Back in ancient times (pre-2022), knowing a dozen or so search engine “power” techniques*, such as putting specific words “in quotes” so only results containing that exact phrase would be returned, allowed users to refine millions of potential search results down to a few dozen or hundred that are truly meaningful.
* For more search engine techniques, see “Resources to sharpen search skills” at the bottom of this post.
These search engine query skills are essential, but they are no longer sufficient.
AI is incredibly powerful, but we still need to become skilled at providing instructions that point it in the right direction.
- Understand that the results may be outdated or simply wrong.
- To save a lot of needless formatting time when you intend to paste the results elsewhere, give specific instructions about formatting: “…After each of these, add a space, then a dash, then another space, and then explain…” or “…in parenthesis, provide…” or “…put the results into a 4-column table with….” You can also add code formatting, such as “…and surround each item with HTML <p> tags.”
- Be clear and concise in your questions: Make sure to ask questions that are straightforward and easy to understand, avoiding ambiguity and complex language.
- Use specific keywords: To get the most accurate answers, be sure to include specific keywords related to the topic you’re asking about.
- Provide relevant context or background information.
- If you’re asking for clarification, provide specific examples of what you want.
- Use precise with dates and times (or ranges), when appropriate.
- Use proper grammar and spelling (helps it understand your requests more easily).
- Use clear, direct language.
- Ask one question at a time, rather than multiple questions in one sentence.
- For questions with multiple steps or items to cycle through, use bullet points or numbered lists in your instructions.
- Ask follow-up questions for clarification, or to refine or reformat results.
Resources to sharpen search skills:
PC Magazine’s “21 Google Search Tips You’ll Want to Learn,” Google’s “Refine web searches,” and MOZ’s “Ultimate Guide to Google Search Operators and Parameters.”
And in a pinch, there’s always Google’s Advanced Search page where you can easily build a search query without having to remember all the shortcuts.
BONUS: To search your email, try “Search operators you can use with Gmail” (some will work with other email services too).