---======< Why this article exists >======---
Many peeps ask others for help without even attempting to help themselves first. If this is because of sheer laziness, may I suggest the following site:
If it really is simply because no-one has taught you how however, then please allow me to cover some of the basics! After all as the old Chinese proverb says,
"Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.
Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime!"
Or in this case:
"Give someone a search result, and you help him or her for a day.
Teach someone to search results, and you help him or her for a lifetime!"
---======< What is Included >======---
This article is not meant to be a definitive work on how to search online; it only covers the barest of essentials. It is written concerning how to use the most popular search engine today: Google. Of course, many of these same rules apply for other engines as well; and so, the knowledge gained here is useful beyond Google itself. Furthermore, a list of reference links found at the bottom of this article will help any of those who wish to further understand the "art" or searching.
---======< The General Gist >======---
Punctuation matters little. Period.
A good thing to know, most (not all) punctuation is ignored or at least means very little. Periods, commas, and other such things mean absolutely nothing to a search engine. They are there solely for your own purposes. Even if the number of results may say otherwise sometimes... that is pretty much a lie. O:)
From Google's help: "Generally, punctuation is ignored, including @#$%^&*()=+\ and other special characters."
Some signs that may matter include: $ (dollar sign), - (hyphen), _ (underscore), or certain very specific and common keywords which may include punctuation (i.e.: C++ which is a programming language). Even so, searching for experts exchange yields nearly & essentially the same results as searching for experts-exchange.
You want specific results, right? Well, be specific! Let me explain. If we want to search for our friend named John Doe, we should not simply type John Doe into the search bar. We should type "John Doe" instead. Do you see the difference? If you read the title of this section, it is all about "Using Quotes". ;)
If we search for John Doe (without quotes), we will get results for any page that contains both the words John and Doe. While this will include pages with our friend John Doe, it will also include pages with things like John Smith and Jane Doe, or John who likes Jane's doe-like eyes... this isn't really what we want.
If we search for "John Doe" (with quotes), we will only get results which specifically have the words "John Doe" next to each other. This vastly cuts down on the amount of erroneous results, and we are that much closer to finding our page!
The OR Logic Operator
Typically, Google assumes that we want to find pages containing every term and only the terms that we type. Sometimes however, this is not true. Let us continue from the previous example where we are looking for John Doe. Some sites about John Doe may not have his name listed as John Doe. He may be listed as:
John M. Doe
John Michael Doe
Doe, John M
Doe, John Michael
You'll note that only pages with the first listing of "John Doe" will appear if I use quotes. So, how do I expand my results to include the other possible arrangements? You guessed it! Like the title of this section suggests, we use "the OR logic operator"!
We might search for:
"John Doe" OR "John M Doe" OR "John Michael Doe" OR "Doe, John"
See that you capitalize the OR; or else, it simply won't work. You will note too that we do not bother including either "Doe, John M" or "Doe, John Michael" since the text-string "Doe, John" already would find the results for both of those.
I don't event want to consider alternate spellings right now like Jonathan or Mike. You can do that on your own time; but a quick side note, Google does have a limit for how many terms (or words) many be present in a single search. =P
The - (minus, subtraction, or negative) Sign
What do you think the minus sign does? Sensibly enough, it subtracts specified results from your search. Imagine this John Doe for which we are so diligently searching is your teen sister's scrawny new boyfriend. If our search for "John Doe" were to pull a notable number of results for a 40 year old wrestler named John Doe the Annihilator, we obviously (at least hopefully O.o) are not looking for this fellow, and we want to remove these results. To do this, our search string may look something like:
"John Doe" -annihilator
Please, pay attention: there is no space between the - and the term which it is eliminating.
The + (plus, addition, or positive) Sign
If we were merely adding terms, this would be as worthless as the AND operator (btw, there is an AND operator, and it is worthless ^_~). This operator does, however, actually serve a purpose. It actually tells Google not to ignore what you type. "What?!", you may say, "would Google really ignore something I put in the search?" Yes; yes, they would - all the time too,
For example, a friend of mine today typed that they ate "jispgetti" for dinner tonight. (True story too!) Anyways, I was pretty certain that this was just a playful spelling for spaghetti, but I actually bothered to Google for it anyways just to be sure. Well sure enough, Google had results! ...results for spaghetti which is not what I typed. It too was assuming a spelling error, and it had corrected it for me. Thanks Google! (not) Searching with the + in front brought me my real results... which happened to be nothing. Well maybe once this page gets added to the search engines, there will be at least one result!
It is also often important to place a + in front of certain prepositions like a, the, in, under, for, ... So long as you're sure of your spelling & grammar, adding a plus can't hurt. I'd do it.
Please, pay attention: just like with the -, there is no space between the + and the term which it is specifying.
---======< Summary >======---
There is a lot more that can be done with search engines. You can specify file types, attempt to limit which pages are searched by their language, change the content filter results (i.e.: pornographic vs. family friendly), search a cached history of an altered page, search only a single site, and do many other wonderful things!
I am just not gonna' bothering going into that here. 'Cause, this tutorial ends here. Or maybe here. Or here? Ah well, you get the point: it's done & over. The basics have been covered. Happy searching friends!
---======< Reference & Related Links >======---