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Research skills: Literature search techniques: How to find websites
Handy hints before you begin
What is a search engine?
A search engine is a tool which helps you to find information on a given subject from among the billions of pages that exist on the web. It has several components: search engine software, spider software, an index (database), and a relevancy algorithm (rules for ranking). The search engine software consists of a server dedicated to indexing web pages, storing the results and returning lists of pages to match user queries. The spidering software constantly crawls the Web collecting Web page data for the index.
How the literature search techniques pages work
I've put together a series of linked images of web pages showing the whole process step by step. Simply click anywhere on an image, or on a green arrow button, to go to the next step in the search sequence.
Bear in mind that the results of looking up a topic using a search engine won't be the same every time: the indexing process is continuous and new pages are constantly being added. The screens that you see on the following pages won't necessarily be what you'll get if you repeat my search examples.
Simple search techniques
You can improve the quality of the results you get from using search engines dramatically if you take the time to learn a few basic techniques. Applying these techniques will greatly reduce the number of irrelevant hits that will be returned from a particular search.
Most search engines will provide a page which tells you how to make effective use of the program. Look for a link marked Help or Tips, or similar, on the main search page.
For example, +java -coffee will help if you are looking for java programming information rather than the stimulating beverage.
Finding Information on the Internet Tutorial (University of California, Berkeley). The Recommended Search Strategy section is excellent!
Advanced search techniques
Advanced searching is usually offered by most search engines - look for the link to Advanced Search on the main search page - and will certainly help to improve the relevance in the results that you obtain.
You'll also find advanced techniques such as the use of logical or Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) are essential when you are using electronic databases to find journal articles on a particular topic.
Boolean Searching on the Internet(University of Albany Libraries) - an excellent, easy to understand explanation.
Evaluating your results
It is crucial when you are searching the web for information to know the criteria that indicate that a particular web page has academic merit; the websites you choose to explore and utilise for your assignments must meet all the evaluation criteria before you accept them as part of your literature search and refer to them in your bibliography.
A web page must meet all of these criteria:
Accuracy | Authority | Objectivity | Currency | Coverage
More on evaluation
For more information on evaluating websites, have a look at:
A question that I am often asked these days is how to cite references that you find on the web and other electronic sources. You'll find all you need to know about this topic on the Web referencing page of my Essay writing, thesis preparation, referencing and style guides web pages.
Let's find some websites !
Now it's time to start learning how to use a search engine to find literature resources on the web. The structure is a series of linked images of web pages showing the whole process step by step. Simply click anywhere on an image, or on a green arrow button, to go to the next step in the search sequence.
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