Searching the Internet

Credits: This leasson is adapted from Debbie's Advanced Internet Search Tutorial*, , 1996 Debbie Campbell (, The Center for Research on Parallel Computation
1. This lesson includes 7 steps. You will learn how to use symbols and words to search for your topic.

Click on the Alta Vista button.

altavista.gif (2345 bytes)

2. Make sure that AltaVista is set to

Search [the Web] and Display the Results [in Compact Form]

click on the gray arrows to make your selections for "the web" and "in compact form".

3. First, let's do a search the wrong way. Ask AltaVista to search for


Type "computers" into the white selection box.

Q. How many matches did you get? Is this reasonable?
A. About a million. No!
4. Now let's do it the smart way. Say you want to find a scientist named Archimedes. You know he lived in Greece, but you're not really sure how to spell his last name. You will put quotation marks around the part of the name you do know how to spell. For the rest of his name use the shift key and the * Ask AltaVista to search the Web for

"Archim*" and Greece

Q. What made your search more efficient?

A. Quotes, capital letters, the wildcard (*), and the binary operator and.

5. Let's say you want to spend some time in Greece to research Archimedes, but you can't afford a fancy hotel. Ask AltaVista to search for youth hostels in Athens, Greece:

hostel* and "Athens, Greece"

Q. What made your search more efficient?

A. The wildcard (*), the binary operator and, quotes, capital letters, and ranking criteria.

6. Now, let's say you want to track down some youth-oriented programs that offer counseling. You certainly don't want your search to turn up the kind of counseling that lawyers offer, so ask AltaVista to search for

counsel* and Houston and youth and not lawyer*

Q. What made your search more efficient?

A. The wildcard (*), capital letters, and the binary operators and and and not.

7. Six months from now, let's say want to visit this page again, but you can't remember its title or URL. You know you'll be able to find it off of my home page at Rice, but you can't remember if it's Debbie, Debra, or Deborah or if Campbell has a p, so try and "Deb* Cam*" and title:home

Debbie's Favorite AltaVista Operators & Keywords

(View/Print this table as a single page.)

See also: AltaVista's Help for Advanced Query Page

Operator/Keyword Example
Upper Case vs. Lower Case Asking for national could return National, naTional, nationAL, or just plain national. But, asking for National returns only National.
Quotes Placing double quotes around a phrase forces Alta Vista to look for that exact grouping of words. So, asking for "San Francisco" gets you the City by the Bay, whereas asking for San Francisco without quotes could return San Diego, San Mateo, etc.
A Note about Words... Note that AltaVista sees U.S.A. as a three-word phrase, and as a four-word phrase, because it views the punctuation characters as spaces. So, if you want to search for, say, a URL, your best bet is to put quotes around it: "".



Asking for "Tom Cruise" and "Mission Impossible" forces AltaVista to return only those pages that mention both Tom Cruise and his movie Mission Impossible on the same page.
and not


& !

Asking for "Tom Cruise" and not "Mission Impossible" forces AltaVista to return only those pages that mention Tom Cruise, but not his movie Mission Impossible.


Asking for "Mission Impossible" or "Risky Business" forces AltaVista to return only those pages that mention Mission Impossible or Risky Business or both on the same page.
Ranking Criteria When you give AltaVista ranking criteria, Web pages that contain your ranking criteria in the HTML title, a header, or within the first few words of the page will get a higher "score" and will be listed closer to the top of AltaVista's results list. If you don't give AltaVista any ranking criteria, results will be displayed "in no particular order".


Asking for Monet near Giverny ensures that AltaVista will return only those pages that mention Monet and Giverny within 10 words of each other.
* Asking for Deb* might return Deb, Debra, Deborah, or Debutante, or any other word that begins with Deb. Note that you must have at least three letters before the *, and you can have other letters after the *. Also note that AltaVista will "ignore" your query if it's so general that it returns too many results; for example, comp*.
host title etc. Asking for and "Debbie Campbell" and title:"Home Page" tells AltaVista to return only those pages that (a) live on a Rice University computer, (b) contains the phrase Debbie Campbell, and (c) contains the phrase Home Page in their HTML title.



Asking for subject:"for sale" computer* and from:jweekes@ tells AltaVista to return only those newsgroup postings that (a) have some form of the words for sale and computer in the subject line and (b) were posted by someone whose email address begins with jweekes@.
These pages authored and maintained by Marcella Dawson. Revised 07/04/98. Copyright 1995 CRPC GirlTECH. All rights reserved. . Email your comments. These pages were developed through GirlTECH '96, a teacher training and student technology council program sponsored by the Center for Research on Parallel Computation (CRPC), a National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center.