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The EvidenceWeb

Choosing the Right Tools for Searching the Web: A Tutorial

Subject Directories
Search Engines and Meta-Search Engines
Subject Guides
Specialized Databases
Site Search Engines
Articles and Tutorials About Internet Searching

Have you ever tried to find something on the Internet, only to get hopelessly lost, sorting through dozens of articles that have nothing to do with what you are looking for? If you have -- or if you're searching the Web for the first time -- then this guide is for you.

Finding information on the Internet is not always as easy as typing a few words into a Google or Yahoo! search box. To get really good at it, you need to learn a few tricks.

The first step to finding anything on the Web is figuring out what you are looking for. Start by writing down the word for the subject. For example, if you are looking for information on the Northwest Rebellion, the subject is History. Specifically, it is Canadian History.

Next, write down other words and names that might help you narrow the search. How long this list is will depend on how much you know before you start. Here are two examples:

women pioneers Northwest Rebellion

Canadian History


Canadian History




Louis Riel


Next, you need to understand what kinds of tools there are on the Web, and which one you should start with. There are 5 main kinds of tools (full descriptions are below):

  • Subject Directories
  • Search Engines and Meta-Search Engines
  • Subject Guides
  • Specialized Databases
  • Site Search Engines

A simple rule of thumb is as follows:

  • If you are not certain about exactly what you want and where to find it, start with Subject Directories
  • If you know exactly what you are looking for, and where to find it, start with Search Engines

Using the "women pioneers" example, it would be better to start with a subject directory. The directory will lead you through subject headings, to more subject headings, and eventually down to websites picked and organized by people who have already seen the site.

Using the "Northwest Rebellion" example, you could probably start with a search engine. This would introduce you to a number of sites. From there, you could look for other resources.

This does not mean that you should only use one kind of search tool. Below is a list of tools you can use to help find information on the Internet, with notes about how they work and when and how to use them.

Note: Whichever you choose, it is very important that you read the "Help" or "Advanced" pages of the search engines or directories, to learn how they are best used.

Subject Directories

  • Allows you to search subject categories and descriptions in a drill-down, subject-menu structure (not full text of pages)
  • Sites selected by staff of company and organized into categories
  • Many search engines also have a subject directory. Examples: Yahoo!: www.yahoo.com (and Yahooligans: http://yahooligans.yahoo.com), Librarians' Index to the Internet: http://lii.org/, CNet Search: www.search.com
  • The best starting place when not certain about what to look for or where to look for it

Search Engines and Meta-Search Engines

Use key words to search the full text of Web pages selected by computer programs called "spiders".

  • Results are not categorized -- so cannot be browsed
  • Meta-search engines search other engines to find their results
  • This kind of tool returns results which may not be exactly on topic
  • Examples: Alta Vista: www.altavista.com, Copernic: www.copernic.com/en/index.html, Go: www.go.com, Google: www.google.com, Rapidou: http://joueb.com/influx/news/43.shtml, La Toile du Québec: www.toile.qc.ca/, Yahooligans: www.yahooligans.com
  • A good starting point when you are certain about what you are looking for and have a good idea where to find it
  • Also good for young learners aged 7 to 13 doing general searches across the Web

Subject Guides

Specialized sites with selected links on a subject

  • Links selected by an expert in the field
  • Example: The Argus Clearinghouse: www.clearinghouse.net/
  • A good "second step" in Internet searching after subject directories

Specialized Databases

Search engines can only identify a small percentage of the pages on the Web. Indeed, some of the best and most reliable information is locked away -- in databases that these engines cannot explore.

  • Many specialized databases can be accessed through the Web
  • Contain documents or records that are held on a specific website and cannot be found by Web search engines
  • Special guides (such as those below, in the articles and tutorials section) provide indexes of these databases
  • Includes databases that are catalogues for libraries, such as AMICUS www.collectionscanada.ca/amicus/index-e.html
  • Examples: Direct Search: http://freepint.com/gary/direct.htm, ProFusion: www.profusion.com/.
  • The best "second step" in Internet searching after subject directories (for learners 16 and up)

Site Search Engines

  • Searches the site you are visiting
  • Searches full text of pages on site
  • Will not include links from outside the site
  • May not include databases that are on the site
  • See Search Help on the Library and Archives Canada website

Articles and Tutorials About Internet Searching

Search Engine Report: http://searchenginewatch.com/sereport/index.php
"Invisible Web" Revealed:
Invisible Web Gets Deeper:
Le repérage de l'information sur Internet : catalogage et indexation des ressources sur le World Wide Web:
Search Engine Watch: http://searchenginewatch.com/
Web Searching Tips: http://searchenginewatch.com/facts/index.html
UC Berkeley Library: Tutorial
What Is the Internet, the World Wide World, and Netscape?:
Things to Know Before You Begin Searching:
Recommended Search Strategy: Analyse Your Topic & Search With Peripheral Vision:
Types of Search Tools:
Evaluating Web Pages: Techniques to Apply & Questions to Ask:
The Invisible Web: What It Is, Why It Exists, How to Find It, and Its Inherent Ambiguity:
Les outils de recherche d'information sur l'Internet (in French):

Choosing the Right Tools for Searching the Web: A Tutorial
Basic Web Searching: A Guide
Evaluating Internet Sources: A Guide for Learners (Ages 16 and up)
Evaluating Internet Sources: A Guide for Educators

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