Using Search Engines
"I'm astounded at the the number of windows
search engines open up to finding new material on the Web"
- ESL Teacher
[Back to Course]
- You should understand what search engines are, identify different types of
searching tools, and be able to use them effectively to find the best
|I. What is a Search Engine?|
"I've used yahoo.com to search the Internet. Isn't that enough?"
Well, if you keep in mind that there are over 5 billion documents that make
up the World Wide Web, no one single tool will help you find what you are
looking for in your life time. The Internet is so deep, and most people are
using the Internet as if they were digging a giant hole with a toothpick. By
learning about different searching tools, people can quickly and effectively
search the Internet, and find the most reliable, credible, and
timely information out there.
Search engines (e.g., altavista.com, google.com) are databases of
documents, sound files, graphics, etc., that allow you to find references to
topics you are interested in by submitting keywords. Search directories
(e.g., yahoo.com) usually allow users to find information through lists of
categories. Meta-search engines (dogpile.com) are not databases; rather,
they search the databases of the most popular search engines and then send a
list of results of each back to you.
There are also a number of specialized search tools for finding
detailed information like biographies, quotations, facts and figures, and
images, word definitions. Rather than using general search engines that can a
little of everything, these search tools are often created by experts in their
fields, and the information can be more credible, providing reference to
|II. How do you Use Search
Different search engines rank and categorize sites differently. Some have
people (human editors) who evaluate each site; others use computer robots or
"spiders" to do this job. Because there millions of pages record in search
engine databases, some of the results may not be exactly related to what you are
looking for and may be used out of context.
Here are several steps you might follow when researching a topic. For this
example, you want to find out which university Michael Jordan attended.
1. Think of key words related to your topic
What words could you use in this search? Of course, you could use the phrase,
"Michael Jordan," but you could look up other related words like
basketball, university, college, etc.
2. Select your search tool
Different search engines have different features. There are also some
specialized searching tools. The more you learn and experiment with them, the
better you will become in finding the information you are looking for. Here are
only a few of the more popular ones:
Search Engines (databases compiled by computer):
Search Directories (database compiled by human editors)
- AltaVista: Good translation services for search results, but lacks detailed categories like Yahoo.
- Google: Ranks sites based on how many other sites link to it, but it doesn't identify which sources are more authoritative and accurate.
- Ask Jeeves: Doesn't require special knowledge of keywords.
Meta-Search Engines (complies results from other search engines): :
- Yahoo!: Lists information by categories and topics
- Dogpile- Pro: Fast and comprehensive; Con: Provides too many search results.
- Ixquick: Identifies sites that appear in the top ten rankings of other search engines. You can also search for mp3 audio files and pictures.
- Vivisimo: Organizes your results into topic clusters so you can refine your search
- ZapMeta: A cool tool that shows the results in terms of relevance (related to your search keywords), popularity (determined by the number of Websites that links to yours), and title (alphabetical order). It will also help you identify the creator of the site and will link you to past versions of the site.
General Reference -
Biography.com - http://www.biography.com/
Britannica - http://www.britannica.com/
- Look up biographies of over 25,000 people
Columbia Encyclopedia - http://www.bartleby.com/65/
- An online encyclopedia with links to suggested websites
[NEW] Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org
- A well-organized and detailed online encyclopedia
[NEW] MSN Encarta - http://encarta.msn.com
- A free online encyclopedia in many languages that even allows you to edit the material. Probably not as accurate since anyone can make changes to it, but people can also discuss the article.
elibrary - http://ask.elibrary.com/
- A online encyclopedia that even provides the source of its information. Great for starting research.
Information Please - http://www.infoplease.com/
- A database of articles from magazines and newspapers (commercial
Multnomah County Library (Homework Center) - http://www.multnomah.lib.or.us/lib/homework/index.html
- An extensive collection of reference databases
- A nice collection of websites on many subjects
Facts and Figures -
The World Factbook - http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/index.html
- Detailed information on countries around the world
Bartlett's Familiar Quotations - http://www.bartleby.com/100/
The Quotations Page - http://www.quotationspage.com/
Quoteland.com - http://www.quoteland.com/
The Phrase Finder - http://www.shu.ac.uk/web-admin/phrases/
- Over 11,000 quotations with information on the original source
- Useful for coming up with titles for papers
English Grammar Usage -
The American Heritage Book of English Usage - http://www.bartleby.com/64/
Google Image Search - http://images.google.com/
- Picture database useful for finding images on a particular subject
3. Use Boolean logic terms to narrow search
Most database indexing and searching are based on the principals of Boolean
logic, named after the British mathematician George Boole. The three basic terms
used are: AND, NOT, and OR. If you understand how to use these terms effectively
when searching, you will have better results. Here is basically how they work:
What you are Looking for
Keywords you Would Use|
|You want to find information about culture.
Results can contain any of these words.
culture OR customs
|You want to research the relationship
between diet and health. Results must contain all of these words. Results
will include references with only "diet" or only "health."
||diet AND health|
|You want information on cars, but you don't
want anything on trucks. Results will include only information on only
cars, but not trucks.
||cars NOT trucks|
If you are looking for a particular phrase, names of people, or titles of
songs or books, enclose them in quotation marks like "Silent Night" in this
Here are several activities to get you started.
1. Classroom Treasure Hunt:
Try to find the answer to this question by using one of the search engines. When
you find authoritative
information, write down: (1) the name of the site, (2) the URL, (3)
the answer to the question.
- You are planning a trip to Park City, Utah, and you want to know more about the history of the area. In what year did John J. Daly form the Daily Mining Company?
- When was Abraham Lincoln born and in which state?
2. Click HERE to visit
other selected links for your site evaluations.
Practice Quiz Questions
|Vocabulary words from this
- Boolean logic terms
- meta-search engines
- search directories
- key words
- human editors
- spiders and robots
- search engines
- Albee, J. (1997). Needle in a CyberStack - The InfoFinder [Online].
(November 18, 1998).
- Coohen, L. (1998). Boolean Searching on the Internet, University of Albany
(November 19, 1998).
- Sullivan, D. (1998). Search Engines Facts and Fun [Online].
- Sullivan, D. (1998). Kids Search Engines [Online].
(November 18, 1998).
© 1998-2005 by Randall S. Davis,
All rights reserved.