Searching on the Internet

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from David Thornburg

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An Introduction to Web Search Tools:

As we have all discovered, the Internet, in general, and the World Wide Web, in particular, may be thought of as an unending library, where all information you could ever want is available, except that there's no unified organization system and therefore no easy way to find things. Unlike regular libraries, there is nothing like a universal Dewey Decimal System or Library of Congress cataloging standard to ensure that you can find the URLs you're looking for in the system. Luckily, tools for locating resources have been developed to help users find the information most relevant to their needs.

In this workshop, we'll talk about using search engines, subject indices, and other reference sites to find the resources you're looking for. We'll talk about how to structure your search engine queries to make sure you find the right materials quickly, and we'll discuss how to understand the results.

** Because there is no standard cataloging and search mechanism for the web, the information provided by each resource described in this section will vary, sometimes slightly and sometimes widely. Most people find the one or two search engines and subject indices they like the best and use them almost exclusively. As with many Internet resources where you have numerous choices, you will have to figure out the strategy for locating information that works best for you.

A General Web Search Strategy

The following is a description of a general procedure used by skilled web searchers to find the information they're looking for. After you've searched the web for a while, you will probably internalize these strategies; however, if you're just getting started, you may find this step-by-step explanation useful.

1. Know what you're looking for! If you're just interested in browsing general information, even if it 's on a specific topic, use a subject index instead of a search engine. For example, if you're just getting started with the web or teaching someone who is new to the web, and are interested in seeing what kinds of history projects are available, don't search for "history" on a search engine that catalogs all the web sites in the world-you'll end up with results containing the word "history' in every kind of context you can imagine! Instead, go to Yahoo!, click the link for Education, click the link for K-12, and follow the logical path through that category to find the kinds of information you're looking for.

2. Decide which search engine or engines to use. Most people have at least one or two favorite search engines and after some use, learn the best types of search terms to enter.

3. If it's your first time at a new search engine, take a few minutes to read the help file for information about how to phrase your query. Most search engines have extensive help to ensure that you can find the materials you want quickly and easily; but since each search engine does things its own way, it may save you a lot of time if you read their documentation.

4. Structure your query carefully. For example, to find Social Studies lesson plans, don't just enter "lesson plans" or "social studies" - both categories are too broad to quickly yield the specific information you're looking for. Instead, try "social studies lesson plans" (formatted the way the search engine requires); or, better still, look for something related to the specific unit you're looking for, such as "geography lesson plans" or "Civil War lesson plans."

5. Preview your results. Do the titles of results on the first few pages appear to be the kinds of materials you're looking for? If you received several pages of results but there's no unifying theme to them, then your query may have been too broad; if you didn't receive any results, then your query may have been so specific that nothing matching it could be found.

6. If necessary, restructure your query to get a better list of results. You can do this by entering a different combination of words; by making sure that your spelling was correct; by checking your use of upper- and lower-case letters (this matters for some search engines, but not for others); and by using the advanced search features of the site. If you still can't find the information you want, consider using another search engine.

7. Visit the sites on your list of results. Often, a search engine will show a site that doesn't appear from the description to be what you are interested in. However, many times, if you visit the site, you will find that it does contain useful information. This can be a time-consuming process, but occasionally what appears to be an unlikely choice turns out to be one of the best matches for your topic.

8. If you haven't found anything close to what you want, and you're sure you structured your query well, try another search engine.

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