Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Search strategies--What are they?

This month I'll be teaching 6 classes on how to be a better searcher.  I'll teach lots of tactics and tips (basically, the tricks you use to drill down to just the bit of information you're looking for)... but I also teach search strategies:  that is, the larger guidelines you follow to guide your searching over the longer term. 

There are many pieces of search strategy knowledge to have, but perhaps the biggest one is: 
Know when to ask someone else for help. 

I've written about this a few times before, but it remains true.  One of the hallmarks of a truly expert searcher is one who knows when to stop their current search strategy and switch to another strategy.  And one of the best secondary strategies is to call someone who you know is an expert in that field.

One of the implications of this is that really great searchers are inherently somewhat social: they have a relatively large network of friends they can tap when they get stuck.  And this is one of the truly great uses for social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+    When you've hit a brick wall, consider tapping one of your specialist friends.  If the problem is solvable, they just might be able to solve it in a few seconds, whereas it might take you hours.  

Remember, that when all else is lost, consider one of the "Ask A Librarian" services.  (I also wrote about "Ask a Librarian" before, but it's worth bringing it back up in this context.  They're often extremely good, and they're always your friend.)  

Now, a question for you:  What search strategies do YOU employ in your searching?  

I'd like to get a nice collection from my distinguished readers.  I'll summarize + comment on them in a future post.  

Search on!  (Strategically...)  


  1. Things I've learned from you and Tasha as well as others:

    • Use the left side of Google search page (favorites include translated pages and image search using color palette)

    • The whole can be greater than the parts - searching using Google's Video search http://www.google.com/video covers more ground than searching YouTube.

    • Be aware of the capabilities of other search engines like Wolfram|Alpha (Words With Friends or Crossword Puzzle helper) and IMDB.com (filming locations and two actors working together)

    • I use different language to tell someone else than what I think in my head. Talking about what I'm looking for out loud to a friend helps to redirect my thinking and gives me new terms.

    • walk away and then come back to it

    • increase your vocabulary by doing a synonym search

    • language changes over time - if something was cataloged or recorded a long time ago you need to think like the person who cataloged it and use language they would have used in their time.

  2. For me the key thing is recognizing that if I'm searching online for something non-trivial, vocabulary is probably the last step before the answer. Put another way, what I'm usually looking for involves learning what some word means that I didn't know was a word. I made up a law about it -- if you already knew the words you needed to perform a search, you'd just perform the search, so anything you're having difficulty finding is by necessity going to demand that you learn some new words.

    Today, I decided to see if I could put a chin-up bar in my attic. What this came down to was determining if there was a thing that would attach a piece of piping to a piece of wood, perpendicularly. Of course, there is -- it's called a pipe flange, which you probably knew, and I applaud your greatness. My point is, as soon as I knew the word, I knew my answer -- yes, and it's going to take a flange or two.

    This happens all the time -- how do I convert a movie I stole off the internet to something my ipod can handle? Turns out, the answer involved the 'words' 'avi' and 'mp4' and 'video container' and things like that, and after I knew those words, finding what I wanted was trivial, but until I did, I was fumbling around.

    It's how I can tell I'm moving in the right direction -- I start reading words for things that I didn't know were things. Once I have those, they act as handles that I can grab onto in making the searches that really get me where I'm looking to go.

    So that's it for me: what I'm usually looking for is a word, and the word leads to the thing that's useful -- the flange itself. I didn't even know my question was really about flanges at first, but once I learned what one was, it was obvious that that was what I was looking for.

  3. Here are my three favorite:

    Take it all the way – don’t give up after the first three returns and don’t quit without trying different combinations of search terms.

    Be willing to recognized that you’re searching in the wrong place.

    Look through the references – if someone’s name keeps popping up, search for their original work.

  4. >What search strategies do YOU employ in your searching?

    - Identify the most unique searchable terms. Look for "individualistic" terms
    (Augment the process with insider knowledge)
    - Scan the results rapidly
    - Double-check to see if there's a second (or third) source that confirms particular insights.

  5. I use image search to understand the meaning of unfamiliar or foreign words - it is often more informative than a dictionary definition or translation. Image search is also useful with foreign names to make a guess about the gender and ethnicity of the person.

  6. In general, my most effective strategy with searching is to try to imagine how the information I'm looking for might be presented.

    For all their tricks and shortcuts that make modern search algorithms really brilliant, at some level they are still just looking through the text on pages. Some inexperienced searchers ask Google questions like "where can I find ___" and they occasionally get lucky but more often end up frustrated. Some engines try to parse human english in ways that are shockingly good, but still less than perfect.

    I try to imagine how somebody would present the information I'm looking for and type that text into a search engine. More often than not, I quickly find what I'm looking for, and usually find that the answer contains a partial quote of my search string. This strategy took some time for me to be proficient with but at this point it is second nature.

