On-Your-Own, Computer-Aided Research
One disadvantage of conducting your research directly on the World Wide Web is all the pesky pop-up ads and other distractions you can encounter. Another is the fact that you can't always trust the information you find: As
Do a keyword search at online bookseller sites (
, www.amazon.com , www.bamm.com , and others) to see what books are in print or about to be published in your topic area. www.bn.com
Do a Web search. The potential sources of information via this route are endless. You can check the Web sites for organizations or associations, many of which include an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) or “about” page that can provide you with an overview about a topic. You can find anecdotal information on personal Web sites, newsgroups, and mailing lists.
Read recent news articles. You can find current editions of newspapers — both large (
) and small ( www.nytimes.com, www.washingtonpost.com ) — online. (Many newspaper sites do charge for any but the most recent articles in their archives; however, you can often access older articles through a library subscription database.) In addition to the services offered through your library's subscription database, for medical news you can search Web sites like WebMD ( www.dailystandard.com ). You can also find the latest headlines at sites like Yahoo! News ( www.webmd.com ) or Google News ( http://news.yahoo.com ). http://news.google.com
The University of Louisville Information Technology department moderates CARR-L, the Computer-Aided Reporting and Research List. You can find more information about this useful research service at
Search Engine Search Syntax
You'll save yourself a lot of time (and hours of frustration wading through nonessential information) if you learn a few simple rules about how to conduct an effective search. Those “rules” involve learning how to speak the language, or “search syntax.”
Search syntax is the set of rules that lets you refine a Web search so that you retrieve only that information that is most relevant to your needs. It allows for searches based on combinations of terms, exclusion of nonessential terms, and multiple forms of words, synonyms, and phrases. The most used forms of search syntax are wildcards and truncation, discussed in the next section.
Wildcards and Truncation
This syntax allows a symbol in the middle of a word (wildcard) or at the end of the word (truncation). This feature makes it easier to search for related word groups, like “man” and “men” by using a wildcard such as “m*n.” Truncation can be useful to search for a group of similar words like “invest, investor, investors, investing, investment, investments” by submitting “invest*” rather than typing in all those terms separated by ORs. This search would also yield pages that include “investigate, investigated, investigator, investigation, investigating.” To solve this problem, combine your wildcard search with related terms and the appropriate Boolean logic operators:
invest* AND stock* OR bond* OR financ* OR money
Use AND, OR, and NOT to search for items containing both terms, either term, or a term only if not accompanied by another term. Be sure to check the instructions for the search engine you're using. In most cases, “and” is assumed, so it isn't necessary to type in the word “and”; separating your search words by spacing is sufficient. Also, some search engines now offer advanced search pages. The logic on those pages is the same, but rather than use the Boolean operators, you place your search words in the appropriate spaces on the search form.
Use capitalization when searching for proper names. For example, a search on “Herb” would exclude most instances of garden or culinary herb, yet give you those pages with the name Herb. It can also be used if you want to look for a particular pattern of capitalization, like WebMD.
Database records are separated into fields, which can help if you recall the domain on which you found what you needed but only remember certain keywords from a title. For example, the results from searching for these keywords “silk shirt blueroses.com” include the Web page for the short story
This search is useful when you are looking for something where you know specific words always appear next to one another, such as in a quote. On most search engines, the phrase itself should be enclosed in quotation marks: “a rose by any other name.”
Also known as a NEAR search, some search engines (like
Be careful that when using NOT to exclude a word that you don't limit your search too much, especially if used in combination with a wildcard. For example, your intent may be to use “herb NOT stor*” to exclude (online) store or stores, but you'd also be excluding another topic that might prove helpful, like storage.