Familiarizing Yourself With Search Engines and Web Directories

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Conducting internet research requires you know which places on the web can help you find information. The most common starting points involve the use of search engines, web directories and metasearch engines.

Search engines

Search engines retrieve sites related to your internet searches from an indexed catalog. Because the way inquiries are made differ from one search engine to the next, the exact results vary on each set of results pages. In order to filter through the indexed sites to find useful information, you must learn how to limit and narrow your search to retrieve results that are manageable and easy to look through for information. Use the following steps when conducting searches on any of the major search engines:

  • Bring up one of the major search engines (Yahoo!, Google, Bing) in your web browser
  • Type a general search term in the search box
  • Modify the search term to narrow your topic and better define it
  • Get as specific with the details as possible
  • Hit enter, or click on the “search” button to submit your search

If your initial search brings too many results, continue to narrow and define the topic with more modifications. In addition to conducting an internet search in the right way, you want to do several things to make your experience with search engines go as smoothly as possible:

  • Learn about search engines to understand the way it operates
  • Choose search terms carefully
  • Familiarize yourself with Boolean operators or advanced searches

Web directories

Web directories are also referred to as web indexes, indexes and catalogs. All web directories are divided into categories, and then they are further divided in subcategories. This type of organization is best for broad internet searches.

There are two types of web indexes: hierarchical and an index in an alternative, though usually alphabetical order. Hierarchical organization leads from a broader, general topic to a more specific one and usually includes a broad view of many topics. Alphabetical (or an alternative) organization usually returns sourses that focus on a particular concern or topic.

The primary benefit of using web directories is that they can help you get familiar with a topic. Yahoo! and Google both include a searchable index. Another well-developed and useful web directory is The Open Directory Project. To conduct a search on a web directory/index, take the following steps:

  • Go to the web directory
  • Look for a topic you want to explore
  • Click through the topic as it gets more specific until you find a specific topic or identify keywords

Metasearch engines

Metasearch engines search other search engines for websites, and most incorporate searches on less well-known, smaller search engines and sites that are specialized in a particular field of study. While not very conducive to specific internet searches, metasearch engines are useful in conducting broad searches to determine the amount of information accessible on the internet.

There are several drawbacks to using metasearch engines:

  • You can only use very basic search terms
  • You cannot use Boolean operators or advanced searches
  • You are likely to get results that include many pay-per-click advertisements and few quality sites
  • Whichever search site you decide to start your research, pay attention to your use of keywords and how results change as you alter keywords. You might also want to do both broad internet searches and specific internet searches to find and flush out a topic to a narrow form that is easily turned into an academic research paper.