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Productive research with Google

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As a kid, I would scour books in the library, looking for photos of my favorite airplanes. As I got older, I would purchase books that I found here and there about various aircraft. Still, no matter how much I searched, it seemed that there were never enough photos for me.

If my 10-year-old self could travel forward in time to today, once he finished the screaming and freaking out about the whole time travel thing and seeing what he looked like 35+ years later,  he’d probably think researching models with Google is really kind of cool.

But sometimes searching with Google seems to confound folks. There have been countless times that I’ve seen someone post in a forum “I’ve searched Google for photos of {whatever} and I can’t find anything!”

Now, I’m sure in a few cases, people just say that, having not searched for anything at all and are just being lazy. Or perhaps they gave it the old “one try and quit”. But I’ve come to realize that many folks just don’t a few simple steps to conducting an effective search in Google. So I thought I’d pass along what has worked for me.

First, I use Google. Not Bing. Not Yahoo. Google first. Those others may give you some good results, but for thoroughness, start with Google. The others are just chasing them. And I recommend starting at Google’s home page, not the image search.

Some Examples

Search Term Variation

Let’s say you are researching Johnnie Johnson’s Spitfire Mk. IX. You know you want to research EN398 specifically, the serial number for one of the Spitfires he flew. 

First, I do a general search for “Johnnie Johnson Spitfire”. I’d check the first page of results, opening them all in other tabs in my browser. Then I’d move over to the image search. Once there, I’d open any image (in another tab, of course) that looked interesting, including pictures of Johnson, because you never know if a page with his picture might have a good photo of his plane.

Next, I’d repeat the process for “Johnnie Johnson EN398”. And then move on to “Spitfire EN398”. I might even add other items, such as the squadron he was flying with at the time.

Of course, there will be a lot of overlap. But by using this method, you’ll get a lot of results.

You can start very narrow- “Johnnie Johnson Spitfire EN398”, for instance, but I tend to like to start with a broader search, so I can see more. Serendipity has lead me to many interesting searches.

Other Languages

Another search method to consider is using Google Translate to help you. I was researching a Russian pilot named “Evgeniy Mariinsky”. A quick trip to Google Translate yielded a translation for his name, which led to Wikipedia in Russian to confirm it. I could then search for “Мариинский, Евгений Пахомович”, which yielded far more results, including much better photos. Now, I have no idea what that means… I assume it’s his name, of course, but it really doesn’t matter, because Google knows what it means- and did the work for me. The same works with “Yak-3” and “Як-3”. If all you search for is “Yak-3”, you miss out on many things written in Russian!

Site Specific

Finally, if you know the site you’ve seen something on, but you just can’t find it, add some directions to Google’s search to confine the query to a specific site. Say you wanted to see if any build report’s on Johnnie Johnson’s Spitfire had been published on You’d enter a search string of “ spitfire johnnie johnson”. And you’d find several results, all from that site only.

As I’ve read many times on many forums, “Google is your friend”. It opens up a huge world for research possibilities. In fact, I’ve made it a habit to do open-ended research on subjects I prefer to build – like Spitfires – even if I’m not building, just to see things I might have missed previously.

And I am sure your 10-year-old self would be just as impressed as mine would. 🙂

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