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The World Wide Web (WWW) is a vast electronic network of information and one can easily get lost trying to find quality information. To avoid wasting time when researching it is important to approach the Web as you would any other information tool: have a search strategy and be ready to adjust it as you learn more about what/how much is available on your topic.

Although it is important to think critically about any information you encounter, the Web poses special challenges because the quality of information available through the Web is quite uneven. The section on evaluating information will provide you with some useful tips for dealing with Web-based information sources.

When to search the WWW:

The Web is not always the best place to start researching your topic. In order to determine whether this is the case or not, ask yourself some questions: What am I looking for? Where else might I find this information?

Generally speaking it is recommended that you begin your search in a library catalogue or a journal database--something that you know has reputable information. Sometimes as you research you will discover information gaps that the Web may be able to fill.

Searching the World Wide Web:

The most common way to locate information on the Web is to use a search engine. A search engine uses a "spider" or "robot" that travels continually from server to server all around the Web. It scans URLs, page titles, and, sometimes, even all the words and images within pages, and builds up an index. There are many different search engines. No search engine or directory indexes all of the Web. They vary in their search functions and in their coverage of the Web.

You can apply much of what you have learned about using Boolean operators and constructing a search statement to WWW searching. The most important thing is to look at the search engine's help files so that you will know what operators and search functions it supports. A Web search typically retrieves a large number of results, many of which are not relevant to the research topic. You will need to evaluate and adjust your search statement as you go.

Important note for searching the Web: Should you capitalize or not capitalize the Boolean Operators? In most journal databases you don't need to worry about this: the database will accept or as well as OR. However, search engines can differ quite a bit. As a general practice it is recommended that you capitalize your Boolean Operators because some search engines such as Google and AltaVista require capitalization of the operator OR.

View a sample search using the AltaVista search engine.

View a sample search using the Google search engine.


Some quick tips for improving your Web searches:

  • Read the help files to get to know the different search engines
  • Realize you may need to try a number of search engines
  • Be as specific as possible in your search statement
  • Consider using the Canadian versions of search engines for Canadian content (e.g. Google Canada)
  • Think about where on the Web you might find information (if your topic involves women's health try searching the Health Canada Web site, for example)
  • Consult lists or tools for accessing recommended sites (Women's Web Information, for example)
  • Browse a subject directory (Yahoo!, for example, lets you look up your topic by subjects such as Education, Health, Social Science, etc.)
  • Try visiting a Virtual Library, such as Internet Public Library
  • Evaluate your searches--should you try a different strategy?

To learn more about WWW searching:

AU Library Internet Searching

Doing Research from a Distance

Internet for Women's Studies


Try using Google or AltaVista to search the WWW for information on your research topic.
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