Search engines are probably the most common way that users look for and find information on the Web. The user selects a search engine and enters a query or a search term. Studies of public Web searching indicate that most queries are short and relatively simple. Users do not normally modify or develop their queries. It also seems that they do not use the advanced features of search engines. 
Some of the features available in major search engines are summarised in the Search Engine Features Chart developed by the Search Engine Showdown website.
Using search engine features
Most search engines work best with carefully chosen keywords, rather than a typed question. For example, consider the question that you want an answer to, and then describe it in up to four or five focused terms to drill down to the most relevant results. Phrases can be entered in quotation marks in the search box, eg 'systematic review' or 'palliative care'.
You can also find certain types of information by limiting the domain name. For example type the following into the search box of your browser: palliative site:*.gov.au. This will restrict your search to any government website in Australia. Further information on domain names can be found at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.
Boolean searching (using the words AND, OR, NOT) is a powerful means to combine or exclude terms in a search, and is supported in both Google and Yahoo! For example:
- Google and Yahoo! assume AND between terms
- To use OR it must be capitalised
- Search terms are not case sensitive
- To exclude terms from a search use AND NOT before the term to be excluded.
Search Engine Showdown has a Learning about Searching section that provides further information on using URLs and ways to improve web searching using search engines.
Using what you find
Information that is found on the Web has been produced by people who have intellectual property rights. Website materials are also subject to copyright. Material that has been made available on the Web is not necessarily in the public domain and available for free use. The use of information should be appropriately cited and comply with copyright legislation.
Finding out more
Related CareSearch Pages
Selecting Search Engines
- Spink A, Xu JL. Selected results from a large study of Web searching; the Excite Study. Information Research. 2000 Oct;6(1).
Last updated 12 June 2008