Research & Referencing

A guide for students and staff on referencing, copyright, creative commons and more



This page will give you some tips and tricks to make your searching easier, faster and smarter. In the column on the left, you will see a short video that explains how Google search works. Below that are some links to different search engines that you may find useful.

In the centre column there are some tips to help you improve your search strategies.

How does Google work?

General Search Engines

Specialty Search Engines

Search Strategies

Search Strategies

When interpreting web searches Google uses 'natural language' searching. This means that you can type questions into the search box and get good answers.

For example you can type 'Why did Germany invade Poland?' and get back good answers, just as if you had searched by keywords, such as 'Germany, invasion, Poland, cases'.


You can see that both return very similar results, but it is much easier to ask the question rather than break down your question into key terms.

However, there are many tips and tricks that you can use to enhance your search results, where you want to get better answers then you would if you had just asked a question. These are transferable across many of the search engines listed on the side of this page.

Tip 2. Using the Quote Marks

One of the most powerful and useful search tools is to us "quote" marks around a phrase. Using these will ensure that the results that are returned are ones that contain that exact phrase exactly. This is useful when your results come back with results that contain only one or two of the words you are searching for, But more importantly, the quote marks tell Google that you want their search to look 'deeper' into their index. This means that not only are you going to get better matches, but you'll get matches that may not have been displayed when you don't include the results.

For example, compare the results for:

ANZAC Day 1916

"ANZAC Day 1916"

Tip 3. Using the Hyphen to Remove Results

Using the hyphen modifier can exclude certain words or phrases from your results. You can think of the hyphen as working much like a minus sign in maths. As an example there are a number of historical events that have TVs or movies made about them. Quite often serach engines will return information about these productions higher than websites that contain information about the actual event.

For example, compare the results for:


Chernobyl, -TV

Tip 4. Searching for a Specific Site

Searching using the modifier 'site:' returns results only from that specified domain. When searching for 'world war 2', you will tend to be given results from US or UK websites. By using the modifier 'site:gov.au' we will only be given results from Australian government websites.

For example, compare:

world war 2

world war 2, site:gov.au

Tip 5. Searching for a Specific File

Searching using the modifier 'filetype:' will give us results of the specified file type. As an example I might want a sample of the Wilhelm scream for a media project. However, I want a sound file not a video or the history of it. Therefore I might search for a file type that is associated with sound files. In this instance I want an 'ogg' as I know I want to use an open source free to use file.  

For example compare:

Wilhelm scream 

Wilhelm scream, filetype:ogg

Tip 6. Putting it all Together

All of the above search modifiers can be combined together to ensure you get even better results. This is included combining modifiers, such as '-site:', which will remove any results from the site specified. 

In the example below i want to find a map of Perth. However, I do not want to buy any, and I do not want an online maps, so I have used a modifier to remove Google maps. I have also asked to return only Australian government websites, which wil also return Western Australian government websites (wa.gove.au). 

For example compare:

maps of perth

maps of perth,-shopping, -buy, -site:maps.google, site:gov.au

Search Tips

Advanced Search Strategies

Tip 6. Searching for Specific Words in a Title or URL

Sometimes you might want to find a web page that has a specific title or has a particular word in the URL. This is useful when searching for folders or when looking for a webpage that is associated with a particular topic.  

For example compare:

big four banks, about us

big four banks, intitle: about us

Tip 7. Number Searches

Google has a number of number related functions integrated into their search engine. This includes simple maths calculations such as 3x4=; conversions, such as 90lbs to kg; or currency exchange rates, such as 1AUD to USD. It also allows you to search for a range using '..' for example 'cold war 1966..1972'.

For more advanced searches related to  numbers, including more complicated maths problems, Wolfram Alpha is an excellent option. 

Tip 8. Other Useful Tools

There are a number of other search tools that you can use to help your research.  

Define is a great tool to find find the definitions, etymology, pronunciation and synonyms for words. 

Ngram is a tool to see how a word, or set of words have been used over time. This searches the digital repositories of Google books.




Trends is another tool that looks for trends in searches over time.




Using the '@' allows you to search social media. You can also search by hashtag too ('#')

Using 'Cache:' will let you see a cached (saved) copy of a website made by Google. This does not always work, however the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive can also show you archived sites.



Boolean Operations

Most search engines also use Boolean operators to help you filter and improve your search results. 

Check out the information on the Databases page in this Libguide to see more information.