Updated: July 21, 2022
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Finding facts online doesn’t take an eternity. Learn how to search smarter by using techniques like lateral reading, click restraint and advanced search operators.

The internet is massive. And searching for something specific may be tough unless you know how to narrow your search.

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  1. What strategies have you used to search online?
  2. What do you look for when you evaluate search results?

Watch MediaWise Campus Correspondent Lauren Yang Brown walk you through how to read laterally and exercise click restraint:

Read the video transcript (PDF)


Advanced Search Operators

Let’s learn how to Google smarter with search operators. A basic keyword search may get you dozens of results that aren’t relevant to what you’re trying to verify. But you can use the search bar in Google, Bing or whatever search engine you use to narrow your investigation. When you pair the following advanced search techniques with lateral reading and click restraint, you’ll be able to check out anything in a few minutes.

When you add quotes around a keyword or phrase, you’re searching for results that match those words exactly. Let’s say you have a song in your head but can’t remember the artist. You can use quotes around partial lyrics to look for the full lyrics. You can also use this search command when looking for poems, movie lines, speeches — anything with precise phrasing — and there’s a good chance you’ll find it.

Let’s say you are trying to find a paid internship. You can type “paid internship” to see results related to these keywords. But when you have more than one keyword in your search, the search engines assume “paid” AND “internship” is what you’re looking for, so they will return results including both terms. Typing “paid internship” OR “internship” will broaden your search because it will give you results that include either key term or both. Remember that the commands AND, OR need to be typed in all caps to work.

This will omit certain results from your search. For example, if you were looking for reviews of a local yoga instructor named Katheryn Hudson, the first page of a search might only have news stories — and streaming options — about singer Katy Perry, whose real name is Katheryn Hudson. If you add -music in the search bar, that should narrow things down by excluding most results related to Katy Perry.

This command will only return results from a particular website. For example, if you remember reading about scholarships for college in an article posted by a specific college, you can search “scholarships” along with site:.edu for more information. Top-level domains, such as .edu, are reserved for U.S.-based postsecondary institutions. Maybe you want to check the websites of specific places where you can obtain financial aid. In that case, you would type “scholarships” along with site:studentaid.gov to search the site of the U.S. Department of Education financial aid office for your keywords.

Sometimes you might be looking for a specific document that has been uploaded online, such as a PDF file or a spreadsheet, or maybe an Instagram post cited a research paper or database you can dig up. Type your keywords in the search bar along with “filetype:pdf” to get PDF files related to your keywords.

These five techniques (what professionals call search operators) will give you a good head start in your online searches. And there are even more advanced search operators you can explore. Remember, you can combine multiple commands to refine your search.

It’s your turn!

Open up a few browser tabs and try these search commands yourself. Review and compare the results.

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When searching online, you can go as broadly or get as specific as you wish — it’s up to the goal of your search. Using advanced search operators will help you get the results you need. Use lots of browser tabs so you can compare results. Be aware of sponsored content, which often pops up in the first results.