Help Desk On-line Search Primer

Atlantic Canada's First Nation Help Desk

Developed and written by Kevin R. Burton for Atlantic Canada's First Nation Help Desk.

Using Search Engines

Search Engines are web sites that are designed to find information on the internet. All search engines uses slightly different strategies, and many have varying capabilities. Some understand complex boolean logic, and others don’t. There are more than a dozen different search engines. What in the world are we to do?

If you are interested in following menu trees of general interest down to specific categories, search engines like, or give the best results. Simply click on the category of interest, and continue clicking until you get to the sub-category you want.

For general searches, when you are looking for specific information, I recommend a meta search engine (like, or as a starting point. They provide a wonderful service by becoming a “middle robot” to, in turn, search all of the various search engines. In addition, it converts boolean logic notation into formats understandable by each search engine. The only downside is that the search can be a little slower than a search on a single engine.

Let's demonstrate the logic of how a meta-search engine like works. Let’s say that I know that the Unama’ki Training and Education Centre has a web site, but I don’t know its address. I type in in the address box, and then type in “Unama’ki” in dogpile’s search box. This is one of those situations where there is an almost perfect condition for a search - an exact, rather unique word. (or goes and does their work. The information you get back, and the order of it may vary from day to day. In our example, I’ll use a table summary of the results.

Sample results from search for "Unama'ki"
Search engine # of hits Samples
Looksmart 1 Dead link 10 or more Eskasoni & Unama'ki Mi'kmaq Native Sites
1999 Unama'ki Open Chess Tournament
Wabanaki Links
Google 120 Eskasoni & Unama'ki Mi'kmaq Native Sites
Mi'kmaq Native Adult Education - Eskasoni, Nova Scotia, Canada 0
DirectHit 0
InfoSeek 10 or more Native Links
Cape Breton Post Online Edition
Lycos 10 or more Signing Ceremony for Unama'ki Tribal Police Service
RealNames 10 Power of Ki Energy
ki ki 10 (personal home page of a blonde, sexy & cute love anime).
AltaVista 62 First Nation Information Project GeoNative 0
Dogpile Web Catalog 0

One should note that the results one day will not be the same results obtained the next. The net is always changing dynamically!

Search Engines with Content Filters

The results from the “Realnames” search engine brings up a cause for concern among many people . . . how to avoid spurious and inappropriate listings for young people. Short of installing filtering software such as CyberPatrol, some search engines provide filtering options. One search engines that incorporates a content filter is:

infoseek (

Search Engines with Natural Language Interfaces

Some of the new search engines are beginning to have natural language processors that allow the user to input a typical sentence, such as “What is the best digital video camera.” The best of these so far seems to be while seems to be making great strides in this area.

Points to be taken from the exercise:

Canadian versus World-wide searches

Most of the sites one finds on a search are from the United States. We did after all, search the World-Wide Web! One search engine that searches only Canadian sites is:

Going directly to Educational Search Engines

Sometimes, when you have a particular discipline that you are interested, such as education, you may want to go directly to a search engine that limits its searches to that topic, rather than going to a general search engine.

One way to find these types of search engines is to look in professional journals or ask an associate (some of these services may not be free). Another way was to perform a search on dogpile looking for those kinds of search engines. I performed a search on of:

"search engine" + education

(See advanced logic searches below). The results of educational search engines included, but were not limited to:

One of the best sites with Native and educational content (that can easily be found by pressing the “Links” button on our site) is:

We will endeavor to keep adding links and resources in our “Links” section.

Using Advanced Logic in Searches

When searching for information we often have to expand or constrict the searches we perform. For example, if we want to find information pertaining to Mi’kmaw people, we need to figure out how to look for Mi’kmaq, Mi’kmaw, or Micmac. “Native American” is most often used in Canada while “Indian” is often the key word used in the U.S. Maybe a search on “education” gives us several thousand too many sources, so we may want to find “education + science + elementary”

Note: Not all search engines “understand” advanced logic. Some search engines use different notations (for example, the logical term “AND” is used by some engines as a “+” while others use a “&”). Dogpile converts, as much as is possible, boolean notation into the appropriate formats used by each search engine.

The Five Logical Operators

Logical Operators
Meaning Example Result
+ AND education + maliseet
OR OR education + (micmac OR Mi'kmaq OR Mi'kmaw) Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey
Mi'kmaq - Mi'gmaq Online MicMac Talking Dictionary
Expressions in Mi'kmaq
( ) group education + (native OR aboriginal OR indian) + elementary
" " exact word order "Rita Joe" Native American Authors Project
- NOT Canada + native + -alternative ("native" is included in the word alternative)
Indian and Northern Affairs Canada

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