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Why use the Internet for my research?

What the Internet is good for What's harder to find
often quick and convenient to search find statistics
Current events, popular culture Scholarly or obscure subjects
Today's news Older news, archives of issues
Brief info, quick facts, trivia In depth analysis
Company & product info Unbiased analysis of companies
Self-published writing Indexes to search for articles by subject

Think of the Internet as a jumbled pile of papers, books and bits of videos. You can rummage around and find useful information, but finding good, organized, in depth research material is more difficult. It helps to have a picture of what's out there.

First, the Internet is made up of a free part - what we think of as the Web, and a hidden - and often "pay to see the information" - part.

Second, the Internet is a self-publishing medium. You have to be the judge of how good that information is. Internet sites change over time, websites disappear, and some sites contain expert knowledge; others are amateur, or even lies.

Evaluate what you find on the Internet - just as with any information you use.

Five steps to locate things on the Internet

Ways to search the Internet

Go directly to a site. If you know the Internet address (URL) of a site, type it in the location or address box of the browser software. Many articles and books mention websites.

Check into a subject directory or subject tree. These are one way to organize parts of the Internet. They consist of links to Internet sites organized by subject area. They are created by expert people searching for and analyzing useful websites.

Yahoo! is a famous example

Librarians' Index to the Internet is said to be a "thinking person's Yahoo!"

Search using a search engine. A web search engine gathers websites with a spider, a computer program that goes from link to link. Unlike the human brain, spiders can't choose, so some of the websites they collect may be outdated or inaccurate.

Recommended search engine starting points:

Start with Google. This search engine ranks webpages by the number of links to them from pages ranked high by the service. Google often does an excellent job finding webpages on a topic.

also try other recommended search engines.

Look at Quick Tips on Searching the Internet.

Explore the Deep (or invisible) web. Invisible web is information not "findable" using a search engine, even though it's stored in databases on the Web.

The only way to get a piece of information in the invisible Web is to directly search a particular database itself.

Frequently updated information is likely to be stored in databases, for example news, job listings, airline flights, statistics, scientific field data, etc.

Other "invisible" content not gathered by a search engine may include non-text files such as multimedia, graphical files, and documents in non-standard formats.

Many search engine sites and commercial portals have searchable databases as part of their group of services. For example, you can visit Yahoo ( and look up news, maps, jobs, auctions, items for purchase, etc., all things outside the domain of a spider-gathered index. As another example, Google integrates searches of PDF files into its general search service.

Check examples of sites with content on the deep Web:

Use article databases to which the Library subscribes.

Consult a federal or state agency whose mission includes the areas you need, for instance: NASA, EPA, ERIC or U.S. Census Reference Desk.

Quick Tips on Searching the Internet

Already have a specific Internet address (URL)? Type it in the address or location box on the browser (IE or Netscape).

Still trying to choose a topic? Try Google "Issues" page (click Directory, look under Society)

Look at Daily News digest on search engines

Got a topic? Now, decide on search words or phrases. More things you try, the better chance to get useful results.

  • try the obvious first, for example use Picasso, not painters
  • try synonyms, e.g. death penalty, capital punishment
  • try other related words, e.g. terrorists, terrorism
  • identify all the important concepts

example: I want to look at using wind to generate power in Oklahoma.
Use: wind power, wind generation, wind generators, Oklahoma
combine terms to focus your topic, e.g. wind power AND Oklahoma

What's the best starting place?

Your topic's
Search engines Subject
(Internet sources
grouped by
subject area)
Specialized databases (invisible web) Luck!
Distinctive word or phrase?

"wind power"
Try your word or phrase in Google.
Enclose phrases in
" ".
Search the broader concept, what your term is "about," for wind power, try energy. Need facts, statistics, maps, schedules? Try some of the specialized databases listed below in "Good Places to Start." There is some luck in all searching. Stay alert and keep your mind open. Learn as you search.
NO distinctive words / phrases? "chaotic environment" (used in too many different contexts) Use more than one term or phrase in " " to get fewer results. Look for distinctive words in subject directories. Then use those words.
Seek an overview? Don't know much about the topic? Not recommended. Try to find a specialized subject directory focused on your topic. Best: Try an encyclopedia first.

--Adapted from University of California Berkeley Libraries,

Specific places to start

Recommended search engines:

Good subject directories:

(More on) How to talk to a search engine

  • put phrases in quotes, for example "wind power"
  • use capital letters for names, George Bush
  • use + to show all terms must be included, +censorship +rock +music
  • type most important term first - order makes a difference!
  • add in Google to get rid of commercial sites
  • try more than one search engine, subject directory or specialized database

Does this website have useful info?

  • Is the info relevant to my topic?
  • Who wrote it - do authors have any credentials? (Click "about us" or look at bottom of webpage)
  • Does author give evidence? List references for sources?
  • Is it accurate? Objective? Biased toward one side?
  • What's the publication date?

How to cite web resources

When to look for print sources

  • need a key study or book that started debate
  • biographical information on people involved
  • compilations of opposing viewpoints
  • in depth, book length research on a topic
  • need scholarly information, or even just plain need more info!

When to ask for help!

Keep getting too many results?

Can't find anything?

Need more ideas?

Ask at the Library Reference Desk.