You can narrow your web searches by enclosing phrases in quotation marks.

For example: Try doing a search for students on Mars, without quotation marks, and note the number and type of results you receive. Now run the search again, this time enclosing the phrase in quotation marks: “students on Mars.” The number of results drops dramatically, and all of the results include the exact phrase “students on Mars.”

*note: Capitalization is ignored in all major search engines. Searching for Mars is the same as searching for mars.


Every time you add a term to your search, you are narrowing that search. So when you need to limit a web search, try adding more terms.

A good approach when adding terms is to identify each of the main concepts in the topic you are researching and then generate a list of terms associated with those concepts.

For example, suppose you are researching the following question:

Should internet access at public libraries be filtered? 

The question has three major components, each of which might suggest possible search terms:

internet libraries filtering
computers public library censor
web   restrict


You'll discover additional relevant terms once you begin searching, so it’s fine to begin with a small set of search terms.  

Note, too, that search engines will often return related results. For example, if you begin your search with the terms web, library, and censor, Google will add the terms internet, libraries, and censorship to your search. 


If your search produces many unwanted results, try to identify a term common to these unwanted results, and add it to your search with a minus sign (-) in front of it.

For example, if you wanted to find a recipe for a salsa without tomatoes, you might use the following search:   salsa recipetomatotomatoes.

This search will exclude from your results any page containing the term “tomato” or “tomatoes.” 


When you want to check out a promising result without losing track of your original set of search results, hold down your Control key (Command key on a Mac) and then click on the link. This will open the page in new tab.  


Remember that search engines do not search in real time: they do not zip around the globe searching for answers to every search query. Instead, they search an index that has been compiled over time in order to determine which “live” web page to direct you to. The index includes the terms that appeared on the page in the past, when the page was last visited by the search engine.

Some sites are indexed more frequently than others. This is why our search results are sometimes disappointing: the information we seek was on the page days, weeks, or months ago when the page was indexed, but the information is no longer appearing on the live page. The search-engine index is out of date.

If a page is returned to you without your search terms, try navigating to the “cached” version of the page, as the information you are seeking may appear on this older/saved version of the page:

Photinos new cached image



If you want very recent information on a topic, you could use advanced search options (see "Explore More Search Options" below) to filter for only recent results, but you’ll probably retrieve better results by filtering for “News” specifically. 

For example, web search results for the term privacy will emphasize general information and definitions, while a news search for this term will return reports of recent happenings around the issue of privacy, such as information about recent legislation and court rulings.

Most major search engines provide the option of searching news sources specifically:







Distinctions among top-level domain names such as .org and .com have broken down in recent years, but some domain names have retained their original meanings and are helpful to know:

domain description example
.edu university site
.gov government site
.mil military site

(The top-level domain .org was originally intended for use by non-profit organizations—and many non-profits continue to use it—but it is now open to anyone.)

You can limit/filter your searches by domain with site:  

site:edu       site:gov     site:mil      (note:  there is no space after the colon)

Example:  If you search for essay help, your results will be dominated by sites that sell essays to students (popularly known as “paper mills” or “cheat sites”).   A search for essay help site:edu will primarily return college websites offering writing assistance. 

The site: limiter also works with specific websites.



(This search will return New York Times articles containing the term “privacy”)

Writing Center

(The first result for this search will likely be the web page for the NU Writing Center.)


Most search engines offer “advanced” search options.

You will find Google's "Advanced Search" page at

Or, if you are signed in to Google, try clicking on the cogwheel in the top-right hand corner:


Search engines routinely change the location of “Advanced search.” The important thing is to know that advanced search tools exist and to sniff around for them when the search engine interface makes them hard to find.