Syntax – Answers

Natural Language

Google: Use natural phrasing for the main words and keep them in their natural order. Add context words to distinguish between meanings – if you are looking for an apple, is it the computer or the fruit?

  1. first woman to climb Mount Everest — Results page (shortcut) will likely display a “featured snippet” about Junko Tabei from a, a fairly reputable site.
  2. budget accommodation in Paris France– Results: (shortcut) Google will present hotels from its own travel service which you can filter by price, amenities, rating, hotel class. Beyond that there are more services, articles, and ads. This query even works if you misspell accommodation. Try this question with any destination.
  3. convert gallons to cubic meters — Results: Shortcut Google has an instant answer from its calculator followed by several hits that can be used to convert volumes.. More about Google calculator.

Other Search Engines: All search engines will accept natural language phrasing. Many will also do calculations and conversions. Wolfram Alpha is extremely strong in handling all kinds of calculations and conversions.

Phrase Searching

Google: Use quotation marks to indicate you want the words to be found together.

  1. “Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World” You could go for broke and look for the full title. This will find online stores advertising the book, Google Books, several reviews, and possibly Tapscott’s site.
  2. “Grown Up Digital” How the “Net Generation” is Changing Your World. If the full quote fails or brings in too few results, relax the search by picking out the key phrases. You’ll get more results and may see some variations.
  3. “Grown Up Digital” How the “Net Generation” is Changing Your World excerpt
    Add the term ‘excerpt’ to specify exactly what you would like to see.
  4. On the Book Search you’ll get an overview and be able to read a few pages. You can also search inside the book and be linked to passages.
  5. “what we play is life”
    Louis Armstrong is widely quoted. Use the quotation marks to mark the quotation.Use the Google Book Search to find books where this phrase occurs in a book. GBS will sometimes show snippets of the passages where this phrase appears. Click on the hyper-linked page to be taken “inside the book”.

Other Search Engines: All search engines use quotation marks to delineate phrases.


Google, Bing, Yahoo, Duckduckgo: All of these will produce a lot of hits for this search – history  (inuit OR eskimo) “north america”. We would want to add more words to describe what we’re really interested in – history of hunting? cultural history? contact with the European? We can also consider excluding some sites. Perhaps we would like to exclude galleries from the search, or even museums. Do that with the minus sign.

At Google it’s a good practice to put the terms connected by the OR inside brackets so that Google understands that you want “writing course” or “writing class” along with online.

You can try another term – virtual – to get different results.

  • online (“writing course” OR “writing class”)
  • virtual (“writing course” OR “writing class”)

On phrases where one word is repeated, you can construct the query with an OR — “writing (course OR class)” is the same as “writing course” OR “writing class”.

Alternatively, take another approach – look a MOOC for creative or fiction writing.

  • mooc writing (creative OR fiction)

Title Search

At Bing begin with intitle:landmines ban anti-personnel landmines – note that Bing’s results have landmine or landmines in the titles and you might also see land mines.

Site Search

Google: The quickest way to search a domain or a site  is to use the site prefix.

To search Health Canada, use diabetes

For pages that are about the battles of Gallipoli from the Australian point of view use, intitle:gallipoli australian battles site:au. Gallipoli is the most important word – look for it in the title. Add qualifiers such as battles and australian. Could also use ~australian.


Google: We can narrow the search quickly by looking for words in title, limiting to the Government of Ontario domain, and selecting only pdf documents.

  • filetype:pdf intitle:environment

If results seem cluttered with powerpoint presentations, you can exclude them. For example:

  • intitle:”web searching” -filetype:ppt


[Updated December 5, 2016]