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Earlier this month, The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal began pursuing a series of stories about how people Google. He asked readers about their search strategies, giving people a series of hypothetical scenarios in which they'd need to look something up and asked how they'd proceed with finding the right information. (His test, Madrigal admitted, may have been too easy.)

He also interviewed Dan Russell, a Google anthropologist about his search research. One revelation from Madrigal's inquiries: 90% of people don't know how to use CTRL-F. That statistic was shocking to Madrigal, and probably to plenty of others: "I can't believe people have been wasting their lives like this either! It makes me think that we need a new type of class in schools across the land immediately. Electronic literacy. Just like we learn to skim tables of content or look through an index or just skim chapter titles to find what we're looking for, we need to teach people about this CTRL+F thing."

Of course, plenty of studies have pointed to the public's lack of search skills. Mozilla researchers, looking at their own browser usage data, confirm that very few users use the CTRL+F shortcut. And last summer, research was published that suggested that college freshmen conflate Google's PageRank with the quality and accuracy of those search results and that they tend to click on the first result, no matter what.

For its part, Google has been trying to address this problem and to help people become better at searching.. In the spring, the company launched a trivia game called "A Google a Day." Unlike other trivia games that test your memory or knowledge and frown upon your looking in books for the answer (let alone looking via search engines!), the point of the Google a Day game is to do just that -- to learn to Google better.

These efforts from Google are one way to help, but as Madrigal contends, we really do need to address this in school. Educators and librarians, how do you teach search? Is it part of a larger project in teaching research? And do you look at tools like CTRL+F to search within a page? (And, of course, do you use these sorts of shortcuts yourself?)

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Audrey Watters


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