by Pearl Soltys
Did you ever feel less than competent because you couldn't find something
you thought would be easy to find on the Web?
Well, there's a good reason why you couldn't find it. Actually several.
High up on the list are: 1. Information on the Web is not organized in
any standard way, and 2. It changes fast! Fortunately, there are a few
things you can do to make finding information on the Web a little easier.
The tips start with beginner level and move to more advanced user suggestions.
Bookmark your favourites!
Most people tend to return to the same sites often, especially when you
are using the Web for a specific purpose. When you find a web site or
a web page that you find helpful, add it to your Favourites list if using
Explorer and your Bookmark list if using Navigator. Whichever of the two
most popular web browsers you are using, adding a site is easy
click the right mouse button and look for the menu item that says "Add
to Favourites" or "Add to Bookmarks." Also, spend a little
time now and then organizing these sites you have stored into folders
under main headings that make sense to you. If you are using Netscape,
there is a Bookmark Properties menu inside the Editing Bookmarks page
(click Editing at the top menu after you click on Bookmarks). This gives
you a little box to write a description or notes about the site. I have
found this very useful.
If you are looking for a commercial site, especially when in a hurry,
try placing the name of the company in between "www" and "com"
on your locator window and push enter. You would be surprised at how many
sites you can find that way.
It is so easy to misspell those funny URL (Universal resource locator)
just one slip of the finger and you get that darned error
message saying resource cannot be found. Always check your spelling for
typos. This is another good reason to keep a list of favourite bookmarks.
Once you have them typed in correctly, you don't have to retype.
Remember I said earlier that things change? Well this is one of the most
irritating things about our wonderful Web. The URL contains not only the
domain name (computer location) of the site you are looking for, but also
the path and file names for a particular sites's pages. Web Masters sometimes
forget to change these when they update their pages
or they change
the filename and forget to put it in the link. Something that works well
when you cannot find a page or site that you are pretty sure used to be
there, is to start lopping off the end of the URL. Start with the very
last stuff after the last slash, delete it and push enter to see if it
takes you to another page that is related to what you are looking for
then snoop for clues to the lost page. Also, if the filename ends in .htm,
try adding an "l" and see if that gets you somewhere.
The Informant <http://informant.dartmouth.edu/>
The Informant is a free service that will save your favourite search engine
queries and web sites - checks them periodically - and sends you an e-mail
whenever there are new or updated web pages. An incredibly useful tool!
Directories and Search Engines
There are lots of tools for searching the Internet. Those used most frequently
are the Directories and Search Engines. Directories take the form of multi-level
menus that organize pages according to topic categories. Perhaps the most
well known example of these is Yahoo <http://www.yahoo.com>.
A big advantage of Directories is that you almost always find information
directly relevant to what you are looking for this way; the disadvantage
is that it is not always a very extensive list. Directories are good if
you have a specific topic to find. Search Engines are tools that use some
form of robot to search and locate web sites according to the search parameter
you set. They can find an amazing number of hits but unfortunately, not
all of them will be useful. Still, it may pay off to check out as many
of the results your search hits on. If for no other reason, this can help
you refine your search terms.
Search engines are good for more obscure searches. As with sites in general,
I recommend keeping a file of bookmarked search sites. Because they all
operate differently, you can get different results from the same search
terms; it may be useful to search several sites.
There are also a number of Meta Search tools that allow you to check
several search sites at once. Google <http://www.google.com>
is a good example of this as is Dogpile <http://www.dogpile.com>.
Before using any of search tool sites, it can be useful to take the time
to read the online Help (click on the help button ) to get tips for optimizing
your search with that tool.
There are a large amount of sites devoted to helping you do the very thing
this post addresses. If you would like to learn more about searching the
Web go to Yahoo <http://www.yahoo.com>
and click on Computers and the Internet, click on WWW and then Searching
the Web. Notice that there is another option on this page called How to
Search the Web. Many of the tutorials give an extensive list of the search
tools available on the Web and some even compare them according to functions
and ease of use. Try searching other search sites for the phrase How
to Search the Web.
Advanced search tips
Some things to keep in mind when using the search tools: Choose your keyword
carefully, try to use unique and specific terms. Most of the tools will
look for your keywords separately; for example, spinal cord may be searched
separately from injury. If you have a phrase or words that should appear
together, put them in quotes, "spinal cord injury". Many of
the tools use Boolean operators which are words that give particular instructions
to the engine. These operators take the form of common words such as AND,
OR, NEAR, or NOT. Professional searchers save time using these operators
to refine their search. A good example is when someone is searching for
information on canines NOT dogs. Lastly, keep in mind that all tools are
not the same. They are organized differently and concentrate on locating
different types of web sites. It takes experience to know which tool will
serve you best.
I hope you find these suggestions useful. I am also interested in collecting
a list of your favourite sites for a future column. Please drop me a note
with the URL to your favourite sites, including a line or two about what
you use it for and why you like it. If you have any questions or other
search tips to pass on, please e-mail me at email@example.com.
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March/April 2001 Table
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