Smarter Searching

Even in These Web 2.0-, Facebook-Enabled Days, It Can Still Be Devilishly Difficult to Seek and Find Specific Answers on the Internet

Jim MontagueBy Jim Montague, Executive Editor

Of course, if you go to, you're already half way there.

Still, even on authoritative and easy-to-navigate websites like ours, it can be a little overwhelming to get through all the available resources to find precisely what you need. Personally, I start my research for new stories by checking what I and my colleagues have written on that topic recently, which informs me how to proceed and also helps prevent duplicating prior coverage.

However, since searching for "flowmeters" would return too many results, I try to pick a few representative words or phrases that are most likely to appear in the documents I'm seeking. For example, searching for "flowmeters" and "Coriolis" or "ultrasonic," or adding manufacturers' names, standards numbers or other specific details will begin to shave down the results to  more manageable levels. In my case, I may add "Montague" to further narrow the results to what I've written about many of these topics.

In fact, there are many terms you can add to basic searches to zero in even better. These can include applicable control methods, likely specification numbers, typical hardware accessories and anything else you can dream up. Similarly, adding the name of the particular problem you're trying to solve to the basic technology you're investigating can reveal more solutions. For example, adding "ratholing" or "angle of repose" to a search for "level" will pull up items on how to measure down into the cone areas of vessels.         

At Google's "basic search help page" there are many tips for getting the most out of websites that are full of information such as

  • Putting a hyphen or minus sign immediately before a word will remove  pages with this word from your results. The minus sign should appear immediately before the word and should be preceded with a space. You can exclude as many words as you want by using "-" in front of  them.
  • Using the little-known but powerful "*" or wildcard in a query tells Google and most other websites to try to treat the star as a placeholder for any unknown term(s) in your search phrase, and then find the best matches. Note that "*" only works on whole words, not parts of words.
  • By attaching a "+" immediately before a word, you're telling Google to match that word precisely as you typed it. Putting double quotes around a single word will do the same thing.