A journalist’s guide to Google
A tipsheet by David Poulson, associate director, Knight Center for Environmental Journalism
Searching with Google
Google is likely much more powerful than you give it credit. The popular search enginecan give an incredible boost to newsgathering.Visit google.com when you aren’t under deadline. Get a feel for what it offers. You’llmore than recover this time by sharpening skills to give you a jump on deadline.
Google search basics
Search engines traditionally use Boolean operators. That’s just a fun way of sayingsearches with the words “and” “or” and “like.”Google defaults to an “and” search. If you search for Lansing crime rate, you’ll pull upall the Web pages with the words Lansing and crime and rate somewhere on them. That meansyour search could produce pages that discuss the city of Lansing, Ingham County crime andMichigan’s tax rate. If you want to search for pages with the exact phrase, just put it betweendouble quotes: “Lansing crime rate”You can insert a Boolean “or” into a search. For instance, “gas prices” Lansing or Detroitwill produce documents with the phrase gas prices and the word Lansing and at the same time produce documents with the phrase gas prices and the word Detroit.Use the minus sign (dash) to avoid unwanted results. Say you want to search for bass becauseyou want information on the fish. You know that bass also refers to deep musical notes andcertain musical instruments. Search for bass –music and you’ll get only pages with the word bass but not the word music. (Note the space between bass and the minus, and the lack of a space between the minus and music).Phrase your search as part of your answer. You're not looking for Web pages that ask your question. You're looking for pages that answer it. Instead of typing, "What is the average rainfallin the Amazon basin?", you might get better results by typing "The average rainfall in theAmazon basin is" Envision phrases that appear on the page that a perfect search would produce.The site command lets you search a specific Web site. The format is search word site:webaddress. A search for angel site:www.msu.edu produces pages on the Angel course managementsystem on MSU’s Web site. Pennsylvania State University also uses the Angel system, but those pages won’t appear in your search.Localize results by adding a city name or zip code to your search term. Pizza EastLansing will give a list of phone numbers of places that sell pizza in East Lansing.Limit results to the kind of files that get returned. Say you need data in a Microsoft spreadsheet.Such files end in .xls. Go to Google’s advanced search and limit the search to documents withthe .xls format.