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Search Techniques

As you searched for answers to some of your questions, you probably found that some answers were easy to find, while others were much more difficult. With access to the internet, we have more information available to us than anyone has ever had before. That can be a wonderful thing, but it can also mean that the bit of information you want is buried in a sea of other stuff. When a search returns several million pages, it can be a bit overwhelming.

Luckily, there are some search techniques you can use to make your search much more effective. The actual commands vary from one search engine to another, but all of the major searches have an advanced search page which will show you which to use.

One of the first things you may want to do is turn on SafeSearch. On the main Google page, you will find the "Settings" link on the bottom, right hand corner. Click that, and select Search Settings. The first thing you will see is the option to turn on SafeSearch filters. This will try to block violent or inappropriate pages and images. Since these pages sometimes have long lists of random keywords, they show up in many searches. Turning this feature on can filter most of them out.

I am going to use Google, since it is the most popular search engine. Now, lets pick one of the questions about your hand.

Are palm prints as unique as fingerprints?

Excluding Words

If you do a search for palm prints, you will get a mix of pages about using palm prints for identification, art prints of palm trees, fabric printed with palm leaves, and many other things. You could scroll through them all, picking out the pages that you want, but there is an easier way.

Try searching for: palm prints -tree -art -fabric

Putting a minus sign at the start of a word tells Google to exclude pages that have that word. For some other search engines, you can do the same thing by putting NOT (all in upper case letters) in front of the word. By excluding pages about palm trees, palm art, and fabrics with palm leaves, you will see many more of the pages you want.

Specific Phrases

Often it helps to search for a specific phrase. Putting quotation marks around the phrase, such as "palm prints" will show only pages where those two words are side by side. I use this feature frequently, especially when fact checking articles. When the news quotes a small bit of a journal article, it frequently helps to see the entire article, with that quote in context with the rest of the information.

Photo Search:
Be sure to turn on SafeSearch first.

This is another feature that I use frequently. Have you ever seen a photo on Facebook or other website, and wondered where it originally came from? Maybe you wondered if it was real or Photoshopped. Google can show you other pages that have that photo or photos are are very similar.

Let's try that. Right click on the photo below, and save it on your computer.

Remember where you saved it. It should be named "HappyRob.jpg", but the name does not matter. This will work even if you change the name of the photo.

Then go to Google. In the upper, right hand corner, you will see a link for images. Click that.

That gives you a search page for images. Notice that in the box where you type the search text, there is a camera icon on the right side. Click that.

Click the tab to upload a photo, and select the HappyRob.jpg you just downloaded. Google will search for other pages that have that photo, and will also show you pages with photos that it thinks are similar.

Besides fact checking, I have also used this feature to help identify flowers, birds, insects, etc. Download a copy of the photo of this bird, and upload it to the Google image search. Click on the link of photos that Google thinks are similar. Scroll through the photos, and you are likely to see another photo of the same bird, helping you identify it.


Now that you know some new techniques, try some of your searches again. You will probably be able to find accurate answers more quickly, without having to sort though the clutter of other sites. The more you practice with internet search techniques, the more useful information you will be able to find.