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Digital skills: succeeding in a digital world
Digital skills: succeeding in a digital world

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2.1 Refining your search

According to statistics, very few Google searches get past the first page of results. This means that most people accept the first few results they find and don’t go any further. The search you have just carried out may have been sufficient to get you the information you wanted, if it was available on that first page. However, there are some useful techniques for refining your search that will save you time.

In the last activity you may have used Google’s ‘videos’ filter (across the top of the page) to restrict your results to videos. Other information types you can use to filter a search include News, Images, Books, Shopping, Maps, Flights and Apps (note that some of these categories may vary depending on the internet browser and version of browser you are using). As well as filtering by information type, it is possible to refine your search in other ways.

The next activity is an opportunity to use some of these techniques.

Activity 4 Refining your search

Timing: 10 minutes

Some of the following actions will help you to refine your Google search. Read through the list and note those that you think will help you to focus your search more precisely.

Try out the techniques you have chosen and make a note of how successful they were in refining your search.

  • Adding more search terms to make your search terms more specific. Google automatically links your terms together with AND, which means it will search for websites where all your search terms are present. The more specific you are, the more likely you are to find relevant information. Note that the order in which you type your search terms will affect your search results.
  • Using ‘OR’ to link your search words. Searching using ‘Facebook OR privacy’ will bring back all websites in which the word ‘Facebook’ is present, and all websites in which the word ‘privacy’ is present (regardless of whether they were about Facebook privacy). If you wanted to find sites in which all these words are present at the same time, you would need to take out ‘OR’ from your search.
  • Using quotation marks to enclose your search terms. Also known as a phrase search, this will make your search more precise. For example, ‘"complete guide to Facebook privacy settings 2015"’ as opposed to ‘complete guide to Facebook privacy settings 2015’. It may exclude some sites you would be interested in though, such as ‘Facebook privacy settings’ or ‘Here’s how to use Facebook’s mystifying privacy settings…’.
  • Using an asterisk *. This will expand your search rather than focus it, as it is used as a placeholder for any unknown or wildcard terms. For example, priva* will increase the number or results you find by looking for ‘privacy’ and ‘private’. In this case, it may also bring up organisations named ‘Priva’, which you don’t want.
  • Using specialist or specific search terms related to the subject of your search. This can be helpful, especially if you are doing research for academic study. Look for terms used within the field you are researching that help to focus your search more clearly.


Adding or substituting search terms is one way to hone your search. Phrase searching using quotation marks can also be helpful. Knowing the specialist vocabulary used for the subject you are looking for will increase your chances of success. Think about how your subject might be described on the kind of site you are hoping to find. Note that these tips and tricks may not work in other search engines.

Google’s advanced search screen provides a range of options to help you target your search, for example narrowing your search to include specific keywords. You can also filter results to only include those updated within a specific date range or with text in a particular language.

Another option that you may find useful in light of what you learned in Week 4, is the option to narrow your search by usage rights to only retrieve resources that are free to use or share.

You can access the advanced screen by going to ‘Settings’ at the bottom of the screen and selecting ‘Advanced search’ – or by googling ‘Google advanced search’. It is worth exploring how the advanced search can help you.

If you really want to get up close and personal with Google, you may like to visit the ‘Search operators [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] ’ page, which tells you how you can use punctuation and symbols to refine your search.

Despite being able to refine your searches, you may still find the amount of information overwhelming. You will find out some tips on how to tackle this in the next section.