  7. I find using the commands available in Google work best for general inquiries. What I have been using more frequently are the commands at the end of the URL of a result page to filter or change the algorithm of my search. For example, restricting a set of results using a country code. I did have one about searching images of people by changing the URL of the results to isolate faces but I have lost the string that goes at the end of the URL. Maybe you can provide here if it still works. It was similar to &img=face...I can't remember it anymore and didn't write it in my notes but it did work.

    Great blog by the way...thanks for your insights

  8. When I'm teaching high school students to search in a database I teach them to start off broad and then narrow it down. I find young adults trying to be too specific at the beginning of the search and then immediately saying "there is nothing on this topic."

    I also like to teach them that searching is an uncertain process. Even the experts don't know exactly what to search for when they begin.

  9. If I need to start researching a topic that is fairly new to me, I start by reading what Wikipedia has to say about the subject. Those pages are generally written by people with a passion for the subject matter, so they already know more than I do. But I also take that info with a grain of salt and understand there could be some bias. I mine their references and footnotes (if there are any -- which is another clue to reliability), and then I find I am armed with more places to look or better ways to limit my search on Google with helpful terms.

    Why re-invent the wheel, right? But of course, don't take anything at face value either.

    1. Wikipedia is not a useful website ma'm anybody can comment on it

    2. Wikipedia is not a reliable source. Anyone can answer on it and put fake information.

    3. Wikipedia is bad anyone could put anything

    4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


  11. Mahmoud zaqout,
    I agree with using wikibeia as a biganing of your searching journey that ir ebable you to have agood startbto search well aboit the topice which seems strange to you. When you first use wlkibedia to have a brenvious info then you can have a good background of how to cover more ground.
    Dan point out that if you swich between strategies, you will save time and effort that make you an expert researcher.

  12. I remember that I was searching for something. I didn't find what I want. I used varied ways to find what I want. I removed words and added words. I tried to use synonyms to words I'm searching. I tried to be more specific by choosing the right section of Google.In addition, I searched a wider title to reach the small title that I want. Finally, some of these ways worked together to let me reach what I want.

  13. I like to use photos when I search because a photo can speak more than 1000 words ... I hate to use google search because sometimes it takes e far away from what I'm searching for

  14. I like to collect information and details from several links and websites then put it together... I choose the information which repeated in more than links or website. When I search I try to use specific words to determine the results of research and make it easy for me to get the information I want.

  15. when i have to look over something, I put the whole topic i have, then i started shortening it until i found the thing i am looking for.
    If this strategy didn't work, i will add and delete words as it appropriate to do in order to find the right thing that am looking for.

  16. I like to use keywords and the most known information about the topic. I find this effective.

  17. When I Search I chose to start with the basics, to find quick answers and choosing words carefully. when I tired of successive research I chose to search by using my voice.
    I like to see the pictures when I search because the pictures always attract the attention and sometimes connect to what you are looking without exertion and fatigue.

  18. always try to search with the specific details you have especially if you are searching on google so you can have the best results, don't thrust any website, use the well-known websites and make sure of the information on other websites,and i usually use parenthesizes and quotation marks it's effective but not always.

  19. Tawfiq Abuaita

    There are some special strategies I use when I want to search about something. First, I try to specialize my search, I think about the things I need to know about a subject and then I try to write it on Google search or I can even tell these information to the librarian if I would search in a library. However, If I could not find what I'm searching about, I'll try to do the opposite thing, I'll search about the subject in general and deep in to find the information I want, or I can find some concepts which I would need in order to edit the search and find the information I need using these new concepts I've learned. As a result, you need while searching to use the right words that specify your topic in order to find the information that you're searching about.

  20. Searching for information is one of my daily things that i always do, i like to search for information on google on youtube even on facebook,and i always try to search for the most specific point of the subject, because it'll help me to find my goal faster and easier, i can give everyone an adivce that you have to think for a point in your subject that is just for your subject, then you can find everything easly.
    Wisam salman

  21. Looking for specific information take a time for me.until last Friday. when I was searching I opened many website in each one I put a topic information which take a time,so I started following new strategy which I call it find it in a second first I collect a general information from a different
    links then I choose the closer information for what I am looking for after that I put the best words which can give me the answer quicker.

  22. My name is Majd Abu Sarhan .
    When I do resarch I follow only three strategy . the first one is I try to write the basic information ( the main idea ) and make sure to write the names in the big letters . The second is I use punctuation marks as () - : [] around the main words to make them clear . the last one is I try to resarech in different languages because google do not have the same information in the all languages.

  23. I find knowing vocabulary words helpful and focusing on the main point.