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Research Online: A Practical Guide 
Choose a Section:
Intro | Web Basics | Searching | Links | Citing Sources | Conclusion

Searching Smarter
Web Research Tips
Research Tools

Research Tools


On the Web most research tools fall into three categories: search engines, directories, and supersites.
  1. Search engines

    Most people rely on keyword search engines to find information on the Web. Search engines are plentiful, free, and easy to use. The drawback is that using one keyword will often return hundreds of useless Web sites. The best way to improve the results of keyword searches is to go beyond simple searching and learn to construct advanced searches.

    Below are some advanced search techniques.

    • Use quotation marks around phrases to keep words together ("financial aid").
    • Study your favorite search tool's guidelines for using "and" and "or."
    • Place a + before a word or phrase that must appear in the results, and a - before any term that must be excluded.

    For a concise, easy-to-follow explanation of Boolean search logic, visit ADAM's Boolean Searching page.

    Follow Research Zone's recommended links below to explore these concepts.

    What is . . . a Search Engine?
    Gives an overview of the components of a search engine

    Introduction to Search Engines by Kansas City Public Library
    Provides clear summaries and reviews of the most popular search engines. Includes a comparative features-summary chart.

    How to Search the Web: A Guide To Search Tools by Terry A. Gray
    This in-depth guide to the popular search engines walks you through both simple and advanced searches.

    A Student's Guide to Research with the WWW: Search Engines by Craig Branham
    Offers a thorough guide to crafting a search, with examples

    Searching the World Wide Web: Strategies, Analyzing Your Topic, Choosing Search Tools by University of California, Berkeley
    This comprehensive tutorial offers a useful outline for searching in stages-a "first pass, second pass, third pass" approach. Also includes sample searches for major search engines.

    The Spider's Apprentice: How To Use Web Search Engines by Linda Barlow
    This well-organized and easy-to-follow tutorial is divided into six sections: Tips, FAQ, Planning the Best Search Strategy, How Search Engines Work, Web-Search Wizard, and In-Depth Analysis of Popular Search Engines

    Yahoo: Search Engines
    An exhaustive list of search tools.

    Metasearch Engines
    A metasearch engine searches several major search engines simultaneously, providing results based on the keyword(s) you provide. This can save you time, but don't use them exclusively. Why not? Because the results can be deceiving. Because search engines do not all use the same query language, one or more of them might not "understand" your query. The metasearch site might return "zero results found," when in fact a query done on one particular search engine would have returned good results.

    For thorough coverage of metasearch engines-what they are, how they work, and how to choose one-visit theMeta-Search Engines section of the Web research tutorial by Univesity of California, Berkeley.

  2. Directories

    Web directories present you with Web sites organized into hierarchical categories. Narrow your search by clicking on subcategories that lead you closer to your desired information. The advantage of directories is that sites are "handpicked" by experts and of a higher quality. You will get fewer but more relevant results using directories rather than search engines.

    Some recommended directories:

    Excite's "channel" directory

    Britannica Internet Guide

    Lycos' Top 5% (Best of the Web)

    Yahoo's subject directory

  3. "Supersites"

    Also called "megasites" or "webliographies," these sites offer comprehensive database searches, general reference links, or subject-specific links that take you beyond what is offered by search engines and general directories.

    • Search supersites such as Infomine and NorthernLight will search extensive database collections.
    • Reference supersites are one-stop shopping for multiple reference tools. Xplore Reference and Research-It! are examples of reference supersites.
    • Subject-specific supersites, such as ERIC, an education clearinghouse, provide filtering and expert-picked resources for particular disciplines or areas of interest.

    Follow RearchZone's recommended links below to explore "supersites" in depth:

    Beyond General World Wide Web Searching by University of California, Berkeley
    A selection of only the best in "webliographies," subject databases, virtual libraries, and full-text resource locators.

    Beyond Surfing: Tools and Techniques for Searching the Web (Appendix 1: Browsing Tools: Subject Trees, Review Sites and Subject Guides) by Kathleen Webster and Kathryn Paul
    Well-annotated links to subject trees, review sites, and subject guides.

    Safe Surfing Sites by Needle in a CyberStack
    A great collection of student-appropriate links for research.

    Scout Select: Bookmarks
    Collection of academic supersites "chosen for selectivity, breadth and depth of coverage, scope, and authority."

    Scout Select: Searching the Internet
    Supersite collections grouped into six categories: Searchable Indexes, Subject Catalogs, Annotated Directories, Subject Guides, and Specialized Directories

    Yahoo: All-in-One Search Pages
    More search and reference supersites-try a different one each time you surf the Web!

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