Search Strategies


The big question is how to wrestle this massive source of information, known as the World Wide Web, and find what you need rather than finding what you don't need or not finding anything worthwhile at all. The first thing that you have to come to terms with is the volume of information that you're dealing with. Previously, the universe we searched was smaller and limited by controlled language and authoritative subject headings. Now, anyone who produces a web page can attach "key words" to that page. They self publish - they have control over content and key words. We can't change that, but what we can change is where and how we search.

In the beginning, start with the smaller universes of the directories. The producers have done some of the preliminary work for you already. Yahoo, Look Smart or Magellan are good places to start. Decide which directory is your favorite and get a feel for how it works. You'll come to know instinctively what searches will be successful in your directory of choice. The number of results you get in the directories is usually manageable. If you read any of the essays regarding evaluating content of web sites you'll begin to breeze through the results lists because you won't spend time at a site that's hard to navigate or is of questionable origin. When you get to a page, use the FIND button in Netscape Navigator to get to your information quickly. You'll spend less time poking around at each web site. Also, get in the habit of going through the results list quickly and bookmarking the pages that look like a good resource or the answer to your question. Later you can go back and look at them with a more critical eye and at a slower pace. You can always delete bookmarks in Netscape (go to Window -> Bookmarks)

To summarize:

  1. begin with directories
  2. quickly evaluate web sites before spending much time on them
  3. use find
  4. use bookmarks


Well, what if what you're looking for isn't included in the directories or you can't seem to find it there? What if you need more information than the directories have to offer? What if you want to search the "entire" web?

There is no search engine that you can use that will search every corner of every web site for you. Use a search engine that is more likely to perform your search efficiently and completely. If you are searching for images or sounds use Hot Bot or Lycos - they both allow searches by media type. Yahoo also has the Image Surfer that is a directory of pictures that you can seach. When you use the search engines and super search engines you can improve your results by searching for a "phrase" by putting the words in quotation marks. Not all search engines support the use of quotes (Altavista, Webcrawler and Infoseek do ). Some of the engines use drop down menus (HotBot) that allow you to select a phrase search. Excite uses the plus (+) and minus (-) signs to include or exclude terms from the search.

Another way you can refine your search is through the use of capital letters. Many of the search engines support this and it eliminates many false hits. You can also try using capitals to limit your search results to the titles of documents. So you can try something like "Breast Cancer" and Women to limit your results to just those pages where it might be in the title or a heading on a contents page. It really depends on whether you are getting too many hits or not enough.

The best way is to pick 3 or 4 search engines (mix up the types) and get to know how they work and what they support. You may prefer Lycos because it tells you whether you have a hit on every term you searched. You may like Hot Bot because it will let you search for words in the title of a web page or AltaVista because you can search by language.

Summary and Quick Tips

Choose the best engine for your type of search:

Choose Yahoo if you have a broad topic that you need to narrow down or you want an idea of what subtopics are indexed. Yahoo gives you an overview of a subject so you can narrow your searchto a more specific topic. (Example: Civil War --> Battles and Campaigns -->Battle of Gettysburg.)

Choose Dogpile if you want to see how broad the coverage is on the web for a specific subject. Dogpile will search 15 search engines for you and the results are speedy and easily browsed.

Choose Lycos or Excite for detailed descriptions of the web sites. In Lycos, do your search then click on detailed descriptions. You'll get a ranking, the number of links to outside resources, an outline, and abstract and a description. In Excite, do your search and then find a result that looks good by the description. Then click on the More Like This link. This helps narrow your search very quickly.

Choose Hot Bot to limit searches by media types (like sounds or movies), by date, or to a person.

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