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College Resource Center : Web Design and Development : Successful Web Searching : Defining Your Search

Defining Your Search

Source: Marold, K. A. and G. Larsen, 2002. Internet Navigation and Exploration. St. Paul: Paradigm Publishing Inc.

The first step in any search activity is determining exactly what it is you are looking for. Before you do any kind of search you should:

  1. Determine the objective. What are you trying to do? Are you planning to apply for a job or to write a story about applying for a job? Your objective will help you narrow the focus of your search and determine what kinds of information about your search topic would be helpful.
  2. Define the topic. Imagine your objective is to look for a job. It is more than likely you are not looking for just any kind of job, so you need to decide exactly what kind of work you are looking for, such as a forklift operator. You also need to define in what specific geographical area(s) you would be willing to work. There will be a lot of information on forklift operators on the Internet, much of which does not concern finding a job in that field. Since you are interested in finding out about job opportunities as a forklift operator, you would be interested in finding information on positions available for forklift operators in the state in which you want to work.

Choosing Keywords

Once you have clarified exactly what kind of information you are looking for, then you can try to think of keywords that you would expect to find in the material you are seeking. When choosing keywords, it is useful to remember how a search tool works. When you begin a search, you key a keyword(s), and the search tool searches its database and returns a ranked list of sites that include your keyword(s). The search process is somewhat like a database or spreadsheet query, where the program searches data and returns information that matches criteria you have specified. A Web search may return an extensive results list with many hits that match your search term. Your goal is to get a helpful ranked results list that places the most meaningful and appropriate sites at the top of the list.

Bearing in mind the critical importance of keywords, take a look at what you wrote down when you defined your search topic. What keywords would you expect to find in any document related to what you are looking for? Keywords can be subject terms that reflect the topic of a single sentence, a passage, a page, or an entire Web site. Examples of subject keyword terms are "American writers," "maps," or "newspapers." Other keywords can be very specific, such as the name of a person, place, or thing - for example, "Hemingway," "Minnesota," or "New York Times." You might decide to use either type of keyword alone or in combination, such as "maps Minnesota" or "American writers Hemingway."

Trying the Keywords

If, after defining your search topic, you decide that you want to look for forklift operator jobs in Minnesota, try to visualize what the material you are seeking would look like. What would it say? An announcement for a job as a forklift operator in Minnesota would almost certainly contain the terms "forklift operator," "Minnesota," and "job," so key jobs forklift operators Minnesota. If the results list does not produce what you are looking for, try using synonymous keywords. For example, you might also try "positions available" or "work" in place of "jobs," or "drivers" instead of "operators." This is where creativity can help. If you still do not find what you need, try to think of any other terms that might be related to what you are looking for. Switching the order of the keywords can change the results as well, so you might try that if you are unsuccessful on your first few attempts. Remember that search engines generally consider the first word as the most important when ranking sites.

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