Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

500 Wikipedia keywords in an instant

An introduction to “Starting With An Unknown Topic: Web Search Query Builder 5 Million”

Do you do research, either privately or professionally? Like me, do you run into terms and names you don’t understand or recognize? I have a solution for you!

A friend of mine, Tara Calishain runs ResearchBuzz. You might have heard of it. She basically searches the web for content that interests people, pulls the links together, and emails it out every day. She’s been doing this since 1996. Earlier this week she made a joke about a Wikipedia search tool she was developing for herself. She was sure no one else would need it or use it. I disagree. I think you might want to use it too.

This tool, Web Search Query Builder 5 Million, allows you to enter a word or phrase, then returns the related Wikipedia topics (up to 500 of them). In case that doesn’t get you enough information she also gives you thesaurus results, outbound links, and wiki categories as well.

Tara’s pretty cool — she is releasing this under CC-BY-NC. (Creative Commons, available for non-commercial use for free.) Head over to the tool’s home page and make yourself a local copy.

Please note that you need the Wikipedia and Wikidata Tools add-on for Google Sheets in order to run the search tool. Tara shares, “It’s free and you can find it here:

The search tool utilizes a Google Sheet to run the searches and tabulate the results. The first page shows a summary of your search, along with a description of the tool. The results are in the next four tabs, all nicely organized for you. As a bonus, each of the tabs is described on the front page as well.

Screenshot of the first tab

What you see above is the result for the word “allele”. I picked that word because I am currently trying to figure out what my DNA report from means, and I kept running into the term. As you can see, there are 500 results just from Wikipedia.

The results

The results come on the second sheet of the doc are the ones I most expect you to find most useful. That sheet (shown below) contains the related Wikipedia terms in the first column, followed by the thesaurus and outbound link topics returned by Wikipedia.

The results for “allele”

Save your results!

After you run the query, copy the contents of this page of results to your own temporary Google or Excel spreadsheet. You are likely to find that one search will inspire another search, so you want to have all the results saved off before you run another search.

I also recommend copying and exploring the contents of the other three sheets in the spreadsheet to your temporary file. If you don’t get enough information from the results in the data tab, these three sheets have links you can follow to get even more information.

Once you have saved off your results, The next step is to look through the lists and learn what you can from the results. In my search, I had the advantage of knowing they had something to do with DNA. Looking at the result lists told me that “alleles” are related to DNA that is unexpected — or outside the norm.

Geekery ahead: What I learned from the “allele” search

I know enough about cystic fibrosis to know it is based on one’s genetic makeup. Seeing it in these results tells me that it is probably related to alleles one has or doesn’t have. Putting that information together with the synonym and lookup lists, gave me some places to start my more detailed research. The next thing I did was to search Wikipedia for the first few entries on the lookup list, That in turn got me to understanding that alleles are pieces of the DNA that can show mutations in a given gene — they can be used to show the potential interactions between related genes.

Any terms I can use to get acquainted?

One of the coolest sets of results I got when testing out Tara’s tool? Poetry. This single word search gave me 500 results containing poetry forms, national poem styles, poetry publications, historical information, and poets I had never heard of and want to research. If you are a history/geography buff you will find information on poetry forms from nations over time.

Another use case I have for this tool? Triggering poems from prompts. I enter the prompt word or phrase into the tool and get back enough ideas to trigger at least a couple of poem ideas… Now if I could only get myself to sit down and write them up! (to see an example of these results, search for “Heart poem”, you will be amazed at the results you get.

I believe this could be used to generate search ideas for story/poem images as well. I haven’t done this yet, but I think you could put a word or phrase from your piece into the search tool. That would give you lots of ideas for other image search terms.

I am enough of a geek that I could spend days using this tool. I am hoping you find it just as useful!