Skip to content
Skip to main content

About this free course

Download this course

Share this free course

An introduction to data and information in health and social care
An introduction to data and information in health and social care

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

4.2.3 Using a search engine more effectively

The search shown in Figure 15 is an example of how to use a search engine in a simple way. However, one of the problems with finding information on the web is that there is so much of it, mostly not relevant to what you want. A search for ‘osteogenic sarcoma’ using the Google search engine yielded about 743000 results or ‘hits’. The first few sites listed will probably contain the information being sought. But what about all the others? Are they all about the disease?

The answer is ‘no’. The search results reference all those sites that mention osteogenic sarcoma, so there will be definitions for the disease, clinical information, research papers, minutes of multidisciplinary meetings, and so on. To get to the right information will take refinement, or as previously mentioned, a specialised site.

If you are just looking for information in a general way, too much information isn’t always a problem. Excessive information becomes more irritating and counterproductive when you are looking for some quite specific information.

Example 4 Myriad

Suppose you’re searching within the topic of breast cancer, and your specific interest is the Myriad testing controversy. If you search on the web by typing in the keywords ‘breast’ and ‘cancer’, the web server will return every website it finds with those two words in it. This results in approximately 525 million hits, so you need to be more specific. Using ‘myriad’, ‘breast’ ‘and legal’ decreases that to about 4 million and the top answers relate to the legal case – much more refined.

There is a skill in being able to narrow down your search to eliminate at least some of the things you aren’t looking for. Each search engine has its own ‘personality’ so to speak, though the basic concepts of making more targeted searches are common to most search engines. Search engine screens will generally have a selectable topic called something like ‘Advanced Search’ or ‘Search Tips’.

One obvious step is to choose your keywords carefully. The more specific the keywords you choose, the more likely you are to get what you want. For example, if you want to find information on antique chairs, typing in just the keyword ‘antique’ will return all websites that use the word antique, and typing in the keyword ‘chair’ by itself will return all websites that use the word chair. But typing in both keywords will only return websites that use both words. Adding ‘British’ to ‘antique’ and ‘chair’ will only return websites that have all three words in them. The more keywords you add, the more targeted will be the websites returned to you.

Activity 12 Refining the Myriad search

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

How could you utilise this skill of incorporating more keywords to help you look for information on the Myriad screening controversy?


You could choose to enter the keywords ‘myriad’ and ‘supreme court’. This will almost certainly eliminate websites about breast cancer genetics. You could add an additional terms such as ‘decision’ or ‘history’.

Interestingly, if you have misspelled the keyword ‘myriad’ as ‘myrad’, some search engines will not match it to websites containing the term ‘myriad’. Others will respond with the closest word possible. Google, for example, will respond to ‘myrad’ with the message ‘Did you mean myriad?’ together with some websites related to myriad. Remember to check your spelling carefully.

Another useful strategy is to look for phrases rather than individual words. The previous activity mentioned that you might use ‘myriad’ and ‘supreme court’ to look for information on the controversy. This might yield a response that includes anything about the case in the supreme court. However, if you were to enclose both words together in quotation marks – “myriad supreme” – the web server will only return websites that contain the words used specifically in that order.

Activity 13 Search engine quiz

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes
  1. What is a search engine? How does it differ from a browser?
  2. In carrying out a web search, how many computers (at least) are involved?
  3. What makes a computer actually do its work?
  4. In what way is a gateway useful?
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


  1. A search engine is a computer program that uses keywords to help users locate websites containing information they want.
  2. At least two are involved: the user’s computer (the client) and the web server.
  3. A program of instructions, stored in the computer, called a computer program.
  4. A gateway provides a pre-chosen set of links on the web for a particular topic. Instead of searching the whole of the web for information, a gateway provides a very focused means of getting information that usually has been compiled by an expert.