Search Tips for Students & Educators

search-tips-educatorsGoogle processes an average of 40,000 search queries every second. This equates to 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide. Do we utilize Google and other search engines correctly? Have you thought about ways to improve your Internet searches? In general, web literacy refers to the knowledge and use of specific skills needed to locate, evaluate, synthesize, organize, and communicate information found online. The application of web literacy skills enables opportunities for students to research content effectively.

The acronym S.E.A.R.C.H. is used here to demonstrate ways web searches may be improved by adults and children alike. These handy tips will enhance the way you “Google”:

S – Select Keywords

Regardless of the search engine you use, applying appropriate key words could help produce successful search results. Keywords should reflect what you want to know about a topic. A student assigned a research paper on the Alamo might try a keyword search such as “History of the Alamo” instead of just “Alamo”.

E – Evaluate Hits and Content

Initial search results may include commercial sites where businesses have paid to have a website rank at the top of the list. Many of these are labeled “AD,” but other popular hits may appear as well.  Evaluate the types of websites a search generated. Look for promising websites which will likely provide the desired information.

Content on websites must be evaluated as well. Evaluate the content of a website for accuracy. This may involve determining the author or publisher of a website. You can often locate a website’s publisher information by using the Whois? Database.  If a website’s content seems questionable and you want to know who owns the site or has published the material, visit

– Add Quotation Marks or Boolean Terms

Initial searches may result in over a million hits. Consider narrowing a search:

Quotation Marks

Use quotation marks with keyword phrases to ensure the words are searched in the order in which you type them. Ex: “blue whale”

Plus/Minus Signs

Use the plus sign to join words or phrases or to require common words (often ignored in searches) to be located: Ex: + which

Use the minus sign to eliminate words in searches: Ex: “juvenile diabetes” – type 2

Basic Boolean Terms

Using “or” actually broadens a search and may help find specific information. For example, digital literacy and web literacy are similar terms. If both are of interest, the following search may help locate information about either topics: “web literacy” or “digital literacy”

Using “and” narrows a search (but isn’t required in a search): “web literacy” and “digital literacy” and “information literacy”

R – Refine Results

A search can be narrowed further by using tools such as the Google toolbar, which enables Internet users to conduct advanced searches using criteria such as language, readability, file type, usage rights, and more.

C – Check the URL

Check the URL for clues about a website’s content. November Learning’s book Web Literacy for Educators presents many tips relating to URLs. Internets users must understand the domain and extension (.edu, .org, .com), find the author, and utilize many other clues URLs may provide. For example, the tilde (~) is a clue that the website is a personal page.


Students searching “octopus” may come across the following website:

In order to learn more about the author, delete everything after .net. What can you determine about the author? Is this website a valid source of information?

H – Hunt for Key Information

Wading through online text to find target information can be tedious. As you “hunt,” remember the following tips:

  • Skim text for important information
  • Examine multiple sources
  • Try alternative key words or phrases when necessary
  • Bookmark useful information (Try bookmarking tools)
The Department of Education at The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor is a recognized leader in the field of education and in the preparation of high-quality educators. If you’re interested in preparing the future leaders of our world, we encourage you to visit our website and schedule a campus visit.
Jodi Pilgrim, Ph.D.

Jodi Pilgrim, Ph.D.

Jodi is an associate professor in UMHB’s College of Education. She teaches literacy courses for pre-service teachers and is an advocate for lifelong learning.
Jodi Pilgrim, Ph.D.

Latest posts by Jodi Pilgrim, Ph.D. (see all)

Jodi Pilgrim, Ph.D.

About Jodi Pilgrim, Ph.D.

Jodi is an associate professor in UMHB’s College of Education. She teaches literacy courses for pre-service teachers and is an advocate for lifelong learning.

  • Lacey Curry

    Good tips to teach students so that they wont get taken to inappropriate sites or at least reduce the chance of it happening

  • Ashley Toscano

    This article provides great tips for both teachers and students when it comes to using technology and search engines. I especially liked the focus on critical thinking when using websites, and using to validate the accuracy of a webpage. I hadn’t heard of that database before. I think the tips for narrowing searches would be helpful for both teachers and students.

  • Angelica Reyes

    This article was very informative. It has great tips when using search engines, which is extremely helpful for teachers and students. I really liked the part on refine searches, I’ve never payed attention to Google toolbar. I didn’t know that you could use it to advance and narrow searches.

  • Brittany Jackson

    This article was very informational, it is a great resource for students who are pursuing teaching. I love the acronym SEARCH it takes a broad topic and helps make it much more clear. As well as an easy way for teachers to show students safe technology practices. Using these practices will keep your students safe as well as protect the integrity of you as a teacher.

  • Gena Weeks

    These tips are extremely helpful for teachers, as well as students. I think the tips to narrow down a search will be very useful for students that are researching. Using tips everyday, such as checking the url for clues on whether it is a reliable source, will help students as they get older and their research becomes more and more.

  • Janie Neyland

    This was such a great read. This is extremely informational for students as well as teachers. I really like the idea of the SEARCH acronym. It makes everything that much more specific and it is really surprising what I did not know about search engines. This is such a good way to keep your students safe too!

  • Shelbi Wagner

    These tips are really helpful for both teachers and students. I love the SEARCH acronym! It makes it easy to remember the tips and how to use them. It is surprising to learn that there are so many search features that help you narrow your search and give you more accurate information. This will definitely be a valuable tool for both teachers and students alike!

  • Elizabeth Stefanski

    I love the idea of the website. This will make explaining which websites are valid so much easier to older elementary students who are working on research!

  • Kendra

    If all teachers and students knew these tips, searching for information on the web would be much easier and effective. It is obvious that students will benefit in research assignments if the teacher shares the information in this blog with them. I hadn’t heard most of these tips until last year. I especially liked the emphasis on finding exactly what you’re looking for with quotation marks and stressing to students how crucial it is to check for website credibility.