Tips – Effective searching

Try out new tools to make your online searching more effective.


Search is a fundamental part of study, work and life in general, so it’s important to take some time to think about how you do it, what you use, and the results you get. These tips should help you do that in just a few minutes.

Alternative search engines

What’s the first search engine you can think of? For many people around the world, it’s Google, but there are other popular search engines such as Baidu in China or Yandex in Russia.

Bing and Yahoo are worth trying, and there are also less-well-known search engines, such as DuckDuckGo, which doesn’t store your personal information. Why not try a different search engine from time to time? You might end up liking it!

There are also search engines which filter content and can be more appropriate for children, such as Kiddle.

More specialised search tools

If you’re looking for images for teaching materials or projects, you’ll need to find ones that you have permission to use. Will you copy the image or adapt it? Do you want to sell the materials you create? Try Creative Commons Search or use the licence filter on Flickr to find images with a suitable licence. Check what licence you need and the conditions you need to meet, such as giving the name and a link to the original image, at Creative Commons Licenses.

BoardReader searches online discussions and brings up posts containing your keyword. The huge amount of content on social media sites such as Twitter is also searchable.

Using Google operators

For most of your search needs, you’ll probably use Google. There are a few tricks that can help you search with Google more effectively, using operators. Operators are words or symbols that you include in your search to make it more specific.

You can find a full list of these operators on Google support pages, but here are two which can be useful for teachers and learners.

Search for exact phrases

If you’re looking for something like a book title or a fixed expression in English, or checking chunks of language, then you can search for an exact phrase using quotation marks. It’s not perfect, but if you want to compare two or more options when you’re not sure which one is right, then search for them in Google and see which brings up more search results. Try searching for ‘you look as me’ and then for ‘you look like me’. The second one is correct, so you should get a lot more results. You can see the exact number of results just below the search box, usually in grey text.

Search with missing words

If you want to search for something but you don’t know all the words, you can use quotation marks and an asterisk (*) in place of the words you can’t remember. This is great for looking up film titles or the names of songs you didn’t quite catch, and it also has potential for language learners and teachers. For example, you can’t remember the full phrasal verb which means tolerating someone. You can only remember put up ... somebody. Search ‘put up * somebody’, and you should get dictionary links for the phrasal verb.

Which Google?

If you want to use the operators we’ve looked at, it might be worth checking which Google you’re searching. Google usually knows and responds to your location, so for example if you’re in Spain, you’ll normally use, if you’re in Japan, you’ll normally use Check which Google you’re using, as this will affect language-related search results. Generally, it’s better to use Google sites for English-speaking countries, such as, for that kind of search.