Find It Fast with Google

With around 180 million active web sites1 finding things could be like seeking a needle in a haystack. Luckily we have Google. Here are some tips for using it effectively.

Google logo

Think Through Your Search. Google can’t read your mind — it seeks what you request — vague searches rarely produce good results. So before you start your search think about exactly what you are looking for.

Be Specific. Then try to make your search as specific as possible:

  1. Choose search terms that someone discussing your subject on the web would use.
  2. Start with just a few words — adding words narrows the search and can exclude a site you want.
  3. If your search involves a specialized subject such as law, medicine or engineering, be sure to use the proper technical terms.

If your initial search doesn’t find your answer, modify or broaden it. If it produces too much, refine and narrow it.

Use Advanced Tools to Fine Tune Results. For example: a search for "jaguar" includes pages offering luxury cars. To exclude them and focus on the animal search for "jaguar -car -automobile". The minus signs exclude pages containing "car" or "automobile."

Other helpful search parameters:2

Add Example Result
+ elephant +Africa Page must contain word "Africa"
- jaguar -car Page can not contain word "car"
" " "Bill James" Seeks exact phrase "Bill James"; without quotes searches names separately
~ Excel ~class Includes related words, such as course and training
site: Excel Looks for Excel only on
OR Excel OR Visio Seeks either Excel or Visio, without "OR" looks for pages with both. "OR" must be capitalized

It is best to start your search without these restrictions and add them as needed.

Google Search Options
Click gear for options.

Make Sure Google Doesn’t Limit Your Results. Google may customize search results based on your history.3 That can help if what you want now is similar to what you sought before, but can exclude relevant sites if it is not.

To prevent this, click the gear icon at the top of the search page and choose "Web History." On the web history page, click "Disable customizations based on search activity." If you later want to turn history back on, return to the same page.

If you search Google while logged into a Google account, for example gmail or YouTube, go to your account settings page to control use of search history.


  1. "Active" meaning a site with content that is maintained and updated, not just used to "park" a domain name. See Internet Live Stats.
  2. The MIT Libraries have several pages of detailed search operators.
  3. The privacy issues raised by search tracking are discussed in Wood, Molly. "Sweeping Away a Search History." The New York Times, April 2, 2014.

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Updated April 4, 2014.