Dr. Write's Infirmary / Researching on the Web

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You're probably familiar with the most popular search engine known as Google. Microsoft and Yahoo also have search engines, but most of us use Google, so we'll focus on that one (though most of what I'm about to say applies to all of them.)

The essential approach to searching the Internet is based on keywords. You type in a keyword and press Enter and the program returns with a long list of links to items which contain that word. And all too often that list is overwhelming. So here are some tips from Google about how to refine your search and get what you're after.


    NOTE: The following information is from Google's Web Search Help page. For additional information, visit their More search help page. Throughout the following explanation, square brackets [ ] signal a search query, so [ black and white ] is one query, while [ black ] and [ white ] are two separate queries.

    Important Basics

  • Every word matters. Generally, all the words you put in the query will be used.

  • Search is always case insensitive. A search for [ new york times ] is the same as a search for [ New York Times ].

  • Generally, punctuation is ignored, including @#$%^&*()=+[]\ and other special characters

  • Keep it simple. If you're looking for a particular company, just enter its name, or as much of its name as you can recall. If you're looking for a particular concept, place, or product, start with its name. If you're looking for a pizza restaurant, just enter pizza and the name of your town or your zip code. Most queries do not require advanced operators or unusual syntax. Simple is good.

  • Think how the page you are looking for will be written. A search engine is not a human, it is a program that matches the words you give to pages on the web. Use the words that are most likely to appear on the page. For example, instead of saying [ my head hurts ], say [ headache ], because that's the term a medical page will use. The query [ in what country are bats considered an omen of good luck? ] is very clear to a person, but the document that gives the answer may not have those words. Instead, use the query [ bats are considered good luck in ] or even just [ bats good luck ], because that is probably what the right page will say.

  • Describe what you need with as few terms as possible. The goal of each word in a query is to focus it further. Since all words are used, each additional word limits the results. If you limit too much, you will miss a lot of useful information. The main advantage to starting with fewer keywords is that, if you don't get what you need, the results will likely give you a good indication of what additional words are needed to refine your results on the next search. For example, [ weather cancun ] is a simple way to find the weather and it is likely to give better results than the longer [ weather report for cancun mexico ].

  • Choose descriptive words. The more unique the word is the more likely you are to get relevant results. Words that are not very descriptive, like 'document,' 'website,' 'company,' or 'info,' are usually not needed. Keep in mind, however, that even if the word has the correct meaning but it is not the one most people use, it may not match the pages you need. For example, [ celebrity ringtones ] is more descriptive and specific than [ celebrity sounds ].
You might also benefit from reading my lecture titled Conducting Electronic Rersearch.

And here are some links to web sites where you'll find additional help with writing your research paper.

  • A Guide for Writing Research Papers
    Topics include working with quotations, parenthetical documentation, plagiarism, and preparing a works-cited page.

  • Internet Search Methods
    There are many sources of information outside the Web which might give you the information that you are seeking. It is likely that you will find the correct source somewhere on this site.

  • Internet Search Methods
    A slide presentation about how to understand Internet search tools and methods.

  • The Dogpile
    You might want to try the Dogpile for your search; it has all the best search engines piled into one.

If you have trouble with your research, send an e-mail to me [Dr. Write] stating what you're looking for, your specific problem(s), and where it occurred,

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