One hard-and-fast rule for any Web search: the better your query, the better the results. Advanced searching isn't difficult, and all search engines offer guidelines for getting the most out of their particular service. While specific query syntax and punctuation vary from one search site to the next, you can follow some general rules.
In Praise of Phrases. Type a phrase like universal serial bus, and some search utilities return a list of sites that include any one of the words, in any order. Put the phrase in quotes, and most engines only look for the complete phrase.
Boolean Benefits. Most search sites support Boolean functions, which force a search engine to return only sites that meet both search criteria (AND), those containing either (OR) or sites that don't have a particular term (NOT). For example, if you type, USB AND manufacturer NOT "video card", you should get information on USB device manufacturers who don't sell video cards.
Build a Nest. Nesting search terms within parentheses further refines your search. Terms outside parentheses will be applied only to those files that have already met criteria within the parentheses. To find data about James Smith, an MIT glacier researcher, try ("James Smith" OR "J. Smith, PhD" OR "Dr. James Smith") AND ("Massachusetts Institute of Technology" OR MIT) AND glaciers. That's likely to return better results than just "James Smith" AND MIT AND glaciers. You can create even more specific criteria with some search engines. With HotBot, for example, linkdomain:winmag.com AND (usb OR "universal serial bus") AND after:10/02/96, will only search WINDOWS Magazine's Web site for pages with the words "USB" or "Universal Serial Bus" that were modified after October 2, 1996.
Close Enough. When an exact phrase is too restrictive, a proximity search may be more effective. Depending on the search utility, adding the terms NEAR or ADJ to a search will find documents with keywords that occur within a few words of each other. Use FOLLOWED BY in some search engines' queries to define the specific order in which words should appear.