Searching for information on the Internet can often be like looking for a needle in a haystack. For literacy students this task can be especially frustrating. Not only are students faced with having to read webpages that are usually heavily text-based, but they also must sift through long lists of websites that may or may not contain the information they are searching for. Because of this, most people, especially literacy students, can benefit from learning some simple search strategies.
The first step in searching for information on the Internet is choosing the appropriate tool. The World Wide Web contains many search tools. Search tools normally fall into two categories: search engines or directories. Search engines use software that periodically goes out and searches the Internet for webpages. Copies of these webpages are indexed in a database. When you type a keyword, the search engine then searches the webpages contained in its database for instances of this keyword. Directories are lists of websites organized into categories such as Education, Health, and News. A website is placed in a directory when someone submits it to the directory or a directory employee reviews the website. The directory doesnt contain the contents of the webpage, only a short description of its contents. You can use a directory by clicking on the appropriate category or by doing a keyword search. The directory will search through the webpage descriptions for instances of your keyword.
Because of the way they conduct their searches search engines are best at finding specific information that may be buried in a webpage. Directories are best at finding more general information that is likely to be contained in a webpage description.
Altavista.com, excite.com, google.com, and lycos.com are all examples of search engines. Some search engines limit themselves to websites on a specific topic. Canada.com, for example, only searches for Canadian websites. Monster.com helps you search for job ads.
Many websites that contain a search engine also maintain directories, although, Yahoo.com is by far the most commonly used directory. Directories such as about.com are sometimes referred to as clearinghouses because they also offer website reviews and commentary from subject experts who help to maintain parts of the directory that relate to their field of expertise. AskJeeves.com is another unique directory because it contains a list of questions along with the websites containing the answers to these questions. AskJeeves allows you to type a question instead of keywords and then it finds a list of questions in its database that are similar to your question. This particular type of search tool is especially friendly to literacy students because they only have to determine which question is similar to theirs and then they are guaranteed that the website linked to this question will contain the information they are looking for.
Because of the numerous search tools and the differences between these tools, metasearch tools such as webcrawler.com have sprung up. Metasearch tools conduct searches using multiple search tools.
After you have chosen an appropriate search tool, the next step is to choose the appropriate keywords for your search. Use at least two or three search terms that are unique to the topic youre investigating (e.g. recipe apple pie). Be careful to use correct capitalization and spelling. Also eliminate any unnecessary endings to words that may limit your search (e.g. software learn type vs. software learn typing). If your keywords include a phrase that shouldnt be broken down, type the phrase in quotation marks (e.g. books Robert Smythe). Most search tools allow you to indicate whether the websites should contain all the key words versus any of the key words. Typing AND between the words normally indicates all the words must be present. Typing OR between the words results in list of websites that contains one or more of the words. NOT is another Boolean word that can be used to narrow the search. The last thing to look for is an option to restrict the search to certain dates, languages and media types. By restricting the search to recent dates you can eliminate stail or out-of-date websites from appearing on your list.
If after having followed all of these step you are still unable to find the information you are looking for, then consider the possibility that the Internet is not the most appropriate resource for your search. Maybe a friend, an encyclopedia, or your local librarian would be a better choice. Contrary to what you may have heard, the Internet doesn't always have all the answers.
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