Talk through the examples
  4. Go through “At end of lecture”

At beginning of class

  1. Look at announcements made since the previous class
  2. If you're going to ask me a question via twitter or email, first do the following:
    • Look at my previous twitter messages at drsamoore
    • Look at my recent announcements on the wiki
    • If you ask me about a wiki page, use http://bit.ly to send me the link to that page so that I can look at it.
  3. Do not wait until the last minute to start your assignments.
    • There are technical issues that you have to learn related to wikidot. This can't be taught very well over twitter. Maybe you've noticed this?
  4. My office hours are in the Winter Garden on MTW from 3:30-4:30 (or, generally, when students stop coming by, so I might leave early if no one is there or I might leave late if I'm busy).
  5. Check who is doing what:
  6. Blog template trouble
    • Many of you are having issues with this. You should have the following pages on your wiki (substitute for myWiki and nameOfMyFirstBlog):
      • myWiki.wikidot.com/blog:_template
      • myWiki.wikidot.com/blog:nameOfMyFirstBlog
      • myWiki.wikidot.com/bloglist
    • You need to understand the relationship among these three pages.
  7. Also, let's fix some blog formatting issues.
    • First paragraphs, mainly.
    • But also paragraph separation.
  8. File history information
  9. Grade tool (what to do???)
  10. Your first possible blog entry (on today's exercises) could be turned in next class (see the schedule-2009 for details on the timing of blog entries)
  11. From two classes ago: Why do search engines return different results?

My notes

Search techniques

These are most of the search techniques that we'll cover in today's class.

  1. Special search syntax — This is the tool that you have at your disposal that allows you to target your searches on specific parts of documents. Since different text in different parts means different things and perform different functions, you can use these operators to raise the precision of your queries.
    • Full text search engines
      • Title — intitle:
      • Site — site:
      • Top-level domain — site:
      • URL contents — inurl:
      • Links — link:
  2. Unique words and phrases — The use of multiple unique words and phrases are a key both to reducing the number of documents that are retrieved and raising the precision of your queries. Further, using multiple words and phrases increases the chances of retrieving content-filled documents (that is, increasing the number of “meaty” documents).
    • They can be used to focus in on more specialized pages that would use those terms
    • Gather related words using summaries
    • Use search engines to find related words
      • Example at Ask.com (both “Narrow your search” and “Expand your search”)
      • Google
        • Google Suggest feature
        • “Related searches” at bottom of search results window
      • Yahoo
        • Yahoo Search Assist feature
        • “Also try” at top or bottom of search results window
      • Yahoo Directory (we'll cover this in a future class) can point in the right direction
    • Use means queries
  3. Query specificity
    • Narrow to more general: this is when you have a real good idea of what you're looking for.
    • More general to narrow: this is when you don't know what you're looking for.
  4. Alternative naming
    • People
      • Using different name forms can return different information
      • Sometimes you have to use other information to differentiate two identically named people
      • Also, search specifiers can help target the information (intitle, site type, include, exclude)
    • Places
      • Use addresses (streets, zips, area codes, phone numbers)
      • Use "official"


This is the best summaries of the major general search engines that I could come up with. I have also linked to several useful help pages for each site.

  • Google
    • The best, most reliable, fastest, most wide-ranging general purpose search engine. Nice features: Showable "Options" on the left with lots of choices (especially time-related and Related Searches switch). When you're serious about searching, you have to make at least one stop here.
    • Useful pages
  • Yahoo
  • Ask
    • A great search engine for exploring a topic. Nice features: the "Related searches" on the right, the binoculars hiding the page preview and page statistics; also larger images appear on mouse-over. Notice there are sponsored results at the top and bottom of the page.
    • Useful pages
  • Bing
    • A search engine that focuses on the user experience during the search. Nice features: "More on this page" and "Popular Links" in the pop-up bar on the right; "Related Searches" immediately available on left.
    • Useful pages

Useful settings

Each of these search engines provides a way to set up an account and, thereby, set up preferences. I generally use the following preferences:

  • 30-50 results per page — I like the ability to scan more information more quickly
  • Filtering (moderate on Google) — don't want this stuff popping up in the middle of class or a group meeting
  • Open search results in new browser window — this keeps the search results up and available so that they're not so easily lost or closed
  • Turn on search suggestions — I find these to be amazingly useful as I structure queries.

In-class examples

For most of the following I will (by default) use Google as the search engine as a demonstration of the search technique. For the most part, each of these search engines (other than Bing) could have been used.

Special search syntax example: Information about tigers

  1. tigers (31.9mm)
  2. tigers -"Detroit Tigers" (29.0mm)
  3. tigers animal (4.61mm)
  4. animal intitle:tigers (1.45mm)
  5. Tigers (the animal but not any sports teams):
  6. Information from an organization
  7. Information from an organization or a government
  8. Information from a zoo

Unique words and phrases

  1. Bunch of birds example
  2. Use "means" and "definition" queries: Hydrocephalus
  3. Related words: Investment guidance
  4. Fun with quotes
  5. Lyrics

Query specificity

  1. Dog breed information
  2. Dog breed disease information

Alternative naming


  1. George Washington information
  2. Stephen Hawking (as a name example)
  3. Levi Strauss (since there are two/three of them)


  1. Pizza places in Ann Arbor
  2. The Sears Tower (as a landmark)

At end of lecture

  1. Start working on today's exercises. The exercises are on this page. You should work on them for no more (but, probably, no less) than another hour outside of class; we will have more time in the next class after the lecture to continue working on them before going on to that day's exercises.
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