Posts Tagged ‘advanced search’

Finding background information for your investigation (advanced searching tips)

August 26, 2009

The first challenge you’ll receive on any new investigation is to ‘Add background information’. This helps establish what’s already known about the issue, who might know useful information, and where the gaps are.

Here are some tips in finding useful information:

1. Search Google News

Google News is “a computer-generated news site that aggregates headlines from more than 4,500 English-language news sources worldwide, groups similar stories together and displays them according to each reader’s personalised interests.” It is a particularly useful place to start searching for information as, unlike Google.com, will prioritise more recent information and leave out general, and perhaps less relevant pages.

News stories will often provide a starting point for identifying further useful documents. An article might for instance mention an official report, an organisation, a set of guidelines or regulation that apply to the issue being investigated. The next step is to find the original document if the article doesn’t link to it (Some news organisations are better than others at linking, notably the BBC and Guardian).

2. Use Google’s Advanced Search facility

Certain types of webpages or documents are likely to be more useful in your search for information. By clicking on Google’s Advanced Search link you can be more specific in the types of results you want. Here are some options to try:

File type:

Official reports tend to be published in PDF format. By selecting PDF from this drop-down menu before you conduct your search you are more likely to find reports that would otherwise be buried in the normal search results. You can also try Word documents.

Likewise, try selecting Microsoft Excel for spreadsheets of raw data published by organisations. Less useful, but also worth trying is Microsoft Powerpoint – often used for public presentations.

Search within a site or domain:

The search facility on many websites is often very poor. Sometimes you will be more successful by using Google to perform the same search.

Type ‘birmingham.gov.uk’ into this box and Google will only look within that website.

Type ‘.gov.uk’ and Google will only search within UK governmental websites

Type ‘.ac.uk’ and Google will only search within UK educational establishments

Type ‘.org.uk’ and Google will only search within non-profit organisation websites – also try ‘.org’ as not all UK nonprofits use ‘.uk’

There are other domains that are worth trying too, depending on the nature of your investigation, such as:

  • .ltd.uk (some limited companies),
  • .info (some information providers, worldwide),
  • .nhs.uk,
  • .police.uk,
  • .parliament.uk,
  • .sch.uk (LEAs, schools, etc.),
  • .bl.uk and .british-library.uk (British Library),
  • .nls.uk (National Library of Scotland)
  • and .mod.uk (Ministry of Defence).

All of these are likely to bring more useful results than a broad search of the web.

Find pages that link to the page:

The last box on Google’s Advanced Search page (you’ll need to click on the + icon to bring it up) allows you to search for pages that link a specific webpage. If you’ve found a useful webpage in your search using this option to see what else is linking to it can be useful in a number of ways:

  • If it’s particularly specialist, anything linking to it will be likely to be equally specialist
  • It might add new information, or correct incorrect information
  • The person who created the webpage may be able to contribute to your investigation

3. Search blogs

Blogs can be a useful source of specialist knowledge that a Google search wouldn’t bring up. Although Google has its own search engine, it tends to include more irrelevant information than others. For that reason a better search engine to use is the specialist blog search engine IceRocket.

Even if the search doesn’t result in useful information, it may bring up someone blogging about the same issue – it’s worth asking them directly for any relevant information, and inviting them to the investigation.