Looking for a Specific Phrase? Use Quotation Marks

how to use quotes to search better
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Have you ever searched for something and got back way more than what you were hoping for? Of course - this is a common experience that anyone who has ever used a search engine has encountered. 

If you are looking for a specific phrase, just typing it into a search engine will probably not get you the results you were hoping for. Search engines might bring back pages that have all the words you entered, but those words most likely will not be in the order you intended or even anywhere near each other.

For instance, say you had a very specific search query in mind such as:

Nobel Prize Winners 1987

Your results could bring back pages that have Nobel Prize, winners of prizes, 1987 winners of prizes, 1,987 winners of prizes..and the list goes on. Probably not what you were hoping for, to say the least.

How Do Quotation Marks Make Searches Better? 

There's a simple way to make your searches more streamlined, and cut out much of the extraneous results that we get so often. Using quotation marks around your phrases takes care of this problem. When you use quotation marks around a phrase, you are telling the search engine to only bring back pages that include these search terms exactly how you typed them in order, proximity, etc. For example:

"Nobel Prize Winners 1987"

Your search results now will only bring back pages that have all these words in the exact order that you typed them in. This little trick saves a lot of time and frustration and works in nearly any search engine.

 

Looking for Specific Dates

You also have some flexibility in how you order the phrase and other words you'd like to be found with it. For example, say you would like to look for our standard example of Nobel Prize Winners, but you'd like a specific date range. In Google, you could use this search:

"Nobel prize winners" 1965..1985

You just told Google to bring back only the results for Nobel prize winners, in exactly that word order, but then you also specified that you only want to see results in the date range of 1965 to 1985. 

Find a Specific Phrase

How about if you want to search for a specific "anchor" phrase, so to speak, and you'd like to attach some descriptors to that phrase to expand it? Easy - just put your descriptive modifiers in front of the specific phrase, separated by a comma (we'll keep our date range on there as well):

science, technology, literature "nobel prize winners" 1965..1985

Exclude Certain Words

What if you decide you don't like those results and don't want to see anything in your search results from those descriptive modifiers? Use the minus sign (-) to tell Google (or most any other search engine) that you are specifically not interested in seeing those words in your search results (this is a distinct feature of Boolean search methods):

"nobel prize winners" -science, -technology, -literature 1965..1985

Tell Google Where You Want the Phrase To Be Found

Going back to searching just for the phrase; you can also specify where in the page you would like Google to find this specific phrase. How about just in the title?

Use the following search string to find the phrase you're looking for in the title of any web page:

allintitle:  "nobel prize winners" 

You can specify a phrase search only in the text on the page itself with this query:

allintext:  "nobel prize winners"

You can even specify that you only want to see this phrase in the URL of search results, which can bring back really interesting sources:

allinurl:  "nobel prize winners"

Find a Specific File

One last interesting search combination that I highly suggest you experiment with; search for your specific phrase within different types of files. What does this mean?

Google and other search engines index HTML pages, but they also sort and index documents: Word files, PDF files, etc. Try this to get some really interesting results:

"nobel prize winners" filetype:pdf

This will bring back results that feature your specific phrase, but it will only bring back PDF files. 

Quotation Marks - One of the Easiest Ways to Streamline Your Searches

Don't be afraid to experiment with these combinations; quotation marks can be an incredibly powerful yet simple way to make your searches much more effective.