Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : September 2005

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 TECHNOLOGY TALK:

BY JOHN ANDERSON  

"Quick Tips for Better Internet Searches"
By John Anderson

Finding what you’re looking for can sometimes be difficult. Here are some tips to simplify your web searches.

Do You Really Need the Web?

While not as convenient as your Internet browser, the phone book and your local library are often better for finding what you are looking for. You will often save more time by using these resources than by wasting hours wading through pages of irrelevant search matches or finding information on local businesses.

Search Tools

There are many types of search tools available, including search engines, subject directories, web databases, meta search engines, etc.

While we all may have our favorite search engine or directory, you may get dramatically different results by using something different. Web directories and search engines do not search the Web directly. Instead, they search their own databases of indexed Web pages. Because each uses a different method of collecting and organizing, the information the results will vary.

A search engine searches a database of Internet files by keyword. Examples of search engines include Google (www.google.com), AlltheWeb (www.alltheweb.com) and AltaVista (www.altavista.com).

A subject directory is organized by human editors into subject categories.

Web directories cover a much smaller proportion of the Web, but using them will bring you more highly relevant results. Examples include Yahoo! (www.yahoo.com) and Google™ Directory (directory.google.com/).

Popular virtual libraries include the Librarians’ Index to the Internet (www.lii.org), Internet Public Library (www.ipl.org) and the WWW Virtual Library (www.vlib.org/).

There are also other valuable resources that are often overlooked. The so-called invisible (or “deep”) Web is a collection of online information stored in databases accessible on the Web but not indexed by traditional search engines. These include ProFusion (www.profusion.com), Invisible-web.net (www.invisible-web.net), Complete Planet (www.complete planet.com) and Resource Discovery Network (www.rdn.ac.uk).

A meta search engine is a search tool that sends your query simultaneously to several search engines and web directories. Because most of the meta search engines take only the top 10 or 20 from each search engine, you can expect excellent results. Examples include Dogpile (www.dogpile.com), Vivisimo (www.vivisimo.com), InfoGrid (www.infogrid.com), Infonetware (www.infonet ware.com).

Another kind of meta search engine is the search utility, a downloadable software program, examples of which include SearchRocket (www.search rocket.com) and WebFerret (www.ferretsoft.com)

Which One Should I Use?

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If you are looking for specific information, use search engines.

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If you are looking for a unique or obscure search term or if you want to make an in-depth analysis of what’s out there on a specific subject, then use meta search engines.

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If you are looking for general information on popular topics, use subject (web) directories.

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For scholarly information, use virtual libraries.

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If you are looking for real-time information or for dynamically changing content such as the latest news, phone book listings or available airline flights, use specialized databases (invisible Web.)

Checking the Results

Open the page in a new browser window. Right-click over the title of the result. This produces a pop-up menu. Select “open (link) in new window.” After checking the result, close the new browser window. You will still have the first window browser with your search.

Too many results? Here are some ideas to help you refine your search:

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Add one or more descriptive words to your query.

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Use phrases. Enclose two or more words that can appear in exact order within double quotation marks.

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Exclude words you don’t want in the results by using the implied Boolean operator “-”.

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Use the search tool’s “advanced search” functions. Limit your search by language, date or by field searching: title, URL, link etc. See the search tool’s “search tips” for details.

Too few results? Try this:

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Delete the least important word from the query.

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If you used a search phrase, try eliminating the double quotes.

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If all the above strategies fail, switch to another search tool, preferably a meta search engine.

Evaluate Your Results

Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet. Governmental agencies, educational institutions, libraries and prestigious publications are the most reliable sources of information. Information found on personal sites/stored in free hosts should be viewed with a bit of skepticism.

Tips for Evaluating a Site

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Is the website published by an authoritative source?

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Is the author a recognized expert in the field or subject area?

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Is the information relevant, credible and accurate? (It doesn’t hurt to crosscheck two or three additional, reliable sources.)

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Is the site current and recently-updated?

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Does the site have a professional “look and feel”: structure, layout, color scheme, navigation menu(s), etc.? Are there spelling, grammar or punctuation errors?

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Does the site have contact information such as a postal address, phone or e-mail?

Bookmarks and Favorites

After you’ve found what you’re looking for, save its Web address in your “bookmarks” or “favorites” folder in your browser if you think you might want to visit again (You will not likely remember the address or the method you used to find it.)

Should you need to cite the information, it is best to also print the page you are referencing, as the next time you try to visit the page it may be modified or missing.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: September 2005

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