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LIB103 - Internet Research & Evaluation: Searching the Web

Welcome

This online class goes through using the open web to search for information, as well as how to evaluate that information. You can navigate between these two sections using the tabs above (Searching the Web and Evaluating Information), and internally within sections using the Table of Contents linked along the left side of each page.

Surface Web vs Deep Web

  • Search engines like Google (and Bing, and Yahoo) take snapshots of the surface web: pages that are openly available online.
  • Library databases and other online resources provide access to part of what's known as the deep web: pages that are only available through a specialized search engine or in a database you must log in to view.

Although you can find millions of pages of information through Google, there will always be valuable information that is simply unavailable through a regular web search engine. Look at the differences in content in the sample searches below: one in the Library Search Tool, and one in an open web search (Bing). You might use both over the course of your research, but each will bring back different types of content.

 

How Google Works

Do you know how Google works?

  • Search engines send out web spiders or web robots to crawl through the world wide web and take snapshots of web pages.
  • When you search Google, you're only searching through Google's database of web page snapshots, not the entire web.
  • Lots of websites are hidden behind usernames/passwords or have put a "no robots" file in their website to prevent the robots from taking those snapshots so you can search them.
  • There is very little human intervention; the process is automatic.

Google has a complex, proprietary ranking and sorting algorithm that determines which results you see and in what order. One of the criteria for ranking is popularity—the more users who visit or link to a website, the better "ranked" it may be, regardless of quality.

Not everything that shows up on the first page of your search results list will actually be useful information. Some of it may be damaging information. Web search engines—Google, in particular—don't sort their results manually, so it's up to you as a user to be discerning.

Searching with AND OR

In the following pages, you'll have the opportunity to try out some advanced search techniques using web search engines embedded right into this course. Because Google does not permit embedding, you'll be using Bing for the duration of the exercise. Don't panic! The techniques remain essentially the same and can all be used in Google, as well.

You can use Boolean operators AND, OR & NOT to create more precise searches. Google, and other search engines such as Bing and Yahoo, use "invisible ANDs." When you type millennials workplace into a search, for example, it assumes you're looking for webpages with the keywords millennials AND workplace somewhere in them. There's no need to type the connecting AND yourself.

OR can be used when you want to broaden your search. For example, searching for accounting OR finance will bring back resources that contain either of those terms or both of them. Try searching for accounting finance and then compare it to a search for accounting OR finance. Note the difference in number of results between the two searches.

Phrase Searching

Phrases are another way you can narrow your search. Instead of asking the search engine to bring back pages with the word generational and then, elsewhere in the page, the word differences, you can instead bring back pages with the phrase generational differences. You're more likely to get results related to your specific topic.

In most search engines, you can identify phrases by putting quotation marks around the words, such as "generational differences." Test the difference in number and type of results by adding quotation marks to a search below.

Site Searching

Site searching is a way of narrowing your focus. Your search gets 8 million results? You think you want to focus on Canadian content or the CBC or are looking specifically for information from universities? Site searching lets you do that! Many search engines format this by having you type site: in front of the URL you want to search, right in the search box with your keywords.

If you were looking for instrumentation engineering at NAIT, you could format your search like this: "instrumentation engineering" site:www.nait.ca

Your URL can be a specific website (such as www.nait.ca) or just the last part of the URL (such as .ca). Different URL endings mean different things:

.gc.ca Canadian government website .ca Canadian country code
.gov American government website .org organizational website
.edu American college/university website .com commercial website

 

Try a search below for pages from the Stats Canada website ( www.statcan.gc.ca ) that include the phrase "generational differences."

File Type

Narrowing by filetype can be helpful if you already have an idea of what you're looking for: PowerPoint presentation? Word document? PDF? Use filetype: to specify what kind of document you want to bring back.

For example, your instructor pulls up a Word doc with suggested readings about global warming from a website. You want to find it again but can't remember how to get there. Use the information you do have to cut down your searching time.

global warming suggested reading filetype:doc

Advanced Search

Google has an advanced search page you can use to fine-tune your search.

Nearly everything you can do through the Advanced Search page can also be done using the regular Google search page: you just have to know the tips we showed you earlier in this course.

If, for example, you can't remember how to narrow by filetype or cut out words you don't want to appear in your search results, using the Advanced Search page is a good way of reminding yourself.