Effective Searching On The Web


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Presentation for Vermont Adult Learning, March 20, 2009

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Effective Searching On The Web

  1. 1. Effective Searching on the Web Jeanne Walsh, Reference Librarian Brooks Memorial Library Vermont Adult Learning March 20, 2009
  2. 2. First step: know what you’re after <ul><li>The subject of your research is just one factor to consider. </li></ul><ul><li>Think also about what type of information you need: </li></ul><ul><li>Basic or detailed? </li></ul><ul><li>Current or historical? </li></ul><ul><li>General, technical, or scholarly? </li></ul><ul><li>Remember, you are the expert on what you need. </li></ul>
  3. 3. Search tips: 1 <ul><li>Use advanced search screens </li></ul><ul><ul><li>They enable you limit searches for more precise results. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Read the search engine’s tips </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Really. It will save you time in the long run. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Try an Internet tutorial: http://www.internettutorials.net </li></ul>Advanced Search
  4. 4. Search tips: 2 <ul><li>Don’t stop with Google; try other search engines too. </li></ul><ul><li>Because different search engines offer different tricks to help improve your results. </li></ul><ul><li>Because each major search engine accesses some unique material – i.e., pages that can only be found through that search engine. </li></ul>Why?
  5. 5. <ul><ul><li>“ Less than half the searchable web is fully searchable in Google. Overlap studies show that more than 80% of the pages in a major search engine’s database exist only in that database. Getting a ‘second opinion’ is therefore often worth your time.” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>--really smart librarian at U.C. Berkeley </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/Internet/SearchEngines.html </li></ul><ul><li>(The page at this link includes a nice feature chart for three popular search engines) </li></ul>
  6. 6. <ul><li>More Sources for search Engines </li></ul><ul><li>Search Engine Showdown’s feature chart: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>http://www.searchengineshowdown.com/features </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Laura Cohen’s list from Internet Tutorials: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>http:// www.internettutorials.net/engines.html </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>But wait: the charts won’t be much </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>help without a basic understanding of </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>the search process, so first spend a few </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>minutes learning about search logic. </li></ul></ul>
  7. 7. Search tips: 3 <ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li> will broaden your understanding of online indexes, directories, and search engines. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Here is Laura Cohen’s excellent tutorial: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>http:// www.internettutorials.net/boolean.html </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>(and here is George Boole): </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>http:// www.sjsu.edu/depts/Museum/boole.html </li></ul></ul>Boolean Logic
  8. 8. Three types of Boolean Searches <ul><li>1. Full Boolean logic with the use of the logical operators </li></ul><ul><ul><li>AND, OR, parentheses, etc., used to construct search statements. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Few search engines nowadays offer the option to do full Boolean searching…If you want to construct search queries using Boolean logical operators, you will need to experiment with search engines and see what happens when you search.” </li></ul></ul><ul><li>2. Implied Boolean logic with keyword searching </li></ul><ul><li>basic search, using + and – to add or subtract terms, with the search engine taking care of the Boolean logic, usually defaulting to AND. </li></ul><ul><li>Predetermined language in a user fill-in template </li></ul><ul><li>The standard format for advanced search screens, which is intended to guide your Boolean search. </li></ul><ul><li>source: Laura Cohen http://www.internettutorials.net/boolean.html </li></ul>
  9. 9. A Boolean search example <ul><li>Say I’m helping a library patron who wants to find out about teaching internships abroad. There are three key ideas and various words we can use to describe them: </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>internships </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>abroad/international </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>teaching/education </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Here’s a logical search statement that includes all three concepts: </li></ul><ul><li>internships AND (international OR abroad) AND (education OR teaching) </li></ul>
  10. 10. Fun & Games: 1 <ul><li>Try using basic and advanced search screens in </li></ul><ul><li>www.google.com </li></ul><ul><li>www.live.com </li></ul><ul><li>http:// search.yahoo.com </li></ul><ul><li>www.exalead.com/search </li></ul><ul><li>to construct a Boolean search. </li></ul><ul><li>You might try all three types of searches on Laura Cohen’s list, i.e.: implied Boolean (on the basic search screen), fill-in templates (on the advanced search screen), and full Boolean (who knows?) If you want to use a pre-made search, try the internship search on the previous slide. </li></ul>
  11. 11. Search tips: 4 <ul><li>Be aware of how your search engine handles truncation and stemming. </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Some – but not all – search engines will automatically search the root words and variant endings of terms for you; e.g., a search for bookmobiles also searches for the terms book or books . </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>A small number of search engines, and many online databases, (including library catalogs) will allow you to truncate terms by adding a wildcard character (usually the asterisk); e.g., book* will retrieve books and bookmobiles as well as the root word. </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>It is helpful to know what is possible in your chosen search environment. The Search Engine Showdown chart can help, or just add an asterisk and see what happens. But watch out for Google; the * has a special meaning there. Check the search tips. </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul>
  12. 12. Search tips: 5 <ul><li>Don’t miss these features: </li></ul><ul><li>Date limiters </li></ul><ul><ul><li>A common feature; type in date parameters to find, for example, only sites that were updated within the last month. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>“ Page-specific tools” in Google </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Type in the URL for a favorite site and Google will find a small set of others like it. Mixed results, but it can be helpful. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Domain limiters </li></ul><ul><ul><li>For example, exclude .com sites or include .gov sites by using advanced search boxes or addition/subtraction signs in the basic search box. See slide 17 of this presentation for an example. </li></ul></ul>
