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Internet search tips July 13, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Tools, Translation Sites.

Every translator should be adept at using the Internet. I consider the Internet to be one of my most valuable tools. I use it to search for parallel texts and elusive terms as well as keep up with the latest news and changes in my fields of interest. I also use it to verify facts, locate places of business, schedule my day, etc. In fact, I resigned from the FBI because my supervisor would not authorize access to the Internet. I never realized how reliant I am on the Internet until I was unable to use it to do my job.

There is no right or wrong way to search the Internet. If you find what you need and find it quickly, you can consider your method to be successful. However, you also need to make sure that what you have found is really the correct answer, is the best answer, and is the complete answer.

The following list provides a guideline for you to follow in formulating search requests, viewing search results, and modifying search results. These procedures can be followed for virtually any search request, from the simplest to the most complicated. For some search requests, you may not want or need to go through a formal search strategy; however, it’s a good idea to follow a strategy. Following the 10 steps will also ensure good results if your search is multifaceted and you want to get the most relevant results.

  1. Identify the important concepts of your search and rely on built-in relevance rankings provided by search engines.
  2. Choose the keywords that describe these concepts.
  3. Determine whether there are synonyms, related terms, or other variations of the keywords that should be included.
  4. Determine which search features may apply, including truncation, proximity operators, Boolean operators, and so forth.
  5. Choose a search engine.
  6. Read the search instructions on the search engine’s home page. Look for sections entitled “Help,” “Advanced Search,” “Frequently Asked Questions,” etc.
  7. Create a search expression using syntax that is appropriate for the search engine.
  8. Evaluate the results. How many hits were returned? Were the results relevant to your query?
  9. Modify your search if needed. Go back to Steps 2 through 4 and revise your query accordingly.
  10. Try the same search in a different search engine, following Steps 5 through 9 above. You may also want to try using a meta search engine that searches several search engines at once.

If you feel that your search has yielded too few Web pages, there are several things to consider:

  • Perhaps the search expression was too specific. Go back and remove some terms that are connected by ANDs.
  • Perhaps there are more terms to use. Think of more synonyms to “OR” together. Try truncating more words if possible.
  • Check spelling and syntax (a forgotten quotation mark or a missing parentheses)
  • Read the instructions on the help pages again.

If your search has given you too many results and many are unrelated to your topic, consider the following:

  • Narrow your search to specific fields, if possible.
  • Use more specific terms (for example, instead of cancer, use the specific type of cancer in which you’re interested).
  • Use quotation marks to indicate phrases when a phrase more exactly defines your concepts (for example, “quality criteria” will be more specific than quality criteria, which could occur in different places on the page).
  • Add additional terms with AND or NOT (or + and -).
  • Remove some synonyms if possible.

One important final step that should never be brushed off is verifying the term by assessing the quality of the content.

  • Consider the source (who is the organization behind the site? is it from an established news source, government, journal article, etc. or does the group have a bias that might influence the words they choose?)
  • Look at the quality of the site (if there are spelling and grammatical errors you might assume that the same level of attention to detail probably went into the gathering of the content).
  • Are the site and the contents current?
  • Verify using multiple sources – is the term you have found used on other English language web sites?

Verifying is probably the most important step in the process. Some web sites are poorly translated, so your term may be a false friend or an incorrect translation that has been picked up by other sites. One example is the use of Imprint for Impressum on German web site translations. An imprint is used in the publishing world, but it is completely inappropriate for web sites. This has been the subject of numerous discussions on the various listservs I belong to. Some more suitable suggestions include Credits, Legal information, Corporate Information, Legal Disclaimer, Contact Details, Contact Details/Disclaimer, About This Site or even The Boring Stuff (depending on level of informality of the site). Anything but Imprint, but I digress…

Another technique that I find to be invaluable is to put portions of a sentence in quotations in the search field or using a term that is used in the same sentence with the German word. By searching for [German term] lasers 3:2, I was able  to find a term that used the word “ratio” for another colleague who had spent several fruitless hours trying to find the term (I wish I could remember the specifics). And by searching for “sick days taken by employees” or “not work on Saturdays” you might stumble on a document that is similar (or identical) to the one you are translating. You can use the results to see how other people phrase things, which can be a terminological goldmine for the rest of your text.

By using these simple techniques and honing your search process you too can become a search champion. If you have an hour to kill, you might want to check out my streaming video presentation on Internet Research Skills, which was filmed in March 2006 at the University of Gainesville (disclaimer: I was talking to an empty room, so please ignore the awkwardness). If it doesn’t open in FireFox try opening it in Internet Explorer.


1. Kevin Lossner - December 11, 2008

Very useful post, Jill. Thanks for pointing this one out!

2. Damian Harrison - October 20, 2010

Just discovered this two years down the track … extremely useful stuff. Thanks!

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