How to Search the Internet
Unlike print sources which are expensive to publish, the Internet provides a means to inexpensively publish. Anybody can pretty much publish anything. That is why it is particularly important to screen possible sources from the World Wide Web. There are specialized search engines such as ones for children’s sites or for radio stations or images.
Another problem with sources on the Internet is that all sources look the same in the sense they are online. In print sources, we can readily see what type of publication is: book, newspaper, magazine. On line, we have to look more carefully to understand what we are looking at.
The web address (URL) is a good first indicator. Suffixes tell us something about the source: .gov is a government site, .edu is an educational institution site, and .com is a business.
Sources from businesses should be viewed for a bias. A business website is promoting a business, not necessarily giving all the information about a controversial issue. On the other hand, a business source can give valid technical information about a product.
It is important to see who is sponsoring the site. Sometimes, the name of the website will seem to present information from a certain perspective, but when we see who posted the website, it is clear that is not the case.
There are some websites that should not be used as sources for academic research such as blogs which are just people expressing an opinion and not presented as a knowledgeable sources. Editorial opinion either from an editor or submitted from a reader should be evaluated for bias and credibility since there is a question about whether the person is actually knowledgeable in the field. Wikis are created by people posting information. Most are not necessarily created by scholars or others knowledgeable in the field. In fact, here is a quote from the Wikipedia page “About Wikipedia:”
“Anyone with Web access can edit Wikipedia, and this openness encourages inclusion of a tremendous amount of content. About 75,000 editors—from expert scholars to casual readers—regularly edit Wikipedia …
Wikipedia does have a system in place for review of content and presentation, and while they strive to edit for completeness and balance, there is the following disclosure:
“Users should be aware that not all articles are of encyclopedic quality from the start: they may contain false or debatable information. Indeed, many articles start their lives as displaying a single viewpoint; and, after a long process of discussion, debate, and argument, they gradually take on a neutral point of view reached through consensus.”
A standard encyclopedia is reviewed for accuracy by experts before publishing.
It’s easy to get lost in cyberspace. We could easily be in a site and then follow a link to some other site. We might think we are in a reputable site, but we are actually somewhere else.
Then, there is the situation where a variety of sources are posted within a site. Each would have to be evaluated separately.
Strategies for searching the Internet:
What you get is a result of what you ask for and how you ask for it. Search engines use categories to come up with the selections they present after you type in your search. Popular search engines are Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Generally, your computer is set up with a default to a search engine depending upon your browser. A browser is the program that gets you onto the Internet. Browsers includes Internet Explorer, Safari, Google Chrome, and Mozilla. There are also specialized search engines that are created to help do focused research in a specific area such as health care of business administration.
The key to a good search is to use a keyword or keywords that will find what you are looking for and to filter so that you don’t get selections you don’t want. Say you wanted to find out whether about mummies from countries other than Egypt. If you type in mummies, for example, the search will result in mummies from all countries and eras, most of which will probably be from Egypt. You would have to filter manually through all to find information on other types of mummies.
Boolean searches are ways to limit selections. Boolean searches use the words AND, OR, and NOT to refine searches. If you try searching mummies NOT Egyptian, you will have a more limited list. Note that these Boolean searches are in all caps. While some search engines now automatically capitalize, others don’t.
Quotation marks could also be helpful. They tell the search engine you want results for all of the words in quotation marks and not just either of the words. The results list could be very different for “breast cancer” than for breast cancer, depending upon the search engine.