Searching the Internet
MMTK Project
Unit developed by Anna Feldman, for the Association
for Progressive Communications
This unit aims to enable you to:
Understand more about the Internet as an environment for
finding information.
Explore the strengths and weaknesses of different search
tools: how to pick the right one(s) for the job.
Learn to use the tools appropriately: how to re-phrase your
questions in a search tool-shaped way.
Evaluate the information that search tools provide: how to
efficiently cream off the most relevant results.
Develop a strategy for building up your own well-structured
bank of links for future reference: how to bypass the search
tools altogether.
Internet as Information
• Lack of statistics on the amount of information
on the Internet
• No standard indexing system
• No “direct” searching of other computers access to search tools only
• Search tools search through limited lists of
• Information on the Internet is driven by
machines, created by people
Search Tools
• Search Engines
• Meta-search Engines
• Subject Directories
• Information Gateways
• Specialist Databases
Search Engines
• Compiled by spiders (computer-robot programs),
mechanically building database of references
• Matches searched-for keywords with words in full text of
selected web pages
• Number of pages searched can vary from small number to
90% of the web
• Good results are as much about understanding search
syntax as the scope of the engine’s coverage
Good For: Precision searches, using named people or
organisations, searching quickly and widely, topics
which are hard to classify
Not Good For: Browsing through a subject area
Major Search Engines
• Google
• AltaVista
• alltheweb
Meta-search Engines
• Skim-search several search engines at once
• Usually reach about 10% of results of each
engine they visit
• Cannot perform advanced-style searches
which use engine-specific syntax
Good For: quick search engine results overview, doing
simple searches with 1 or 2 keywords
Not Good For: comprehensive results from a complex
Major Meta-search
• SurfWax
• Ixquick
Information Gateways
• Information gateway-type resources include Internet catalogues,
subject directories, virtual libraries and gateways
• Specialising in resources on a particular field
• Usually searchable AND
• Organised into hierarchical subject categories
• Compiled by people, not robots
• More focus on sifting for relevance and quality
Good For: topics that fall into a thematic area that has a subject
directory, guided browsing in your subject area
Not Good For: Quickly finding information from widely varying
Information Gateway
• ELDIS: the Gateway to Development Information
• Development Gateway
• World Wide Web Virtual Library
• SOSIG (Social Science Information Gateway)
• Also known as the “invisible web” - pages of
content not reached by robots
• Statistics, schedules, maps, figures
• Dynamically generated content, powered into
pages on demand
• Searchable
• Entry pages can be found using other search
Good For: Gathering specific kinds of data
Not Good For: Browsing through a subject area
Use just one search tool for each of the following queries to start
building up a picture of which tools work for which queries
Using the Tools
7 Stage Search Strategy:
1. Unpack your query
2. Phrase your query
3. Categorise your query
4. Match a tool to your query
5. Seek advice from a relevant person
6. Try again!
7. Evaluate your results
Stage 1. Unpacking
the Query
• Ask questions to make the query clearer
• Put the query into a single sentence
• Break it up into concepts
• Think of alternative terms for each of
your concepts
• Take a search query from the collection
that was made at the beginning of the
session. Do not take one that you wrote
• Adapt the query by asking questions, if
it needs more specificity
• Use the table in your worksheets to
break it down into concepts
Stage 2. Phrase your
The basic principles of Search Syntax are the
same for most search engines, but details can
vary - always check your engine’s search tips
page to be sure.
• Narrowing parameters: “” , +, “Columbian coffee pickers”
+coffee +pickers +price +Columbia
+coffee -cup -cotton
• Complex Boolean searches
OR, AND or +, NOT, “….”
• Wild Cards
Stage 3. Categorise
your Query
Does your query:
• Include clearly distinctive words or phrases?
• Include common terms that tend to get many
inappropriate results?
• Look for broad overviews of a subject area?
• Look for a narrowly focused part of a broader
Stage 4. Match the
Right Tool to the Query
• Try and match the right tool to the type
of search query you are working on.
• Think about the way that the tool will
work on your query and re-phrase the
query to get the most out of the tools.
• Try a variety of tools - use general tools
to find subject-specific ones.
Stage 5. Seek Advice
Tools don’t have brains - people do!
• No successful results from the tools online?
• Look for an “off-ramp” to take you to a
person offline:
– an email link to a relevant expert, resource person, or
page author
– telephone number
– postal addresses
• Send your query to a relevant discussion list
Stage 6. Try Again!
• Go back to the beginning
• Retrace your steps
• Look for turnings you may have missed
• Re-phrase your query
• Re-think your query
• Check your search syntax
Using the last 5 stages of the search strategy,
repeat the search query you did earlier
Stage 7. Evaluating
the Results
Think before you click!
• The Internet lacks the quality control mechanisms that
exist in the print media
• Look for “relevance” clues in the URLs of your search
results, before you click.
• Check the domain types
.gov, .edu, .org
• Check the publishing source
– self published by an individual?
– reputable source?
– relevant source?
The following URLs are Google results from the query
Indonesia “human rights”. Try making a judgement about
what sort of information they link to (without clicking).
Developing your Own
Online Resource Base
• Learn from your searches: let every search
contribute to the next ones.
• Use the Bookmarks/Favorites feature of
your browser.
• Add URLs and annotations to the list.
• Use the filing functionality to organise your
resources into a logical system.
• The list will become an incredibly valuable
personalised information gateway - and a
fabulous launch-pad.
Searching the Internet
MMTK Project
Unit developed by Anna Feldman, for the Association
for Progressive Communications

Searching the Internet