How to Conduct Internet Research: Broad vs. Specific Internet Searches

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Conducting internet research is all about knowing how to navigate and sift through the vast amount of information to find what you need. As you first start researching online, your primary goal is to do a broad internet search that is akin to reading for information. Once you have identified key areas and subcategories within the broader subject, you turn to more specific internet searches.

Broad internet searches

Start your internet research by doing a board search. This gives you an overview of the subject. The first step is to browse several subject-classified web directories, such as Yahoo!. For a more comprehensive list of general-subject web directories, visit Wikipedia.

Within the web directory you select, pay attention to how the main subject is broken down into smaller subcategories. This clues you in to how the subject is organized and allows you to identify some of the common research questions or issues within the subject. The directory shows you the number of sites for each subcategory, and provides links you should examine. However, this is not always representative of the sites that have actual information you might find useful because many websites have little to no content or are simply a list of links to other sources.

While you can go through as many links as you like, it is similar to just randomly walking through a library to skim whichever book you happen to pull off the shelf. Instead, take note of the keywords and key concepts from the sites you do visit. Take those keywords and key concepts, and use them in a general search engine, such as Google or Bing. Do a test search while taking note of the quantity and quality of the search results for the first few pages. This should give you an idea of the ease with which you can find more information with more in-depth, specific research.

Specific internet searches

Once you have narrowed down the searchable keywords and key concepts on which to seek information, you are ready to do a more specific internet search. Take the following steps as you conduct specific internet research.

  1. Speak with a librarian for guidance on your search. Most librarians are well-versed in internet searches and can help you find information faster than you would find it on your own.
  2. Return to a subject-oriented directory. The directory may be field specific if you know of one related to your area of study. If your topic fits into one of the subcategories neatly, you might get lucky and find plenty of information right away. Then, it is just a matter of evaluating sources as you read and consider them.
  3. Find a search engine and familiarize yourself with its search syntax.
  4. Do several quick initial searches to see what type and amount of information is returned in the search results.
  5. Scan the results, and narrow your search using Boolean operators, truncation or synonyms. Continue making adjustments until you start finding relevant sources of information.
  6. Evaluate your searches up to this point. What terms returned the most relevant results, and which did not?

The more you refine your search, the more likely you are to obtain the information you need. After a round or two of specific searches in general search engines, consider utilizing the following search aids:

  • Online databases
  • Electronic libraries
  • Google Scholar

Whether your first search on the internet is a broad search or a specific one, knowing which keywords and key concepts to search for is vital to your success with internet research. Other sources on the internets are found in a variety of places, from government agency and informational websites to electronic sources for a variety of online periodicals. Stay diligent, flexible and determined with your internet searches, and you should have no problem finding information you can use for your research project.