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Searching the Internet. MMTK Project Unit developed by Anna Feldman, for the Association for Progressive Communications. Overview. This unit aims to enable you to: Understand more about the Internet as an environment for finding information.

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Searching the internet

Searching the Internet

MMTK Project

Unit developed by Anna Feldman, for the Association for Progressive Communications


This unit aims to enable you to:

  • Understand more about the Internet as an environment for finding information.

  • Explore the strengths and weaknesses of different search tools: how to pick the right one(s) for the job.

  • Learn to use the tools appropriately: how to re-phrase your questions in a search tool-shaped way.

  • Evaluate the information that search tools provide: how to efficiently cream off the most relevant results.

  • Develop a strategy for building up your own well-structured bank of links for future reference: how to bypass the search tools altogether.

Internet as information environment
Internet as Information Environment

  • Lack of statistics on the amount of information on the Internet

  • No standard indexing system

  • No “direct” searching of other computers - access to search tools only

  • Search tools search through limited lists of sites

  • Information on the Internet is driven by machines, created by people

Search tools
Search Tools

  • Search Engines

  • Meta-search Engines

  • Subject Directories

  • Information Gateways

  • Specialist Databases

Search engines
Search Engines

  • Compiled by spiders (computer-robot programs), mechanically building database of references

  • Matches searched-for keywords with words in full text of selected web pages

  • Number of pages searched can vary from small number to 90% of the web

  • Good results are as much about understanding search syntax as the scope of the engine’s coverage

    Good For: Precision searches, using named people or organisations, searching quickly and widely, topics which are hard to classify

    Not Good For: Browsing through a subject area

Major search engines
Major Search Engines

  • Google

  • AltaVista

  • alltheweb

Meta search engines
Meta-search Engines

  • Skim-search several search engines at once

  • Usually reach about 10% of results of each engine they visit

  • Cannot perform advanced-style searches which use engine-specific syntax

    Good For: quick search engine results overview, doing simple searches with 1 or 2 keywords

    Not Good For: comprehensive results from a complex search

Major meta search engines
Major Meta-search Engines

  • SurfWax

  • Ixquick

Information gateways
Information Gateways

  • Information gateway-type resources include Internet catalogues, subject directories, virtual libraries and gateways

  • Specialising in resources on a particular field

  • Usually searchable AND

  • Organised into hierarchical subject categories

  • Compiled by people, not robots

  • More focus on sifting for relevance and quality

    Good For: topics that fall into a thematic area that has a subject directory, guided browsing in your subject area

    Not Good For: Quickly finding information from widely varying themes

Information gateway examples
Information Gateway Examples

  • ELDIS: the Gateway to Development Information

  • Development Gateway

  • World Wide Web Virtual Library

  • SOSIG (Social Science Information Gateway)

Specialised databases
Specialised Databases

  • Also known as the “invisible web” - pages of content not reached by robots

  • Statistics, schedules, maps, figures

  • Dynamically generated content, powered into pages on demand

  • Searchable

  • Entry pages can be found using other search tools

    Good For: Gathering specific kinds of data

    Not Good For: Browsing through a subject area


Use just one search tool for each of the following queries to start building up a picture of which tools work for which queries

Using the tools appropriately
Using the Tools Appropriately

7 Stage Search Strategy:

1. Unpack your query

2. Phrase your query

3. Categorise your query

4. Match a tool to your query

5. Seek advice from a relevant person

6. Try again!

7. Evaluate your results

Stage 1 unpacking the query
Stage 1. Unpacking the Query

  • Ask questions to make the query clearer

  • Put the query into a single sentence

  • Break it up into concepts

  • Think of alternative terms for each of your concepts


  • Take a search query from the collection that was made at the beginning of the session. Do not take one that you wrote yourself

  • Adapt the query by asking questions, if it needs more specificity

  • Use the table in your worksheets to break it down into concepts

Stage 2 phrase your query
Stage 2. Phrase your Query

The basic principles of Search Syntax are the same for most search engines, but details can vary - always check your engine’s search tips page to be sure.

  • Narrowing parameters: “” , +, -

    “Columbian coffee pickers”

    +coffee +pickers +price +Columbia

    +coffee -cup -cotton

  • Complex Boolean searches

    OR, AND or +, NOT, “….”

  • Wild Cards


Stage 3 categorise your query
Stage 3. Categorise your Query

Does your query:

  • Include clearly distinctive words or phrases?

  • Include common terms that tend to get many inappropriate results?

  • Look for broad overviews of a subject area?

  • Look for a narrowly focused part of a broader area?

Stage 4 match the right tool to the query
Stage 4. Match the Right Tool to the Query

  • Try and match the right tool to the type of search query you are working on.

  • Think about the way that the tool will work on your query and re-phrase the query to get the most out of the tools.

  • Try a variety of tools - use general tools to find subject-specific ones.

Stage 5 seek advice
Stage 5. Seek Advice

Tools don’t have brains - people do!

  • No successful results from the tools online?

  • Look for an “off-ramp” to take you to a person offline:

    • an email link to a relevant expert, resource person, or page author

    • telephone number

    • postal addresses

  • Send your query to a relevant discussion list

Stage 6 try again
Stage 6. Try Again!

  • Go back to the beginning

  • Retrace your steps

  • Look for turnings you may have missed

  • Re-phrase your query

  • Re-think your query

  • Check your search syntax


Using the last 5 stages of the search strategy, repeat the search query you did earlier

Stage 7 evaluating the results
Stage 7. Evaluating the Results

Think before you click!

  • The Internet lacks the quality control mechanisms that exist in the print media

  • Look for “relevance” clues in the URLs of your search results, before you click.

  • Check the domain types

    .gov, .edu, .org

  • Check the publishing source

    • self published by an individual?

    • reputable source?

    • relevant source?


The following URLs are Google results from the query Indonesia “human rights”. Try making a judgement about what sort of information they link to (without clicking).

Developing your own online resource base
Developing your Own Online Resource Base

  • Learn from your searches: let every search contribute to the next ones.

  • Use the Bookmarks/Favorites feature of your browser.

  • Add URLs and annotations to the list.

  • Use the filing functionality to organise your resources into a logical system.

  • The list will become an incredibly valuable personalised information gateway - and a fabulous launch-pad.

Searching the internet1

Searching the Internet

MMTK Project

Unit developed by Anna Feldman, for the Association for Progressive Communications