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Tips to make you a better info looky-loo Print E-mail
Thursday, February 03, 2011

I am one of those people whose desk will occasionally grow mounds -- if not outright mountains -- of stuff but who still can usually fish a needed paper from the correct spot.

Searching a computer drive or the Internet may be similar to trying to find a needle in a haystack -- or a note on an unfamiliar desk.

Here are some methods to find what you are looking for:

General strategies: To effectively describe someone, you use distinctive words and phrases. "Very tall," "snorts when she laughs" or "has a Mohawk" work better than "pretty," "old" or even "pretty old."

Searching for a file or information is the same. A distinctive word or location -- like Brazito -- makes it much easier to get fewer and more accurate returns.

Searching a computer drive or the Internet may be similar to trying to find a needle in a haystack.

The power of quotation marks is also important because it forces the search engine to only seek that exact phrase, not just words. Google "Red Cross" without quotes and find 40.2 million results; with quotes it drops to "only" 16.1 million results -- a lot, but still less than half.

A plus before a word forces the term to be included; a minus means those results will be omitted. Searching for +Baptist Church yields 13.5 million results, while -Baptist Church returns 570 million. In Google, use the wildcard * to substitute a word such as "finding * in life."

Other search tips can be found on About.com at tinyurl.com/WebSearch101.

Most search engines offer advanced search options. If you don't know the shortcuts, use the advanced options to search by language, file type or by date.

Computers: Despite the dramatic increase in the hard drive storage capacity, Windows 7 has made finding documents and files much easier. Other free programs to download are Google Desktop (desktop.google.com) and the home version of Copernic Desktop Search (copernic.com).

Using wildcards and knowing the file type (pdf, jpg, xls) are helpful strategies. *.pdf will search for all pdf files, for example. Looking for distinctives in the file content can also help. Search on "folder options" (Windows) or try Preferences under Finder (Mac) to turn on all extensions, if needed.

Looking for a particular file? Open the folder. Go to the icon of a window, and choose Thumbnails for images and Details for -- well, details. Clicking at the top of a column can sort files by name, size, date modified and more, either ascending or descending.
Additional information, called metadata, is available, too. Right-click on the name bar and you will see other columns you can add, such as duration for music, and date picture taken and camera model for pictures.

Specialized searches: Where you search may help you come up with better results. In addition to Google and Bing, give these sites a try:

Wolfram|Alpha (wolframalpha.com) doesn't search. It crunches information and calculates. Difficult to describe, fascinating to try. (Or combine results with Google at goofram.com.)

Duck Duck Go (duckduckgo.com) offers a cleaner look, and a stronger emphasis on privacy.

Quora (quora.com) helps you find answers to questions with the help of the social network. Login is required.

Google Wonder Wheel (googlewonderwheel.com) searches graphically and semantically.

Dogpile (dogpile.com) studies discovered less than 12 percent of search results were shared by the top four search engines. So it uses them all!

Another strategy is to utilize directories and specialized web search for anything from patents to demographics to webcams. Explore lists of such sites at tinyurl.com/SpecialSearch2, tinyurl.com/SpecialSearch1, tinyurl.com/SpecialSearch3 and sldirectory.com/search.html.

Finding what you are looking for is a relief. Helping others find what they need can be an answer to prayer.

Ken Satterfield is marketing and advertising coordinator for Word&Way.

 
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