Surfing the Web Using Effective Internet Search Strategies

I. The Browser: Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator 



A. Home Page - the page/screen you view each time you start Navigator or Explorer

B. Page Title

1.      At the top of the screen

C. The Toolbar (see above)

D. Viewing Other Pages

E. Status Indicator

F. Favorites/Bookmark

A permanent way to mark pages.

G. Addresses on the World Wide Web

a)      .com- commercial business

b)      .edu-education

c)      .gov- government

d)      .mil - US military

e)      .net - network organizations

f)        .org - miscellaneous organizations

 II. Searching

A.     Search Basics

  1. When conducting a search, remember the following basic principles:

  2. Always check for misspelled words.

  3. Use phrases when possible.

  4. Use synonyms.

  5. Try various search engines.

B.     Search Engines

Search engines are special utilities/Internet sites that search millions of Internet sites and return a list of related URLs.  Most search engines today are "meta" search engines in that they go out and search numerous other engines to retrieve the most information possible. Many search engines also offer pre-established categories of related sites to help you narrow down your search.  Some search engines work by searching the titles of other pages, some work by searching the entire content of a page, some access key words that have been associated or pre-programmed into a page.  In order for a site to be "found" it has to be registered with a search engine.

Some of the more common search engines include:                                                      

C.     Simple Searching:

When conducting a search, there are a few strategies that you may want to employ. One strategy is to conduct a simple search. A simple search will give you the broadest range of sites and the most possible "hits" (sites which satisfy the search parameters) for your search. It is not uncommon to find several thousand sites based on your simple search criteria. A simple search usually consists of one or two words.

To do:

  1. Access a search engine by clicking on the "search" button or typing in the URL of a search engine (see chart on page 6).

  2. Type in a word or two which describes the topic you are looking for.

  3. Click "Search".

D. Complex Searching:

A complex search differs from a simple search in that it uses several terms to search on. Those terms are joined together with special words called OPERATORS.

1.      Search Operators

A.                 Boolean Operators

v     AND       Sites found must contain all words that are searched for.

                            Example: peanut AND butter

    Sites found must contain both the words peanut and butter.

v     OR          Sites found must contain al least one word that is being searched for.

                               Example: peanut OR butter

Sites found must contain either the word peanut or the word butter or they may contain both peanut and butter.


v     NOT       Sites found must not contain the specified word.

    Example: peanut NOT butter

    Sites found must contain the word peanut but not the word butter.


v     NEAR     Sites found most contain words that are near each other (usually within    10 words).

                         Example: peanut NEAR butter

    Sites found must contain the words peanut and butter AND those words must be within 10 words of one another.

2. Grouping Operators

Special operators known as grouping operators join search words together in a phrase that will be used to conduct the search. Here are some grouping operators and the function they perform.

v     " _" (DOUBLE QUOTES):    Sites found must contain the words inside the quotes exactly as they appear (not necessarily with case).

Example: "Knott's Berry Farm"

Sites found must contain the exact phrase "Knott's Berry Farm"

v     ( ) PARENTHESES:    Words and operators can be grouped within a larger search criteria.

Example: (peanut AND butter) NOT jelly

Sites found must contain both the words peanut and butter but not the word jelly.

3.      Search String Operators

Some search sites support string operators. These operators are similar to the Boolean AND and NOT operators. To use these operators, they should be placed directly in front of the joining word (no space in between).

+     + (Plus Symbol)   Sites found must contain both words that are searched for.

Example: water +skiing

Sites found must contain the word water and the word skiing


(Minus Symbol)   Sites found must contain the first search word but not the second search word.

Example: stock -cars

Sites found must contain the word stock but not the word cars.


III.                  Choosing a Search Engine 

Information Needed

Characteristics of the Search Engine

I have an idea of a broad topic.

I want an overview of my topic.

I need to narrow it.

Organizes information as "subject trees" from general to specific topics.


I want a small number of relevant hits and an idea of what's in each document before I go to each page.

Hits have excellent summaries. When you find a relevant hit, you can submit a "query by example" to locate similar pages.


What's available on the Internet for my topic?

Searches and integrates major engines


I want quality, evaluated sites that have reviews and ratings.

Small database with relevancy ranking.


I need to do a pinpoint search because my terms are narrow.

Massive and fast indexer of full text, good for very specific searches. Northern Lights organizes info. Into custom folders.

(Alta Vista, Northern Lights)

I have common keywords that probably appear in many documents and should make my search specific.

Fast, powerful, with ranked results and many options for defining a search (by date, geographic region, keyword).


I know the date of an event and am looking for more information.

Can limit by date.


I need scientific information, to back up the research for my science fair project.

(Alta Vista)

I want web pages from a geographic region.

Can search by continent.

(HotBot, MetaCrawler)

I want to ask a question.

Allows "natural language searching."

(NorthernLights, AskJeeves)

I want to browse.

Subject tree directories with short descriptions of sites.

(Yahoo, LookSmart)

I want to see sites just for kids.

(Yahooligans, KidFusion)




IV.               Search Engine Summary Chart 

Search Engines




Alta Vista

Boolean AND, OR, NOT, NEAR


Uses search operators: +, -

Uses (*) as search



Boolean AND, OR,

NOT, " "

Ranks by confidence

Returns many results

Use phrases and several keywords to reduce list


Boolean AND, OR,

NOT, " "

Returns many results

Use phrases and several keywords to reduce list


Boolean AND, OR,

NOT, " "

Ranks by confidence

Uses search operators: +,-

Use commas to separate phrases


Boolean AND, OR. " "

Ranks by confidence

Returns many results

Use phrases and several keywords to reduce list

Uses Boolean AND by default


Boolean AND, OR,

NOT, " ", NOT, ( )


Can specify maximum number of results to return

Northern Lights

Boolean AND, OR,

NOT, " "

Returns sites sorted into customized folders.  Suggests relationships.



Allows for natural language questioning.

Other Engines:












Filters out inappropriate content.



"Kid oriented"

 V.           Evaluating Internet Sites 

A. Purpose

1.      Audience - Consider the intended audience of the page, based on its content, tone and style. Does this mesh with your needs?

2.      Consider the Source - Web search engines often amass vast results, from memos to scholarly documents. Many of the resulting items will be peripheral or useless for your research.

B.  Source

1.      Author/producer is identifiable

2.      Author/producer has expertise on the subject as indicated on a credentials page. You may need to trace back in the URL (Internet address) to view a page in a higher directory with background information.

3.      Sponsor/location of the site is appropriate to the material as shown in the URL.

4.      Name in URL may mean a personal home page with no official sanction.

5.      Mail-to link is offered for submission of questions or comments.

C.  Content

1.      Accuracy - Don't take the information presented at face value. Web sites are rarely refereed or reviewed, as are scholarly journals and books. Look for point of view, and evidence of bias. Source of the information should be clearly stated, whether original or borrowed from elsewhere.

2.      Comprehensiveness - Depth of information; determine if content covers a specific time period or aspect of the topic, or strives to be comprehensive. Use additional print and electronic sources to complement the information provided.

3.      Currency - Look to see if the site has been updated recently, as reflected in the date on the page and if the material contained on the page is current.

4.      Links - Links are relevant and appropriate. Don't assume that the linked sites are the best available. Be sure to investigate additional sites on the topic.

D. Style and Functionality

1.      Site is laid out clearly and logically with well organized subsections.

2.      Writing style is appropriate for the intended audience. Site is easy to navigate.

3.      Links to remote sites all work.

4.      Search capability is offered if the site is extensive.