Narrow the Topic
The 5 W’s should lead to an educated assumption about where the information may be found, particularly when paired with the information in this toolkit. The Internet is an excellent resource for doing background research about a topic, and can lead to the answer (or articles and reports where research has already been conducted on the topic that will help you find answers). Once a well-thought-out question or statement is formulated, the key to finding useful information online is knowing how to refine an Internet search.
For example, you may be looking for FTA rules and regulations about buses. If you simply type “bus” into Google, you will retrieve over a billion results, many that that aren’t useful or applicable. To find relevent answers to this query, employ the following search tip:
Search a specific site or domain using the following search qualifiers:
bus site:gov will search all .gov (government) sites for the word “bus” - this search will retrieve bus rules and regulations from FTA and other sites, such as FMCSA, FHWA, etc.)
bus AND (rules OR regulations) site:transit.dot.gov will search the FTA website rules and regulations for “bus” - this search will retrieve only bus rules and regulations from FTA
The above example is useful if the information you want is can be be found on a government website, specifically FTA. It will save you from wading through search results that aren't relevant, such as advertisements. Use any part of a website URL for this tip: .net, .com (commercial, business sites if you want information from vendors or commercial transit organizations), .org (associations or non-profits often contain very trustworthy information), .edu (educational institutions), or any specific URL, such as “nationalrtap.org” to search that specific site.
You can also search Google to retrieve results where your search terms appear in the title of a page:
allintitle: paratransit eligibility application will retrieve applicaton forms from various agencies for paratransit eligibility
Two basic search tips that can always be applied are:
Simplify—the fewer and more direct key words in a query, the better the results. For example: Instead of, “Which federal grants apply to bus operators?” better queries would be:
- bus rural 5311
- transit tribal funding
Continue to refine and add key words that will narrow down the results if the first search is too broad.
For more specific search tips based on search engines, visit the following links:
Google’s Basic Search Tips
Yahoo’s Search Tips
Bing’s Search Tips
Don't feel that you need to limit yourself to the most popular search engines. Performing a search in multiple search engines will probably yield different results and possibly some hidden gems. Try these:
Open Access Journals Search Engine for Transportation
State DOT Google Search Engine
US Government Search Engine
Tip: While Internet search engines are useful for performing broad searches, they only search a small part of the Internet and are not completely up to date with what exists on the Internet. For example, they will not search databases within websites, such as National RTAP’s Resource Library—which you have to visit the National RTAP website to search.
Updated Februrary 25, 2020