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From the Science Writers Association of Canada
Doing research on the Web
By David Shiga
Search engines aren't always best
If it's in-depth information you want, search engines should be
a last resort. The listings are comprehensive, but there's no way
to tell the difference between a link to an extensive passage and
a passing reference. And there's no way to determine the quality
of anything in the listings either. You can save yourself a lot
of time if you can find a list of links that someone else has prepared
on your subject of interest. After all, why do all the hard work
of separating the wheat from the chaff if someone else has already
done it for you? Try typing something like "dark matter links"
or "dark matter sites" to find pages with lists of links.
Directories are another alternative to search engines. If search
engines are like book indexes, directories are more like tables
of contents. For an example of a directory, click on "directory"
from the main Google site. In theory, you can find what you want
simply by clicking on categories and subcategories until you've
narrowed things down enough. In practice, it is often very unclear
where to find a particular category. One way to jump straight to
the right category is to do a search like "sharks endangered
directory." That will lead you to any directory pages that
list sites on sharks and conservation or similar subjects.
It's often helpful to know when the page you're viewing was last updated. If the page doesn't say, you can find out when it was last updated by right clicking on it and choosing "Properties" from the pop-up menu. Unfortunately, many pages are increasingly set to default to today's date, even if they haven't been updated in years.
Search engine tips
You can use www.google.com/options/universities.html to restrict
your search to a particular university's site, or www.google.com/unclesam
to search only U.S. government sites. You can restrict yourself
to sites that end with .org or whatever ending you want by typing
a search like "climate change site:org." To get only University
of Toronto pages, try "climate change site:www.utoronto.ca."
You can do most of these things without learning new codes by using
the "advanced search" page, linked from the main Google
page. If you're looking for images, don't type "gorillas pictures."
Use Google image search instead. Click on "Images" from
the main Google page to get there.
Often your search results will be cluttered with irrelevant links. If you want information on light emitting diodes but are getting only commercial sites, try a search like "light emitting diodes -product -price," which will eliminate sites containing the words product or price. Don't forget to use phrases in quotation marks to narrow down your search, especially when using common words. If you're trying to find an article that you read recently on Stephen Hawking that happened to contain the phrase "fire in the hole," a search that like '"fire in the hole" Stephen Hawking' will be more likely to lead you to it than 'fire in the hole Stephen Hawking.'