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This topic has been adapted from Google News Lab and is reproduced with permission.
Journalists all over the world search the internet every day looking for stories or information. But many aren’t aware of the powerful tools built into search engines that can make their job that bit easier and more productive.
By taking advantage of helpful features built right within Google Search, for example, you’ll get better results, faster. Instead of typing paragraph-long search queries that generate irrelevant results, you can narrow or refine your searches to find more of what you’re actually looking for.
In this topic, you will learn how to find exactly what you’re looking for and how to use special search operators to target your internet searches. You will also learn how to explore sites for hard-to-find (and revealing) files for your investigative reporting.
Search for this. Not that.
Sometimes finding the specific information you need means filtering out what isn’t useful. Adding modifiers to your search is a powerful way to focus on just what you’re looking for.
For example, you can use site: to just search for keywords on the specific site you’re interested in.
If you want to only search for budget information in Kenya, for example, you might start by looking at what’s on the website of the national parliament with a search that looks like “site:parliament.go.ke budget“.
Look for a specific filetype
One of the most powerful search operators we can use is to look for a specific filetype.
When looking at a government or corporate website, for example, the text on the actual webpages may not be of much interest, but there may be useful information published on the site that’s not immediately easy to find. Files which have been scanned and added to the site as PDF documents or spreadsheets, for example, could be full of useful information. You can search for files using the filetype: modifier.
To find spreadsheets containing the word “budget”, for example, we might search for “budget filteype:xlsx“. You can download the files directly from Google Search.
Use filetype: to just look for specific types of files like a .pdf or .xls file.
Don’t include results you don’t want
Looking for information about sharks the marine animal and not the South African rugby team? Use the – symbol to eliminate results of related words you may not be interested in. In this case, the word is rugby.
Instead of searching for “sharks“, try “sharks -rugby“
To search for sites with information related to the one you’re looking at, copy the web address into a new search query, and put related: in front of it.
The same search with “-rugby” A search in South Africa for “Sharks”
For better results, double up on modifiers
To make your searches even more relevant, try combining search modifiers.
To search for budget-related files on the Kenyan parliament website, for example, try “site:parliament.go.ke filetype:pdf“
Make it even easier with the Advanced Search tool
Finding it hard to remember all these search refinements? No problem. Check out the Advanced Search tool by performing a normal search, and then clicking on the Settings option at google.com. Now select the Advanced Search option.
Its cheat sheet of search refinements is a good refresher and saves time.
Test your knowledge
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Question 1 of 3
Let’s say you’re researching an investigative topic and one of your keywords has multiple meanings like the word “court.” You want to focus on the judicial system and eliminate results about basketball or tennis courts. Which of these is the best-targeted query?CorrectIncorrect
Question 2 of 3
On the Advanced Search settings menu, which of the following is NOT listed as an option for narrowing your search results?CorrectIncorrect
Question 3 of 3
You want to search within the NASA website for information on the Mars Curiosity. Which of the following would yield the most precise search results?CorrectIncorrect