This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Electronic Highways

Published: January 20, 2005

Getting the most out of Google

It seems as if a day can't go by without some major news coverage on the company/search engine Google—The New York Times, Newsweek, Wall Street Journal and "60 Minutes" all have done pieces on the Internet behemoth over the past few weeks. But then, any Internet site that can attract more than 60 million unique users a month is newsworthy.

There's a good possibility, dear reader, that you find yourself among the Google-addicted. Some of your searches are serious, others trivial, but either way, you find yourself at on a regular basis. But what do you do when you get there? If you are a typical Internet searcher, you type one or two, possibly three words in the Google search box and hope for the best. But don't settle for hope. Instead, improve your search results by learning a few tips and familiarizing yourself with Google tools that you never knew existed.

A good place to start is at Google's Cheat Sheet http://www. The Cheat Sheet contains basic search tips, a list of syntaxes you can use with the search engine, as well as some specialty offerings. Basic search tips include such things as putting quotation marks around words when doing phrase searching, the use of the minus sign to exclude words from a search (e.g. virus -computer searches for the word virus but NOT the word computer) and the use of the tilde (~) to look for synonyms (e.g. ~auto loan searches for the word loan and the word auto and its synonyms: car, truck, vehicle, etc.).

More detailed explanations can be found at Google Web Search Features http://www. One of the features, Calculator, can help you solve math problems involving basic arithmetic, units of measure and conversions, as well as more complicated mathematics. To use the calculator function, simply enter the calculation you'd like to be performed into the search box and click on the Google search button. For example:

  • (378+894)*7

  • Cube root of 937

  • Inches in a mile

  • Quarts in a liter

  • 406 in roman numerals

Other features include Search by Number, which lets you access package-tracking information, U.S. patents and a variety of other databases; Stock Quotes, which provides stock and mutual fund information; and Travel Information to check the status of an airline flight in the U.S. or to view airport delays and weather conditions. There also are features for spell checking, street maps and Web page language translation.

For those who aren't interested in familiarizing themselves with all of Google's functions and required syntaxes, there's Soople Soople is a site that softens all the fantastic (advanced) functions Google offers. It provides the calculator, language translator, topical search tips, phone directory and a filter for simultaneous use of many of Google's advanced features. Soople's creator made the site for his mother, who, though computer-savvy, still didn't know about all the possibilities Google offers. The site does state that it "is in no way affiliated with or endorsed by Google."

Google is constantly hatching new ideas—there's Google Scholar, which focuses on research-quality content; Google Desktop, which lets you search your own computer's hard drive; and Google's recent announcement about partnering with Oxford University, Harvard University, Stanford University, University of Michigan and the New York Public Library to digitize books in their collections and make them accessible through Google Print

As great as Google is, it isn't the only search engine around. Microsoft, Yahoo!, Teoma and several other companies still believe that their products offer searchers something of value. A selected list of Internet search engines can be found at and for those of you interested in keeping current with search engines news, there's Search Engine Watch http://searchenginewatch. com/, Pandia Search Central index.html and Search Engine Showdown search/.

—Don Hartman, University Libraries