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How to Search the Web

You must begin by knowing what you are searching for. If you do not yet have a clear question, and a set of keywords, then you must obtain them first. You can do this by wandering around in a Web directory, like PAC's INDEX, or Yahoo, or you can look through a periodical articles index (one of the Wilson indexes).

Once you begin your search for information, remember that the Web is only one source, and sometimes not the best source. Look in books. Look in magazines, journals, and newspapers. Then look at the Web.

One form of searching the Web is called "cycling." In print materials, cycling refers to reading an article, then looking up the references cited in the article. Then reading those articles and looking up the reference cited in those articles. And so on.

On the Web, cycling refers to following hyperlinks. You might start, for instance, by reading a page for this course. Some links to other pages about the same subject are listed at the bottom of the page. You click on those clinks and read the pages. Those page contain more hyperlinks. You click on them and read those pages. And so on.

The most common way to search the Web is to use a "search engine." Search engines come in a variety of formats...

Notes on Search Engines

There are four primary categories of search engines with which you will want to become familiar: keyword engines, metasearch engines, subject directories, and specialized search engines. For a listing by category, go to my website, Search the Web.

Keyword engines base their search on the first few hundred words of each page reviewed. You are apt to get thousands or even millions of "hits", but many of the hits will be repetitious or not relevant to your particular search. Because there is no filtering, you should also be very wary of the hits you get. In addition, you should keep in mind that no single search engine is able to address more than 20% of the total Web.

Metasearch engines combine the results of more than one keyword search engine. This solves one of the drawbacks of using these kinds of engines. However, metasearch engines often limit your results to only a few hits. If you want more extensive results you will have to go to individual keyword search engines.

Subject directories, like Yahoo, are created by human beings physically sorting through websites and choosing the best resources for each topic heading. This means that you will get much better and more focused results when you use an index.

Specialized search engines focus on one type of information, such as finding people, a job, images, etc.

One of the best websites for learning about and keeping track of individual search engines is Search Engine Watch. I highly recommend it.

Colby Glass, MLIS