Those looking for information have a wealth of resources available through the Internet. These may include online library catalogs, full-text or statistical databases, electronic journals or books, as well as multimedia. To make the best use of all these different sources and formats of information, the researcher needs to develop a strategy to help focus his or her search. Generally, this means defining a topic or a manageable sub-section of a topic. The development of research questions can be a useful tool to assist this process. The Research Paper: Getting Started and Search Strategy: The Basics are two useful handouts to help you achieve this goal.
Here are some recommended strategies that work for online searches of library catalogs, full-text databases, search engines, and search directories.
- Enter words
or phrases that are likely to appear in the document you want to find. Tip:
Technical terms will yield more specific results than frequently used words
(Example: columbine vs flower).
- Be flexible
with your terms. Think of synonyms and variations on words. Use general library
and/or online reference resources, such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, and
thesauri to better understand your topic.
- Avoid overloading
search engine - 3 to 5 words is best.
- Type the most
important word/phrase first.
- Check spelling.
- If the search
engine offers options, you may want to change some of the default settings
to better control the results of a search. For instance, HotBot gives you
the option of matching just some or all the terms that you type in. If you
want to learn more about how to effectively search with any of the engines,
they all have a "Hints" link.
- If you arenít
satisfied with the results returned by the search engine, try a different
one. Each search engine uses different logical operators, therefore each will
- If too many results are returned, add another keyword.
The following three sites provide information to help you understand and compare various search tools:
- Understanding and Comparing Search Tools
- The Matrix of Internet Catalogs and Search Engines
- Search Engine Watch
Guidelines for Evaluation
Since no one owns the Internet or filters content, you must apply critical thinking skills and evaluate the validity of web-based resources. Ask yourself the following questions when assessing information you have found on the Internet:
- Who is the Author
- If the information has been written by an individual, does the web site include biographical information (educational and other credentials, occupational position, institutional affiliation) about the author?
- If an institution has written the resources, does the web site include information about the institution, including its purposes, history, and address/phone number?
- Have you seen the author's or institution's name cited in other sources or bibliographies?
- What clues does the URL give you about the source's authority? (A tilde ~ in the page's URL indicates it is a personal page rather than an institutional web site. .edu=educational web site, .gov=governmental, .com=commercial, .net=network, .org=organization)
- If the page is part of a larger institution's web site, does the institution appear to filter the information that appears at its site?
- How Current
is the Information?
- Is there a date on the web page?
- Is there any indication when the page was last updated?
- Is any of the information obviously out of date?
- Does the page creator mention how frequently site material is updated?
- Who is the Audience
- Is the page intended for the general public, scholars, practitioners, children, etc? Is the intended audience defined?
- Does the page meet the needs of its intended audience?
- Is the Content
Accurate and Objective?
- Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious or institutional biases?
- Is the content intended to be a brief overview of the information or an in-depth analysis?
- If the information is opinion, is this clearly stated?
- If information has been copied from other sources, is this noted?
- What is the
Purpose of the Information?
- Is the purpose to inform, explain, persuade, market a product, or advocate a cause?
- Is the purpose clearly stated?
- Does the resource fulfill the stated purpose?
For more information on evaluating web sites, visit the following sites:
- Evaluating Web Sites: Techniques to Apply and Questions to Ask
- Evaluating Web Sites: Criteria and Tools
To determine whether a publication is considered scholarly or non-scholarly in nature, find out more about how to distinguish scholarly journals from other periodicals. You may also want to determine whether a publication is considered a primary or secondary source. All of this information helps establish the credibility of your sources.
For information about citing electronic resources, see the following sites:
- BUBL Link: Citation
- Guides to Citing Information
- Stylesheets for Citing Internet and Electronic Resources