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Internet Searching and Researching

Using Search Engines

You can locate useful or interesting web sites by using a search engine.  A search engine is a website containing a huge database of website addresses. You key in a subject or a name that describes what you are seeking, and the search engine provides you with a list or selection of web site addresses that fit your inquiry. You then simply click on an address to jump to that web site. 


Although search engine is really a general class of programs, the term is often used to specifically describe systems like Alta Vista and Excite that enable users to search for documents on the World Wide Web.


Typically, a search engine works by sending out a spider to fetch as many documents as possible. Another program, called an indexer, reads these documents and creates an index based on the words contained in each document. Each search engine uses a proprietary algorithm to create its indices such that, ideally, only meaningful results are returned for each query.


Preliminary Searching Hints

1. Choose a search engine, directory or library in accordance with the kind of search you are doing and the kind of results you are seeking.


2. Determine your aims: Do you want a specific hard-to-find document on an esoteric subject, or general information on a broader topic? Do you need to search the entire Web, or is what you are seeking likely to be found on a number of sites, or only the most popular sites?


3. In making your choice, determine whether the information you are looking for is likely to be in a page's title or first paragraph, or buried deeper within the document or site.


4. Use a search engine's advanced features, if available, and read the help files if you are unclear about its searching procedure.


Choosing Search Terms And Syntax


1. Enter synonyms, alternate spellings and alternate forms (e.g. dance, dancing, dances) for your search terms.


2. Enter all the singular or unique terms that are likely to be included in the document or site you are seeking.


3. Avoid using very common terms (e.g. Internet, people), which may lead to a massive amount of irrelevant search results.


4. Determine how your search engine uses capitals and plurals, and enter capitalized or plural forms of your search words if appropriate.


5. Use a phrase or proper name if possible to narrow your search and therefore retrieve more relevant results (unless you want a large number of results)


6. Use multiple operators (e.g. AND, NOT) if a search engine allows you to do so.


7. If you receive too many results, refine and improve your search. (After browsing the results, you may become aware of how to use NOT - e.g. Boston AND hockey AND NOT Bruins)


8. Pay attention to proper spacing and punctuation in your search syntax (i.e. no space when using + means +term not + term)


Which Search Engine Or Directory Do You Want?


Check out SearchEngineWatch.com to see all the possibilities.



Advanced Search Techniques

It is quite easy to get discouraged when searching the Internet. Just about any search can result in hundreds, thousands, or even millions of "hits."  For example, suppose you wanted to track down information concerning community college online science courses. You choose to use Alta Vista Search and use the following key words: community college online science courses.


A simple search will list EVERY site that has ANY of the keywords entered!!! Try to narrow you search to get the best information.


Tips, Tools, & Tricks To Advanced Searches

  • The more specific you can be, the better. Don't worry about redundancy--synonyms can help narrow the field of your search. Leave out nonessential words like prepositions and articles (of, to, the, and so on)--most search engines ignore them anyway.
  • Add "Boolean Operators"That's just a fancy name for the words AND, OR, NEAR, AND NOT. Most search engines accept the symbols + and - for AND, and NOT, respectively. By entering these operators between each keyword, it is quite easy to instantly decrease the number of hits, thus achieving a much higher relevancy.
  • Surround specific keywords with quotation marks. This requires the search engine to locate the EXACT PHRASE in order for it to be returned as a "hit."
  • Use wildcards such as * to include extra letters following the keyword letters entered.
  • There is another way to narrow a search - search just the TITLES of Web documents!

The Basics

Internet 101 About Searching

net.Tutor Searching
net.Tutor Using Search Tools
net.Tutor Researching

Bare Bones 101

The Spider's Apprendice

Web Search Strategies

This tutorial presents an easy-to-follow process on using search engines and subject directories for finding what you need on the World Wide Web. Specifically, this course will enable you to:

  • Use subject directories and describe the difference between a subject directory and a search engine.
  • Use implied and full Boolean logic, phrase searching, truncation, and field searching effectively.
  • Identify key concepts, synonyms, and variant word forms in your search topic.
  • Use key search engines effectively including AltaVista, Google, All the Web/FAST, and HotBot.
  • Use meta-search engines.
  • Use specialty databases when appropriate.
  • Apply search strategies and techniques in a scavenger hunt exercise.

Conducting Research at a Distance

Many college libraries have developed online tutorials for online research.  Here are a few to explore:

University at Albany
University of California at Berkeley Library
Web Searching and Netscape Jargon



 Content Manager: Anita Crawley

Questions: Germantownn | Rockville | SilverSpring/Takoma Park
Last Updated: July 27, 2006