Researching on the INternet 

There is a great deal of information on the Internet. You can conduct searches to find specific sites or information. We most often search the Internet using search engines. Search engines are programs that run on computers. They look at the sites on the Internet and put them into a searchable database, so that users can look for information. Because each search engine searches its own database, you can come up with different results using different search engines. Other search tools on the internet include Directories and Meta-Search Engines. Some search engines also use real language search engines.

Types of Search Tools 

Search Engines   ::   Directories   ::   Meta Searchers   ::   Practice

Search Engines

Search Engines are huge searchable databases. By typing in key words or phrases, the search engine will then scan all the pages in its database, giving you a listing of all the relevant pages. There are many types of search engines. Each one works a little differently. All of them have an area where you can find help. It is a good idea to read the help section so that you can better understand how to use the site.

When using a search engine, there are different ways that you can narrow your search. Some search engines use Boolean logic. For Boolean logic, you use key words to either narrow or expand your search, as listed below:

  • To narrow your search...
    • use and, for example, "Abraham Lincoln and Civil War". This will bring up sites where both Abraham Lincoln and Civil War appear
    • use not, for example, "Abraham Lincoln not Civil War" to bring up sites where Abraham Lincoln appears but not the Civil War
  • To expand your search...
    • use or, for example, "Abraham Lincoln or Civil War" will bring up all of the pages with Abraham Lincoln and then all of the pages with Civil War

You can also combine and, not, & or with parentheses, for example: "(Abraham Lincoln or Ulyssus Grant) and Civil War" to either further narrow or expand your search.

A number of search engines (like Google) no longer require Boolean logic to narrow or expand your searches, so here are some additional clarifiers to be aware of. Remember: your best bet is to check in the search help area of the individual search engine to see how it operates and to get the most out of your search.

  • Use quotation marks to create a phrase that will narrow a search
    • Example: "educational computing" is more specific than educational computing because the search engine will produce results where educational and computing are right next to one another
  • Use uppercase when you wish to narrow a search as it finds only uppercase matches
    • Example: Mathematics finds only Mathematics while mathematics finds both Mathematics and mathematics
  • The asterisk * is a wild character and will expand a search. Use it when you are not sure of spelling
    • Example: wish* finds wishes, wished, wishing

Finally, most search engines now have an advanced search feature, which allows you to easily narrow down results by keyword, domain, when it was last updated, etc. These are great and can really help to narrow your search to find more specifically what you are looking for.

Some search engines to try :

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Directories organize information by catagories. By moving throught the catagories you can find information. You can also do keyword searches in a tree. Although you might not get as many "hits" using a tree, the ones you get tend to be more reliable. This is also a great way to narrow your searches in an organized manner. Many search engines now have their own directories, such as Google and Yahoo!. One thing to keep in mind, though, is who created the directory. Because the information is already organized, you want to make sure it is a reliable resoruce that organized the information.

Some directories to try:

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Meta-search engines work by searching other search engines. You will get the most hits using meta search engine BUT these hits will not necessarily be good ones. You can waste a lot of time going through the hits on a meta search. Use these only when you are trying to find a very specific or difficult to locate topic. It is best to use a meta-search engine only after the others have failed to get you what you are looking for. You can use the same clarifying techniques with meta search engines as you do with the search engines. Use meta-search engines as a last resort.

Some meta-search engines to try:

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Practice Searching

Now that you've learned a little about the different ways in which you can search the internet, give it a try!

Before you search

Seven Steps to better searching


If you would like to learn a little more about search tools, click here.

Remember: The Internet is a great resource with limitless possibilties, but it is not to replace all other research tools. Just as there are a lot of reasons to use the internet for research, there are also some cons as well. Click on the link below to see a comparison of the pros and cons of using the Internet and other Library resources.

Library vs. Internet

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