"Research is the process of going up alleys to see if they are blind."
--Marsten Bates, 1967
It's always a good idea to THINK about your search before
you begin. Create a search strategy in your head by asking
yourself this question:
What do I want to do?
- Locate a specific piece of information?
- Retrieve everything I can on the subject?
Your answer will determine how you conduct your search
and what tools you will use.
- If you're browsing and trying to determine what's
available in your subject area, start out by selecting
a subject directory like
Yahoo! Then, enter your
search keyword(s) into one of the metasearch engines,
just to see what's out there.
- If you're looking for a specific piece of information,
go to a major search engine such as
Google, or to a specialized database such as
Bureau of the
Census (for statistics).
- If you want to retrieve everything you can on a subject,
try the same search on several search engines. Also,
don't forget to check resources off the Web, such as books,
newspapers, journals and other print reference sources.
In your search statement, if you enter more than one keyword
without using any accompanying sign, mark or symbol (see
Lesson 8 for explanations and examples),
the search engine will automatically add either
the AND or the OR conjunction to link your search terms together.
This could radically alter your search in unexpected ways.
Be sure you know the defaults (basic settings) of the search engine
you are using, as this could explain why
your search results may not be what you expected them to be.
Strange things can happen for other reasons as well.
Sometimes the relevance ranking systems that search engines
use (and which they are reluctant to reveal), can throw off your
search by ignoring some of the words in your search statement.
This might happen when the search engine recognizes
your string of separate keywords
as a phrase in its list of pre-determined phrases or when it is
responding to its own internal list of "stop words" (see below). Whatever the
case, you may never know the real reason why your search retrieves
so many irrelevant responses.
Stop words are words that many search engines DON'T stop for when
searching texts and titles on the web.
In fact, in order to cut down on response time, these engines routinely
ignore stop words, i.e., small and common words, such as parts of speech (adverbs,
conjunctions, prepositions, or forms of "to be"). Examples
include: a, about, an, and, are, as, at, be, by, from, how, i, in, is, it,
of, on, or, that, the, this, to, we, what, when, where, which, with, etc. Not all search engines recognize
the same stop words. In addition, their lists can and do change
If you initiate a search at a site that maintains a list of stop words
and you type any of those words
into your search statement (even in phrases surrounded by quotes),
they may well continue to be ignored. An exception to this is
which has a stop word list but recognizes stop words
within phrases surrounded by
quotation marks, e.g., "to be or not to be" or
"what you see is what you get".
When structuring your query, keep the following tips in mind:
Lesson 7 for an explanation
of the signs and marks used below.]
- Be specific
EXAMPLE: Hurricane Hugo
- Whenever possible, use nouns and objects as keywords
EXAMPLE: fiesta dinnerware
plates cups saucers
- Put most important terms first in your keyword list;
ensure that they will be searched, put a +sign in front
of each one
EXAMPLE: +hybrid +electric +gas +vehicles
- Use at least three keywords in your query
EXAMPLE: interaction vitamins drugs
- Combine keywords, whenever possible, into phrases
EXAMPLE: "search engine tutorial"
- Avoid common words, e.g., water, unless they're part
of a phrase
EXAMPLE: "bottled water"
- Think about words you'd expect to find in the body of
the page, and use them as keywords
EXAMPLE: anorexia bulimia eating disorder
- Write down your search statement and revise it before you
type it into a search engine query box
EXAMPLE: +"south carolina" +"financial aid"
Assume you are about to start looking for work and need to write a cover letter. What
search string would you use? Go to Google and select a few of the
following strings to search:
- "cover letter" "job search"
- "cover letter" +resume
- "cover letter" +template +form
- "cover letter" +example
- "cover letter" +sample "helpful tips"
Scan the results page for each search you conduct and see if you can tell which searches seem to be the most productive
Evaluating Web Pages
[Table of Contents]
[Gateways & Databases]
[Evaluating Web Pages]
Last updated by E. Chamberlain,Thursday September 07, 2006