Finding stuff

Most of you will have various skills in using Google to search. Many folk use Google in a fairly crude manner, i.e. just type in some text and go from there. Often that works ok but given the significance of Google's data gathering it makes sense to have refined your generic searching somewhat. We would also argue that having some understanding of how Google produces the list of linked pages for you to examine is important. Further, having a somewhat questioning stance1 of any software you routinely use is very important.

Searching has always been a key skill in doing scholarly work. It was a lot easier in the days before the Net. You worked with physical books, journals and papers. The photocopier was an essential resource, as were your filing methods. A good analogy for thinking about finding stuff is that of doing detective work. From small snippets or clues, you have to locate a document, find out about its author(s), locate them in the bigger sandpit2 in which they work and so on.

There is, of course, more to finding stuff than simply using a Google search. The linked pages give you some sense of these other ways of working. They are by no means meant to suggest that this is the sum total of searching tips and tricks but it is a start.

We have divided searching into three broad categories those that are:

Increasingly there is software that supports the curating of your resources that has search features built it3. This scene is changing fairly quickly so working out what works well for you is probably a good thing to stick with unless the new thing that comes along genuinely offers a lot more functionality to support the way you work.

Remember always that the reason you are searching is to build a map of the terrain(s) in which you are interested. You want to know where the good spots are, where the important sites to visit are located. So here you have to rely on others, and often via informal means, i.e. blogs, tweets and so on.

As the world makes more and more use of search facilities, recent research identifies some of the interesting limitations and patterns than anyone woh uses search ought to know about.

A brief sampling

The algorithms that Google uses tailor search results for you, whether you want to or not.4

The manipulation of ideas, news, information is now a hue field of research one of the better thinkers in this space is danah boyd. An interview she did in 2018 is well worth a read. A paper she did with Michael Golebiewski is also a good mapping of the problems that flow when the cost of search is close to zero5

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