A Guide to Nots

The Internet is a big part of our information lives these days. 

In fact, if you are reading this, then you are likely already an online research expert, whether you know it or not.  After all: how many times have you come online looking for the answer to a question, and then successfully come away with the answer in just a few minutes? Still, sometimes you might want to be extra sure of finding the right results, or you might want to dig just a little deeper.  So it might be worth picking up some more specialized tricks of the trade.

Here in this blog, from time to time I’ll present different strategies that are particularly useful for online research about Labrador topics. Today I’ll begin with a very minor one that can make an immediate, out-sized difference even for the most basic online searches.

Let’s start with an experiment. 

Say we’re looking for images of Labrador books.  We head to www.google.ca, enter labrador books, and click “Images” underneath the search bar. 

The results may be familiar:

Google Images search results for labrador books.
Google Images search results for labrador books.

Now, I like dogs as much as the next person, but this is not ideal!

The difficulty is that for better or for worse, when much of the world hears (or at least types) “Labrador,” they are thinking of the retriever. Fortunately, however, a very handy little trick exists for excluding terms from your search results, and the AI algorithms behind the better search tools, in particular, are able to apply it fairly well. 

So let’s try again, this time entering labrador books -dog.  Notice the minus sign (-) before dog.  It’s easy to miss, but important!  (Without it, this trick will backfire completely).

Our new results:

Google Images search results for labrador books -dog.
Google Images search results for labrador books -dog.

Much better!  About half the results in our first three rows are directly relevant, and the rest are all at least within the province. But we can trim this still further, by removing cases where the search engine has picked up “Labrador” in the very common phrase “Newfoundland and Labrador.”

So let’s do this one better in our final round, and try labrador books -dog -newfoundland

The results:

Google Images search results for labrador books -dog -newfoundland.
Google Images search results for labrador books -dog -newfoundland.

Here we have it!  Of the 17 first hits, we have 15 actual Labrador books, and only one dog managed to sneak in.  Incidentally, The Labrador Response in the middle row seems to be a medical thriller about a virus named Labrador.  So that’s another benefit of this approach: you get to find out all the other unexpected ways that “Labrador” figures into the wider world’s vocabulary, besides as a breed of dog.

All right, so this has been light-hearted, but it’s amazing how much time and aggravation one can actually save with this simple trick, when looking up materials about Labrador in more complex contexts. 

As someone who spends a lot of time in scholarly databases scanning literature for different researchers on a wide variety of topics, I can tell you that I add -dog -newfoundland to nearly any search I make where labrador is the main keyword.  (Though a conversation about choosing good keywords might also be in order!)

Note that in some cases, especially if you are getting few hits, it’s worth relaxing this strategy, because you will inevitably exclude a few relevant results: maybe a book on Labrador dog-sledding traditions, for example, or a book that really is about Newfoundland AND Labrador, not “Newfoundland and Labrador.”

So beware of -dog, but otherwise, hopefully this little trick proves to be of some help!

Found this post helpful? Let us know!

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