ABC's of Searching the Web
(Click on the number of the sentence for which you want more info.)
1. Use the simplest
possible key word or letters.
Be really specific.
Try several different ways of
Try what are
called "boolean" search commands.
Evaluate web sites carefully!
Avoid Wikipedia for
anything but initial ideas.
Take (or print out) good notes.
instructor want both "primary" and "secondary" sources?
1. Use the simplest possible
key word or letters: for example, instead of typing "arguments," use the
You'll then find anything that
says "argument," "arguing," or "argues."
This works with singular vs. plural, too. For example, type "horse"
instead of "horses." If a plural just has an "s" added to the
singular, then start with the singular word: it will find both singular and
Another way of doing this is to use an asterisk (*). For example, you
and all instances of this set of
four letters will be called up.
2. Be really specific.
For example, instead of typing
try first typing
death penalty sometimes good
If that doesn't help you
enough--or if you want to be more thorough--then try other combinations,
too. Generally, it's better to work with several specific phrases
first. Then, if you don't get enough good results, you can delete some
of your words and try more more general phrases.
3. Try several different
ways of saying it. One small word that is different may help
you find exactly what you need. The real key in good web searches is
figuring out the best key words. Look words up, if you need to, for
their meanings. Ask friends. Ask your search engine for
4. Try what are called "boolean"
search commands. For example, if you put quotations around a
Then your search engine will first
(or only) find instances of that exact combination of two words in that
exact order. Otherwise, if you just simply type
then you'll get a million extra
references to everything "dappled" and everything "horse."
Another way to make sure two or
three words all appear in the search results is to use a capitalized
"AND." For example, if you want every search result to include the
three words "dappled," "horse," and "wild,--in any order--then you would
horse AND wild
If you want to exclude certain
subjects at the same time, then you can also use a capitalized "NOT."
For example, you could type
horse AND wild NOT history
There are more boolean commands.
For a simplified list, see
or see a
5-min. audio w/slides at
5. Evaluate web sites
carefully! Don't fall for every .edu, .org, and pretty web
interface. Many .edu and .org web sites are written by individuals
with wildly varying viewpoints, not their institutions' views or research
orientation. And some of the handsomest web designs have no worthwhile content for
research purposes. Learn how to tell the difference between
instructor-approved and -disapproved web sites in videos at
Maryland (audio & text, 5 min.),
min.), W. Virginia
(slides & audio, 4 min.); or in texts at
Hacker & Fister,
A good general, introductory set
of written tutorials about web research, along with a slide show, is at
6. Avoid Wikipedia
for anything but initial ideas. The great majority of
instructors do NOT want you to use it as a resource for your paper.
Sometimes it's wonderful, but sometimes it's useless. (Instructors
usually feel the same way about famous quotations, dictionary definitions,
and scripture.) Why? See OGH's
7. Take (or
print out) good notes.
Use quotation marks (" ") to mark whatever copy from the web site's own words.
mark your sentences in which you write down--in your own words--an idea from
the web site, as you MUST give credit even for ideas! To not give
credit using quotation marks or an author's name for the author's ideas is
known universally in colleges and universities as "plagiarism." You
want to completely avoid it. Why? See OGH's
Problem #3 or
Above all, to make your own life a
lot easier, COPY THE
WEB ADDRESS! If you do use the site as an official resource for your
paper, you'll want to
find it again easily so that you can create a complete bibliography entry.
Or you simply could print the
whole web page you will use, or copy and paste it to a word document, so you
don't have to choose which words to quote just yet. When you print it,
the web site address usually appears at the bottom.
For more on note
8. Does your instructor want
both "primary" and "secondary" sources? It may help you to know
ahead of time--you may need to search for both kinds.
A "primary" source is from someone
who actually experienced an event (like a written interview or a news video of something actually
happening). A "secondary" source is from someone discussing what has
happened without directly experiencing it (for example, most textbooks; and
most opinion journalism in editorial columns, or TV or radio segments
devoted to personal opinion).
For more on primary vs. secondary sources, see
Toronto or videos at
California-San Diego (3 min.) or
Hartness (5 min.).
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