  13. 13. Search tips: 6 <ul><li>Use Internet Subject Directories. </li></ul><ul><li>They are maintained by people, not Web robots </li></ul><ul><li>The people sort the wheat from the chaff </li></ul><ul><li>They usually have great search features, including: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Subject trees & browse lists </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Limiters to specify types of documents, etc. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Full Boolean searching </li></ul></ul>
  14. 14. Fun & Games: 2 <ul><li>Explore these two subject directories: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Librarian’s Internet Index http://lii.org </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Infomine http://infomine.ucr.edu </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Include a full Boolean search, e.g.: </li></ul><ul><li>internships and (international or abroad) and (education or teaching) </li></ul><ul><li>Then try another directory from Laura’s list: </li></ul><ul><li>http:// www.internettutorials.net/subject.html </li></ul>
  15. 15. Evaluating search results: 1 <ul><li>THE TOP SITES IN </li></ul><ul><li>SEARCH ENGINE LISTS ARE ADS. </li></ul><ul><li>In most search engines, the top results and sidebar results are advertisements, meaning that the sponsoring organizations paid for them to appear in a prominent place. They might be great sites, but they are not necessarily the best or most relevant. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Most search engines display ad sites in a special shaded area. They </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>are often labeled with terms like “Sponsored Links.” </li></ul></ul>
  16. 16. Evaluating search results: 2 <ul><li>Check URLs in the result list for information on the sites: </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>.gov is a government entity (+ other extensions for other countries) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>.edu is an educational institution </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>.org is an organization </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>.com is a commercial site ( .co beyond the U.S.) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>.net is often commercial as well. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>~ (the tilde character) in a URL denotes a personal web page that is part of a larger website. Not all personal pages are sanctioned by their sponsoring organizations. It is best to assume that the contents are solely the views of the author. </li></ul></ul></ul>
  17. 17. Evaluating search results: 3 <ul><li>Use commercial sites with caution </li></ul><ul><li>A good commercial site might be exactly what you need, but be aware that whoever maintains the site has a commercial interest that might influence its content. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>For example: a commercial health site might link to studies that suggest its product is helpful while excluding links to studies that suggest it is not. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Remember, some search engines will let you exclude .com sites (or sites from any broad domain) by using a minus sign, or by choosing the appropriate limiter on the advanced search screen. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>For example: arthritis –.com –.co –.net in a basic Google or Yahoo search will find only non-commercial arthritis sites. </li></ul></ul>
  18. 18. Evaluating search results: 4 <ul><li>Two critical questions for a new website: </li></ul><ul><li>1. Who writes and maintains this site? </li></ul><ul><li>2. When was it last updated? </li></ul><ul><li>Those questions should be easy to answer. If they are not, be suspicious, even if the site seems very slick. </li></ul>
  19. 19. Evaluating search results: 5 <ul><li>Be Skeptical </li></ul><ul><li>Good graphics and cool buttons do not make a website reliable. Always question what you see; make the site prove its worthiness before you accept its information. </li></ul><ul><li>Check links for more clues </li></ul><ul><li>If you aren’t sure about the reliability of a site, check its links and see what kind of company it keeps. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>For example , would it startle you to know that the “hosted by” link at www.martinlutherking.org leads to a site that sponsors a “White Nationalist wiki encyclopedia?” </li></ul></ul>
  20. 20. Fun & Games: 3 <ul><li>Evaluate some web pages, keeping these questions in mind: </li></ul><ul><li>Who writes and maintains this site? </li></ul><ul><li>When was it last updated? </li></ul><ul><li>How flexible & effective is the searching? </li></ul><ul><li>Is the design pleasing and clear? </li></ul><ul><li>Start with Infomine: http://infomine.ucr.edu </li></ul><ul><li>Then evaluate other sites of interest to you. </li></ul>
  21. 21. Tips for using a website: 1 <ul><li>Use Ctrl-F to find terms on a page </li></ul><ul><li>Holding down the Ctrl key (or the Command key on Macs) while pressing the F key opens a search box in which you can enter terms you want to find on the page. Then click or press Enter to jump to each occurrence of your term. </li></ul><ul><li>But my search term didn’t appear at all! </li></ul><ul><li>In Google (and maybe in other search engines), some sites appear in result lists even though they don’t include your search term. Instead, sites that link to them include your search term. Clever Google assumes that the linked-in page would interest you. </li></ul>
  22. 22. Tips for using a website: 2 <ul><li>Use site maps; they will save you time. </li></ul><ul><li>Use internal commands and navigation keys whenever possible, e.g.: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Print commands </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Forward & back buttons </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>E-mail commands </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Using the internal keys, rather than the browser’s keys, will help you avoid formatting and page loading problems. Did you ever print a picture of all the borders and ads on a page but not the main text? You were using the browser print button. Sometimes that’s your only choice, but if there are internal commands & navigation buttons, it’s best to use them. </li></ul></ul>
  23. 23. There is a lot more to say <ul><li>For example: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>You might want to learn about meta-search engines </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/Internet/MetaSearch.html </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Or the “Invisible Web” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/Internet/InvisibleWeb.html </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Or Google’s specialized services ( Books , Scholar , Images , etc.) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>www.google.com </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Or RSS feeds for update alerts on favorite websites. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>http://rssblog.whatisrss.com </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>… or many other things. </li></ul>
  24. 24. <ul><li>… but I hope that’s a useful beginning. </li></ul><ul><li> Happy Searching! </li></ul><ul><li> - Jeanne </li></ul>