Controlling Your Search

Now that you have learned about tools and some of the issues surrounding searching online, you need to be able to control your search. Just like with library databases, there are strategies you can employ with online searches. Recall that in our chapter scenario, you needed to find information about antiracism efforts of government and private organizations. When forming your search for this scenario, you might use the following keywords: antiracism, government, organizations, policies, and efforts. But you might want to take advantage of some more advanced search commands.

Limiting by Domain

One search command to make note of is site:. This command allows you to search for, or within, specific websites based on domain name. For our scenario, we need government and organizations, so it would be helpful to limit our search to those types of websites. You can set up your search to look something like this:

antiracism policies site:gov

This search example will look for the keywords antiracism and policies within government websites only. The site: command will limit results to those with gov in the website address (also known as the URL). The domain gov is reserved for U.S. government websites.

Other common domains that you could use include .com, .org, and .edu. The domain .org stands for “organization,” however, anyone can use the .org domain, not just non-profit organizations. It is very important to use these domain reservations as guidelines rather than definitive markers of credibility. For example, an .edu website (reserved for educational institutions) could host papers written by students, which might not be appropriate sources for a college-level research paper. Likewise, an .org website could be hosted by a commercial enterprise or even a hate group.

Limiting by File Type

The scenario also asks for online documents. The meaning of this word, “documents,” can be vague and unclear, but its use in the scenario indicates that we’re looking for something you can download, such as a PDF or maybe a Word document. You can also limit your results to file types when searching by using the filetype command. Your search would look something like this:

antiracism policies site:gov filetype:pdf

With the search example above, you will be limiting your search results to government websites that have PDFs related to antiracism policies.

Other Filters

In addition to those commands, there are easy-to-find tools built into search engines. You can search for images, news, maps and more when you search online. You can limit your results to the past year, the past hour, or other time periods. All of these additional limiters can be very powerful and helpful when conducting research, depending on your topic. Explore your search engine to see how much control you can have over your online searching.


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Introduction to College Research by Walter D. Butler; Aloha Sargent; and Kelsey Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.