Search Better (2012): All About Online Search

Lesson 1: All About Online Search

Introduction to searching online

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In today's world, more and more things are done online. Even if you don't consider yourself a computer person, you now need computer skills in order to conduct research, shop online, keep in touch with family, and more.

The ability to search for information online is one of the most important information literacy skills you can possess. By improving your search skills, you can find what you're looking for more quickly without having to sift through tons of irrelevant results. Throughout this tutorial, we'll give you some information literacy strategies to help you improve your searches and evaluate your results to find the most reliable information.

A closer look

With the right strategy, you can tackle even the most difficult searches. Before we get into more specific tips, review these common misconceptions about using the Internet to search for information. We'll take a closer look at the facts as you progress through this tutorial.

Introduction to search engines

Search engines are specialized websites that can help you find what you're looking for. You've probably heard of some of the most popular ones—including Google, Yahoo!, and Bing—even if you've never used them.

With these three search engines in mind, you may be wondering, What's the difference? They all have access to the same information (i.e. the contents of the Internet), so they should return the same results, right?

Not necessarily. Different search engines can yield different search results. Google is the most popular search engine because it's the most effective at finding what you're looking for. On average, it produces more relevant results than Yahoo! or Bing, and it's better at organizing and filtering them. For this reason, we will focus on Google in this tutorial.

Your browser's search bar may be set to Google by default. However, if it is set to something else (like Yahoo! or Bing), you can easily change it to Google. To find out how, follow these instructions on Google's support site. The steps are different for each browser, so make sure to follow the instructions for the one you're using.

Types of websites

When you're looking for information online, it's a good idea to be aware of what types of websites are available and what kind of information they contain. Depending on what you're looking for, you may find that certain types are more relevant to your search than others. Let's take a look at some of the most common types of websites.

  • Commercial site: Most companies have websites to promote or give information about their products or services. Although these sites often have relevant information, they are sometimes biased. If the site makes claims that seem too good to be true, see whether other sites support or refute the claims.
  • Organization: Like other companies, organizations usually have websites to promote themselves or provide information. Although they are not always selling something, organizations often have an agenda, which can mean that the information on the site is biased.
  • News site: More and more people get their news online instead of (or in addition to) newspapers and TV. News websites are usually updated frequently, and older articles may be kept on the site for years. If you find an article through a Google search, make sure to check the date.
  • Blog: This is short for web log. Blogs are usually updated frequently—sometimes several times a day. They are often a good place to find the latest information about a company, person, or topic (like technology). There are many different types of blogs, including those for news, hobbies, humor, and photography.
  • Wiki: This is a site that lets users add or modify content. The most famous example is Wikipedia, which is an online encyclopedia. The quality of articles in a wiki can vary widely, but well-written ones always provide links to the original sources where readers can verify the information.
  • School: Many schools have their own websites. In addition to having general information about the school, the website will usually have pages that are written by teachers to supplement their lesson plans. While these pages often contain useful information, be aware that the website may also contain pages created by students, which may be less reliable.
  • Scholarly site: For some subjects, you may want to search for scholarly works (such as dissertations or articles for academic journals). To find these types of works, you can do a search at Google Scholar.
  • Database: This is a collection of information, often from different sources. One example is the Internet Movie Database, which is useful if you want to see all the movies a certain actor has appeared in.
  • Forum: This is a website where people can have discussions. Each discussion is known as a thread. The thread will usually stay on the site long after the discussion has ended, and threads will often come up in a Google search.
  • Question-and-answer site: These are similar to forums, but there is more emphasis on answering the original question instead of just discussing it. Examples of a question-and-answer site include Stack Overflow and Yahoo! Answers.

To see more types of websites, check out Google's Types of Webpages document.

Organizing your search

Being search savvy isn't just about finding information online. It's also about being able to save and organize the sites you've searched for so you can easily find them later. The simplest way to do this is to bookmark a site. Every web browser lets you create bookmarks (sometimes called favorites), and they also let you rename and organize your bookmarks. Even though it takes a second to create a bookmark, it can save you time because you won't have to search online to find it again.

Cloud-based bookmarking services

One disadvantage of traditional bookmarks is that you won't be able to access them from a different computer. To solve this problem, you can use a cloud-based bookmarking service, which stores your bookmarks online. This means you'll be able to access them from any computer or device that has an Internet connection. Below are a few of the most popular services:

  • Google Bookmarks: If you have a Google account, you can view and add bookmarks whenever you are signed in.
  • Diigo: Diigo allows you to do more than just bookmark sites. You can also highlight part of a page, add comments, and share bookmarks with others. There is a free version, and you can also purchase a premium plan that includes additional features.
  • Instapaper: Instapaper makes it easy to save any articles, videos, and anything else interesting that you discover on the Internet. It also allows you to add notes to any of these bookmarks, access them across multiple devices, and view them even when you're offline.
  • Google Chrome: If you use Chrome as your main browser, you may prefer to use its bookmark syncing feature. Whenever you are signed in to Chrome, your bookmarks and other settings are synced with your Google account. You can access your bookmarks from any computer by simply signing in to Chrome.

Generally, you shouldn't sign in to Chrome on a public computer because it saves some of your data to the computer. Even after you sign out, others may be able to access your personal data.