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How to Locate Information

Updated on November 10, 2017

Getting Started

Personally, I find obtaining answers occurs on an almost daily basis, especially where money and work are involved. We’re creatures of know-how, learning from routines to the point pieces of information become second nature. But what are all the sources from which we can seek more knowledge when that brick wall surfaces? That actually is not as daunting as it may


Fun Fact: Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines research as a careful or diligent search, the collection of information about a particular subject. Yes, that is the point.


Jumping on the Net

For most, the first place we go is the World Wide Web. How many of us have palm impressions on our computers for all the time we spend hitting a variety of websites or connecting with friends? Computers do provide the easiest avenue to do research on any topic, plus it saves time. In those "olden days" of getting into a car and taking a trip to the library, or making a phone call, these were the few ways of finding new answers. Now that computers exist this is all streamlined. There are tactics, however, to improve results--strategies not generally practiced.

When typing into a search engine we generally place random words. Those words certainly make sense to us, but to a search engine with a predesigned algorithm, not so much. Make a quote out of the words. For example, say you are interested ghost hunting because you have an interest in learning how to do it. If you just type ghost hunting, the search results will bring you up multiple topics related to ghosts and hunting (all kinds) including apps, equipment, stories, and also tutorials on the how-to. Now you must comb through those results to seek out just what you need. Now type "ghost hunting," with quotations around the words. When using the quotation marks you will get more streamlined results related to ghosts and ghost hunting. The quotations are essentially sending a message to the algorithm to seek out only the words within the quotations and not a collection of results that contain those words, regardless of the relevancy. This tightens up what you place into the search engine.

Another tactic is the Boolean search. This is where you add modifiers to search words such as the words and, not, or. If you are planning a vacation to Mendocino, California and want to search for shops you would type "Mendocino shops" and California. You should also include those quotations around the key search words but is not necessary around the modifier. This way the search will only bring up shops specific to Mendocino, California. Otherwise, you will get a list of all shops in all cities with the name of Mendocino all over the world. You can also use a plus sign in place of and, or minus sign in place of not, to shorten typing.

Let's say you actually want the opposite -- a lot of results to give more ideas on the desired topic say for a report. Using Mendocino shops as the topic, type Mendocino shops*. The asterisk gives results that not only include stores, but also the activities of shopping, shopped, etc. This is known as the Wildcard search. The "*" is a truncation that when placed after a root word indicates a number of possible endings: ing, ed, tion, etc. Using a "?" mark after the root word means you are not sure of the spelling and results will provide variables. "Theatre?" will also result with "theater."

Fun Fact: If on a specific web page you need to do a search for a phrase, thing, or person hit CTRL +F keys. A search window will come up and you can key what is being sought. Just a short cut without having to seek out the search option lost somewhere on the site.

Don't forget about doing searches on a variety of search engines. Each one tends to be a bit different in search results. And remember how Ask Jeeves/ got us all started on typing questions? That was a lot of fun especially since it was a question we were trying to get answered. Now Google, Yahoo, Bing and most search engines allow for this function. Wahoo!


Away from the Net

Need to get out of the house for a while after all that computer playing? Good! Let's head over to the public library. If it's been a while since you stepped into one of this magnificently calming buildings, then your need to seek information is a perfect time to get reacquainted.

Most libraries have computers to search out publications on any topic. Remember the Dewey decimal system? Yup, still exists. If not sure how to find information don't hesitate to ask for help. The librarian is a wealth of information and knows all the tricks on how topics get filed under what headings and can even obtain an interlibrary loan if a discovered publication is not available at that location. Libraries offer free pieces of information that not only include written but video, DVD, and audio. If the information is in the resource section which usually means you can only Xerox pages, ask if there are any exceptions to the rule or if an extra copy exists to checkout. Again, ask for help. You will be quite pleased with what new information you will learn.

Other places to find knowledge is College book stores. Even the building where you serve jury duty often has a law library that allows the public to conduct research. Museum libraries, medical libraries, anywhere a library exists will have individuals you can talk to and resources to locate.

Fun Fact: The required education of a librarian includes: Four-year degree in any field, Masters of library science degree from an American Library Association accredited school, and a teaching certificate if working in a school setting. Wow! They really do know a lot!

Don't forget the power of phone calls and interviews. Reaching out to those who are specialists in their field and others directed to you may have answers -- a great way to make a new friend.

Research can be fast or it can take time. Enjoy the process and celebrate your own expanding education.

Good Read

I admit I grew frustrated while finishing my degree and I just didn't have enough resources for reports, etc. A classmate suggested this book to me and now I refer my students to it. How to Find Out Anything: From Extreme Google Searches to Scouring Government Documents, A Guide to Uncovering Anything about Everyone and Everything. Don MacLeod saved me hours of time trying to find what I needed for a variety of reports. I can't say government documents are a favorite thing to read but at least now I know how. Don also gives tips I never knew about searching the good ole' World Wide Web. I definitely recommend this resource not only if you are in school, but for many professions.

One way I also sought information know how was from my local library. It was amazing how they knew how to navigate the catalog but also connect resources with other libraries. I never knew libraries had an inter-loan program until it was explained to me. Was looking of course for a resource for a huge psychology report and the assistant found a book with exactly the information I needed. Problem was they didn’t carry it. She ordered it for me from a neighboring city and within two days I had it.

Having information resources is so valuable. As a nurse and now teacher in the healthcare field I stress the importance of building a personal library. So many times I’ve gone back to books to look up something when the WWW failed me or I wasn’t finding exactly what I needed. I’ve got books from way back whose information has not expired and I will definitely continue to see more information on just about everything.

How to Find Out Anything: From Extreme Google Searches to Scouring Government Documents, a Guide toUncovering Anything About Everyone and Everything
How to Find Out Anything: From Extreme Google Searches to Scouring Government Documents, a Guide toUncovering Anything About Everyone and Everything

Finding good information can sometimes take special skills. Learn how to do better Google Searches, scan government documents, and find information on just about anyone and anything.



Life Wire, the Top Ten Web Search Tricks Everyone Should Know

Search Engine Journal, Wildcard Search: When and How To Use It

American Library Association

Cornell University, Introduction to Research


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