Web searching for the researcher, part 2

This is the second part of a two-part article on getting the most out of DuckDuckGo for research. Start here.

Narrowing the search

Excluding a search term can improve results. Let’s say you want to find out about trumps in card games and not about the president. Try this:

trump card -donald -president

That doesn’t get rid of all the irrelevant results; I got a headline that says “China plays Trump card brilliantly.” But most of the results are about cards rather than politics. DuckDuckGo is honest enough to say that the minus sign gives you “less” with the search term, not none.

You can also put a plus sign in front of a search term to indicate you want “more” of it. It seems to be the equivalent of saying, “Yes, I really mean it!” If I search for “Pittsburg,” I get about an even mix of pages about places named Pittsburg and ones about Pittsburgh. Using “+Pittsburg” gets results that are almost entirely about cities and towns called Pittsburg. The only exception is the ad at the top, which is about Pittsburgh.

Oh, yes, I should have mentioned those ads. They appear at the top of the search results and look almost exactly like real results. Watch for the little differences:
DuckDuckGo ad

DuckDuckGo has to make money somehow, and maybe there are people who’d enjoy a 2.5 hour tour of Pittsburgh by Segway. But you should recognize ads for what they are.

Putting a search term in double quotes has a similar effect. When I searched for

"Pittsburg"

I got only results with the name Pittsburg, and even the ad was about Pittsburg, Kansas. You can use quotes around a whole phrase, but as you might expect, the effect is gravitational pull rather than an exact match:

"Intel RAM chips"

The results I got were generally relevant, but most didn’t contain that exact phrase.

Bangs and other and magic words

DuckDuckGo’s “bangs” are shortcuts to other search engines, including single-site ones. The syntax is a keyword preceded by an exclamation mark in the search string. There’s a huge set of bangs to choose from, but not all of them work. I tried “!ddgn” for DuckDuckGo News, and it has no effect. However, “!slashdot” and “!reddit” work. Your search is redirected to the site in question.

Some search terms have magic results. If you include “news” in a search string, you’ll get a news tab as one of the options for viewing results. For instance:

news Saudi Arabia

Here’s what my result looked like after selecting the News tab:

DuckDuckGo news result

Another magic word is “map.” Try this:

map Albany New York

This will show you a map of the requested place, and you have a choice of several map sources. When I try it in Firefox, I get a blank map, but I can click on the expansion icon to get a map. It works fine in Safari. This might have something to do with my ad blockers or other extensions. There’s also a “Maps” tab that lets you search for more maps, for sale or otherwise.

One thing I haven’t mentioned is date ranges. That’s because they don’t work very well. You can choose “past day,” “past week,” or “past month” from a menu, but you’ll get results which are way outside that range. There doesn’t seem to be any way to request a specific date range. It would be nice if you could ask for everything before the date when some event swamped the Web, so you could get background on it, but that doesn’t appear possible.

Full power with URL parameters

If you’re really ambitious, you can harness the power of DuckDuckGo’s URL parameters. Talking about them in detail would require a third part to this article, and it’s more than most people would want to do. It’s tedious to type in the parameters each time. What you could do is create a private search form for yourself with the parameters that interest you. You could put it on a site you own and password-protect it. (Making it public might get their lawyers annoyed with you.) Then you can construct a search like this if you’re interested in Dover, England and not Dover, Delaware:

https://duckduckgo.com/?q=Dover&kl=uk-en

There are lots of ways to improve the relevance and usefulness of search results on DuckDuckGo. I hope this article has helped you to understand some of them.

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