Searching online to supplement what you know

One task I often need to accomplish is supplementing a little bit of information I have in hand (a news tip, a blog entry, an offhand reference, a quote, a news brief) with much more detailed information (a full newspaper write-up, an earlier news clipping, a script from our own archives). This can be hard to do if you don’t know how to formulate the right query for an online search… or it can take mere seconds if you do.

If you’re looking for a recent news story, then Google News is the right place to start. If you’re looking for general information or an older news clipping, start with a regular Google search. (Google News includes archival items, but in many cases, you have to pay.)

The quickest way to find exactly what you’re looking for is to use a query containing proper nouns — the capitalized names of persons, places or things. So, for example, if I’m looking for items on the Southern California gay teen recently shot to death at school…

gay teen shot

will get me there, but also miss some stories where he was not described as ‘gay’ and produce a lot of false leads, because, unfortunately, a lot of other gay teens have been shot in the last few years. But if I use the name of the city and the boy’s last name…

Oxnard King

I will almost eliminate false leads and produce a plethora of useful links. Note that I didn’t use the victim’s first name, because I happen to know that he was called both “Larry” and “Lawrence.” If I really wanted to nail it, of course, I could search on both:

Oxnard (Larry-King OR Lawrence-King)

Obviously, searching on just “Larry King” would be a bust, because of the similarly named talk show host.

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