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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