Super User is a question and answer site for computer enthusiasts and power users. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I'm writing a paper on how to use search engines (directed towards people who weren't raised by Google) and I'm having troubling thinking of examples of bad searches (that people actually do). The examples I have so far are when people do searches like "how do I fix my laptop" instead of "dv2125nr won't turn on" or "why doesn't windows work" instead of "windows error IRQ NOT LESS OR EQUAL".

Any ideas?

share|improve this question

closed as too broad by Journeyman Geek May 15 '14 at 10:44

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

This should probably be a Community Wiki – MDMarra Dec 7 '09 at 3:16
I have no idea how to do that.. – Brendan Long Dec 7 '09 at 4:01
Go ahead and hit 'edit' under your question. Under the editing windows down to the lower right is a checkbox to mark the question as 'community wiki'. Check that and hit 'Save Your Edits'. – Troggy Dec 7 '09 at 4:06
up vote 4 down vote accepted

You hit on the biggest one in your question: not being specific enough. Limiting yourself to Google Web Search is often a mistake, especially if the topic is popular. For instance, if you want help on the terminator (the line that divides night and day), simple searches for terminator or twilight will find movies, not earth science.

In many cases, a quick check of Wikipedia is the solution to this problem. It's also a good idea to remember the DMOZ directory (also found via Google), a successor to the old Yahoo!-style directory search, if you want a list of things, e.g. "Magazines about ocean fishing."

share|improve this answer
Thanks a lot! I was trying to think of a good example to use for the - operator. The only ones I could think of were things like ubuntu -linux and I doubt my audience would be able to relate to that. twilight -movie will probably work much better. – Brendan Long Dec 7 '09 at 4:02

People often ask the search engine a question instead of typing words they expect to find on a page. They will often type something like "Where can I find out how to grow flowers?", and not realizing that they are actually searching for "find grow flowers" when they should really type "growing roses in Florida", because those are the words that are likely to actually be on the pages they want.

share|improve this answer
this isn't a mistake. search engines like google are working to understand those questiones and to give them the right answer ;) – Edo Dec 17 '09 at 21:16

If this is google specific, there are all kinds of conditionals and operators that can be used, such as site:, exclude (-), include (+), Wildcard (*), etc.

A good list is here

share|improve this answer
Brendan asked for mistakes, not helpful suggestions. – CarlF Dec 7 '09 at 3:34
The mistake is that people don't know they can/should use them – Ivo Flipse Dec 7 '09 at 7:29
Exactly, not knowing that you need to put a phrase in quotes or that *nix operating systems is a valid search is certainly a mistake. – MDMarra Dec 7 '09 at 12:04

I don't think searching for "windows error IRQ NOT LESS OR EQUAL" will get you much more than this page. I believe the error you're talking about there involves an IRQL not an IRQ.

You might mention in your paper about getting the error message right; it generally improves search results.

share|improve this answer

There are a few classes of mistakes that people often make. The first has already been mentioned a few times: Not being specific enough. This actually has two incarnations, however. You can not be specific enough in your search terms, or you can not be specific enough in your search engine.

For example, if someone wants a map of Portland, OR, they may want to go to google maps if they're trying to find a street address, or to google images, if they're looking for a nice image of Portland marked on a map of OR. If you're looking for a biography of George Washington, you may want to do an Amazon search to find a book, or a Wikipedia search to find information.

I think a solid covering of the second class of mistakes would help you expand your discussion significantly. This also flows nicely into another facet of using the search engine, which is looking at the url to see where it's going to take you.

Additionally, people often end up searching for a specific answer to a question, when a search for a service would be a better idea. This is the opposite of the first problem of not specific enough search results, and is related to the second problem of not specific enough search engines. Instead of googling "John Doe's phone number", googling "Jane Doe's phone number" then "Sally Doe's phone number", it would be a better idea to google "find phone numbers" then stick to the white pages search.

share|improve this answer

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .