How to Search the World Wide Web:
A Tutorial for Beginners and Non-Experts

David P. Habib and Robert L. Balliot
September 19, 1999
Last Update: April 23, 2003

This revision of our September 19, 1999 edition updates the tutorial to keep it current and make it more informative. Since the last update in 2000, many of the search engines and directories have changed names, merged, and modified their services. The former names are included within parentheses after the new names.


Conducting a search can be time consuming and frustrating for the non-expert. This is not surprising given the enormous amount of information available on the World Wide Web and the different ways it is stored and retrieved. The search process is made all the more difficult because of the large number of search tools, their differing information content and the lack of industry standards.

This work is prompted by the inherent difficulties in searching the World Wide Web. To keep the Tutorial simple, we have eliminated unnecessary information and explanations and placed the more complex material under the Advanced Information part. Our aim is to add to your knowledge and understanding of the search process and to help improve your skills in conducting searches.

We have excluded as beyond the scope of this work specialized search tools such as news, medicine, libraries, government and law - to name a few. Instead, we describe how to use the World Wide Web to obtain information on all subject matter.

The World Wide Web, also known as WWW and the Web, comprises a vast collection of documents stored in computers all over the world. These specialized computers are linked to form part of a worldwide communication system called the Internet. When you conduct a search, you direct your computer’s browser to go to Web sites where documents are stored and retrieve the requested information for display on your screen. The Internet is the communication system by which the information travels.

For those just starting to learn the search process, we recommend that you first scan through the Tutorial and become familiar with its contents. Follow with hands-on experience to develop a rudimentary knowledge of the search process by using the Search Exercises at the end of Section A. The Tutorial then will be easier to understand. You will find this exposition works best as a companion to your searches, especially with use of the glossary to explain unfamiliar terms.

Netscape Navigator was the WWW browser used during the original development of this Tutorial. The Tutorial also applies to Microsoft Internet Explorer , though some terms used are different. For example, in MS Explorer Bookmarks are called Favorite Places and links are called shortcuts. Online Service Providers, such as AOL and CompuServe offer their own versions of browsers, also with some differences in terms. However, all the browsers work essentially the same.


A. Search Tools and Methods

A search tool is a computer program that performs searches. A search method is the way a search tool requests and retrieves information from its Web site.

A search begins at a selected search tool’s Web site, reached by means of its address or URL. Each tool’s Web site comprises a store of information called a database. This database has links to other databases at other Web sites, and the other Web sites have links to still other Web sites, and so on and so on. Thus, each search tool has extended search capabilities by means of a worldwide system of links.

Types of Search Tools

There are essentially four types of search tools, each of which has its own search method. The following describe these search tools and then suggests exercises for achieving a familiarity with their use.

1. A directory search tool searches for information by subject matter. It is a hierarchical search that starts with a general subject heading and follows with a succession of increasingly more specific sub-headings. The search method it employs is known as a subject search.

2. A search engine tool searches for information through use of keywords and responds with a list of references or hits. The search method it employs is known as a keyword search.

Keyword searches require far more explanation than subject searches, because of their broader scope and greater complexity.

3. A directory with search engine uses both the subject and keyword search methods interactively as described above. In the directory search part, the search follows the directory path through increasingly more specific subject matter. At each stop along the path, a search engine option is provided to enable the searcher to convert to a keyword search. The subject and keyword search is thus said to be coordinated. The further down the path the keyword search is made, the narrower is the search field and the fewer and more relevant the hits.

Some search tools use search engine and directory searches independently. They are said to be non-coordinated.

4. A multi-engine search tool (sometimes called a meta-search) utilizes a number of search engines in parallel. The search is conducted via keywords employing commonly used operators or plain language. It then lists the hits either by search engine employed or by integrating the results into a single listing. The search method it employs is known as a meta search.

Search Tools

A search tool employs a computer program to access Web sites and retrieve information. Each search tool is owned by a single entity, such as person, company or organization, which operates it from a master computer. When you use a search tool, your request travels to the tool’s Web site. There, it conducts a search of its database and directs the response back to your computer.

Of the hundred’s of search tools available, we have selected 15 that we believe are best, both singly for their performance and as a group for the diversity they provide. Table 1 lists these as Preferred Search Tools by the primary search method each use. In practice, most subject search tools provide an auxiliary keyword search, and correspondingly, keyword search tools usually provide subject searches.

Table I
Preferred Search Tools

[Subject Search]

Search Engine
[Keyword Search]

[Meta Search]

Encyclopedia Britannica


Dogpile Excite 

Go (Infoseek)  LookSmart

AlltheWeb (Fast)

Mamma Hotbot

OneKey*   MSNBCi (Snap)




       Northern Light      

Search (SavvySearch)

Search Exercises

For those just starting to learn the search process, this segment is recommended to help you understand how the process works. The following is the general procedure:

Now, conduct the following searches to become familiar with each of the four types search tools described above:

1. Directory [Subject Search]

    Type in the location or address box of your Internet Browser [e.g. Netscape Navigator or MS Explorer]. Press Enter. The Yahoo! Home Page is displayed. From the subject list provided, choose and click a category of your interest to follow. Choose titles that are increasingly more specific until there are no more options of interest offered. Scroll through the references or hits, and click a hit that interests you to get an abstract or title of the reference.

2. Search Engine [Keyword Search]

Type in the location or address box of your Internet Browser and press Enter to access the Home Page. Using keywords, type your question or query into the location box. Click Search. Examine the hits of interest and click one to access the reference.

3. Directory with Search Engine [Subject with Keyword Search]

    Follow the same procedure as in [1] above, except at one of the stops along the path switch to a keyword search. Type a simple query in the location box, and examine the hits of most interest.

4. Multi-Engine Search Tool [Keyword Search]

Type in the location box of your Internet Browser and press Enter. Type the same keyword query as used in [2] above. Compare the hits with those obtained in [2].

Go back and review Section A again from the beginning to re-enforce your understanding of the search methods.


B. Keyword Search Operators

Operators are the rules or specific instructions used for composing a query in a keyword search. A well-defined query greatly improves the chances of finding the information you are looking for. While each search engine has its own operators, some operators are used in common by a number of search engines. The following are among the most used operators.

1. Boolean

Employs AND, OR, NEAR and NOT to connect words and phrases [i.e. terms] in the query where:

When using these operators, remember to capitalize them as shown above.

Query Example: search AND tutorial

2. Plus / Minus

Query Example: +search +tutorial –course

3. Phrases

Query Example: "tutorial for beginners"

4. Stemming [Truncation]

Query Example: sing*

5. Case Sensitive

Query Example: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson

Operators may at first seem complex to the beginner, but become understandable with use. For more explicit information on the use of operators, go to Conducting Searches in Section H of the Appendix.


C. Preferred Search Tools

Because most search engines developed their systems of search independently, there is little consistency among them in terminology, database content or retrieval criteria. Thus, you will find that although keyword searches are easy to use, they require learning to use well.

Table II is organized to help identify frequently used operators for our list of preferred search tools. These were selected from over 100 search tools for the size and quality of their databases and the effectiveness of their retrieval systems.

Table II
Preferred Keyword Search Tools and Their Operators

Search Tool





Quote Marks


Case Sensitive













Encyc. Brit.












AlltheWeb (Fast)


















Go (Infoseek)




































Search (SavvySearch)






MSNBCi (Snap)












Table Symbols: [x] means supports, [o] means excludes, [*] means a wild card capability.

In addition to the operators shown in the table, most search tools also have operators of their own. Searches benefit from careful adherence to a search tool’s operators, particularly for more difficult searches. Links to Help Addresses can be found under Search Tool Descriptions in Section G.

To the beginner, even 15 search tools from which to choose will seem too many. However, together they provide a diversity of database content, indexing criteria and retrieval methods that considerably enlarge the information available to you. We suggest that you start with Yahoo for subject searches, Google for keyword searches and Mamma for meta searches. As you gain experience, expand the number until you find the ones that best meet your particular needs. Preferred Search Tools are described under Search Tool Descriptions in Section G.

As can be seen in Table II, some operators are common to a number of search engines. We designated a selected set of these as Common Operators. This aspect provides a useful search technique that is illustrated in the following section.


D. Planning and Conducting a Search

Your search for a specific item in a world of information can be difficult, especially if the search is done without any planning. This section recommends ways of conducting a search in an orderly and informed way. For those just beginning to learn the search process, use the following guides:

Searching By Keyword

There are various levels of complexity in conducting a keyword search. Begin with the easier searches and work your way toward those that are more complex.

1. Natural Language

Use natural language to compose your query since it does not require the use of operators or special rules.

2. Moderately Complex Searches

For a convenient way to conduct a moderately complex search, employ Common Operators to compose your query. These were selected from Table II and applied as follows:

For a quick search, begin with a meta search tool, using the above Common Operators to compose your query. Meta searches are normally more tolerant of inexact use of operators, and their hit list is more likely to be shorter and of higher relevance. If a meta search tool does not provide the desired results, use search engines singly to obtain a more in-depth search.

At times, you will need to try many search engines to look for an obscure or difficult-to-find document. Use the following procedure to facilitate your search:

Once set up, the procedure works rapidly. The slow part then is evaluating the hits. You will find that there will be few duplicate references among the search tool results. Many of the hits will be unique, among which may be the reference of value to you.

3. Highly Complex Searches

A search for obscure information benefits from the use of search engines having a large database and advanced keyword search capabilities, such as AltaVista, Google, and AlltheWeb. Study Section H on Conducting Searches and compose your query employing appropriate operators.

The use of search engines has a trade-off ; it often produces an extraordinary number of hits. But, the first 20 to 30 are the most likely to contain the useful references, because hits are normally ranked according to their relevance.

Searching by Subject

In comparison to keyword searches, subject searches are rather simple. Subject searches begin with broad subject categories and proceed to subject matter that is increasingly more specific. To use a subject search, follow the search path and at each stop, examine the hits that are provided.

The main advantage of directory searches is that they are of significantly higher quality and relevance than those found through a search engine. This is because subject experts review all documents submitted before they are accepted. Because of this time-consuming effort, directory databases are much smaller than those of search engines.

With some exceptions, directories can take weeks, and sometimes months, to update their database contents. In marked contrast, search engines collect and update web sites automatically, often within one or two days. This is of particular value when being current is important.


It can be disconcerting to the beginner to find that the number of hits obtained can range from none to over a million, and their relevance or usefulness can vary from negligible to considerable. There are, however, guides that can greatly help improve your search results.

Too many irrelevant hits are often due to too broad a query, because of an inadequate number of defining terms. Too few hits are often caused by too restrictive a query. However, there are many reasons for poor results. For more detailed information on improving your searches, see "Conducting Searches" under Section H in the Appendix.


E. Hints and Information

1. To speed searches, create short cuts to your most-used search tools utilizing Bookmarks or Favorite Places. Also, add to your shortcuts during your search, so that you can later find your way back to useful Web sites. This technique also eliminates typing errors of addresses or URLs.

2. There are times when a search tool will not connect to a Web site for one of several reasons:

3. Because search tools are constantly trying to improve their performance, they are apt to make frequent changes in their database content, indexing and retrieval criteria. Thus, you will likely get a different response and ranking to the same query over time. This happens more frequently in keyword than in subject searches

4. During a search, you will sometimes find long articles that you prefer not to read or print at that moment. You can defer action by selecting the text, copying it onto Clipboard and then pasting it in a word processing window. Later you can read the articles and decide which parts, if any, you wish to keep for future reference. There is one drawback to this technique; tables do not replicate well.

5. Some Web sites may give you the option of eliminating graphics. For those with computers that are slow to download, you will speed up your search by using search tools that have minimal graphics. You can assess this factor by noting how long it takes to download a search tool’s home page. Alternatively, some browsers give you the option of deleting graphics entirely.

6. Each search engine has its own way of assigning relevance. Higher weighting is normally given to query terms in the title and the first few words in a document. For some search engines, proximity and frequency of query terms use are also factors. It is unusual that the best reference ranks first, unless your query happens to precisely match the search tool’s indexing.

7. Knowledge of how information is indexed can be helpful in selecting an appropriate search engine for a query. There are three methods used in the indexing of a Web site database.

8. There are many ways of finding information on the Internet other than by the use of the WWW. These include WAIS, Archie, Veronica, Gopher and ftp, all of which preceded the WWW but have been greatly overshadowed by it. For the beginner, it is better to master the Web first, so as not to dilute your efforts.

9. There continues to be a huge proliferation of Web sites, because the Internet provides a simple and essentially cost-free way to publish and attain worldwide exposure. Because search engines spider their input without review, the searcher needs to be careful about the validity, accuracy and authority of their references. Directories, which are reviewed, have some advantage in this respect. In any case, wherever you can, consider the reputation of the author, source of the information and date of publication.


F. Comments

Learning to search the Web is an incremental process that builds with experience. You will find that your search skills will improve as you gain greater understanding of search terminology, search tool use and the way information is stored and retrieved. Some searches yield the desired information quickly, while with others you may just have to plod your way through. The learning process is laborious; but the reward is a world of information that becomes readily available to you.

Finally, to those who have sent comments, thank you very much. We would appreciate any thoughts or suggestions that could help make the next edition more useful. Send these to

This tutorial is copyrighted. However, no permission is required to use it for educational, non-commercial purposes. A simple E-mail indicating where or how it will be used would be much appreciated. For permission to utilize any of this tutorial’s contents for commercial purposes, go to

About The Authors

David Habib conceived and composed the tutorial. His main qualification is that he is a recent beginner in conducting Internet searches and thus more aware of beginners’ problems. Further, he has experience in researching and presenting complex technical subjects.

Robert Balliot is the Director of the Middletown Public Library in Rhode Island with broad experience in conducting computer searches. He served as an expert resource, ensured the accuracy of the tutorial’s contents and produced the Web page.

Copyrighted 1998, 1999 David P. Habib, Robert L. Balliot

Advanced Information


G. Search Tool Descriptions

This section describes the Preferred Search Tools listed in Table II and provides links to their home and help page addresses. The following explains terms used in this section and supplies some helpful hints.

Search Tools

Of the more than one hundred search tools available, we selected the following for their capabilities and advantages. Because database contents of search tools tend to complement each other, they enlarge the area of available information. This makes it possible to find and retrieve even obscure information. Because competition among search tools is keen, they continuously strive to widen their scope and improve their performance. Therefore, you can expect the information that follows to undergo periodic revisions.

Home Page Address:
Help PaHelp Page Addresses:
Advanced Query
Advanced Query-
Search Method: Primarily keyword, with a subject option that draws on LookSmart subject directories. Also provides Popular Sites on its Home Page under "Specialty Searches".
Database: Full text with one of the largest and most inclusive directory indices.
Operators: Employs Advanced Search that uses both simple and advanced operators. The latter are comprehensive and sophisticated.
Features: Provides ways of narrowing a search. Can limit search by date and retrieve references by last date modified. Translates text into a number of languages. Also employs "Ask Jeeves" that accepts queries in simple question form. Also can be configured to filter objectionable material from searches.
Comments: A leading search engine. Has one of the largest databases and most effective search systems. If not used properly, can produce an extraordinary number of irrelevant hits. Serves as the default search engine for Look Smart and Britannica Internet Guide

Britannica Internet Guide
Home Page Address:
Help Page Address:
Search Method: Primarily subject with a keyword option.
Database: Subject sites reviewed by Britannica experts.
Operators: Provides its own version of an advanced keyword search.
Features: Employs an easy-to-use magazine format and allow searching of Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary and Thesaurus.
Comments: Draws on Encyclopedia Britannica’s extensive publishing experience and comprehensive information base. Although moderate in size, provides a full, high quality description of its subjects. It has especially good coverage in science, arts, history and geography.

Home Page Address:
Help Page Address:
Advanced Query:
Search Method: Meta search. Also provides long lists of Popular Sites.
That of the search engines employed.
Operators: "Simple Search" operators are suitable.
Searches 13 search tools in specified order. Also furnishes subject listing. Uses MetaFind as an auxiliary search tool, which provides an effective way to conduct single word searches. Has a large list of Popular Sites. According to Dogpile's independent testing - meta search utilizing InfoSpace technology yields 50% more results.
Comments: Offers customized search, and provides means of comparing results.

Home Page Address:
Help Page Address:
Search Method: Meta search. Provides advanced search. Also provides long lists of Popular Sites.
Database: That of the search engines employed.
Operators: Supports simple and advanced searches.
Features: Offers keyword searches for literal or concept queries, but does better with concept searches. Concept search is the default. [A concept search looks for ideas related to a literal query. Use of Boolean Operators turns off concept searching. Its channel sites are approved by editors and sometimes have reviews.
Comments: It is easy to use, its headings and links are well organized and the instructions for its use are clearly presented. Includes current news related items with the search results. Excite uses InfoSpace meta search technology.

AlltheWeb ( Fast )
Home Page Address
Help Page Address:
Advanced Query:
Search Method
: Primarily keyword. Advanced query allows complicated boolean searches with filtering.
Very large - over two billion pages are indexed.
"Simple Search" operators are suitable. The plus operator [+] is automatic.
Features: Provides a very fast search. The default search is filtered for inappropriate content.
Has a very sophisticated database, yet it provides a very uncluttered and easy-to-use format. Can limit searches to particular categories and provides specialized searches in MP3 and multimedia via its partner Lycos.

Home Page Address
Advanced Query::
Help Page Address:
Search Method
: Primarily keyword. By selecting ‘I'm feeling lucky’ as an option may limit the search to the most relevant site.
Database: Very large.
"Simple Search" operators are suitable. The plus operator [+]is automatic.
Features: Returns only pages that match all the terms in the query. Also, tries to return results where the terms are in close proximity. Ranks hits based on their use popularity.
Has a very sophisticated database, yet it provides a very uncluttered and easy-to-use format. Can limit searches to particular categories, such as Government and Linux related sites. Has become the default search engine for many web sites. Also takes a snapshot of visited sites and saves them as cached files.

Home Page Address:
Advanced Query:
Help Page Address:
Search Method: Meta search portal through which Inktomi, Google, Fast, and Teoma search engines can be utilized with specialized filters.
That of the search engines employed.
Operators: Supports simple and expert [advanced] searches. Provides detailed instructions on use of operators under Help.
Features: Employs an advanced meta search filtering system.
Comments: HotBot is part of the Lycos network.

Home Page Address:
Help Page Address:
Search Method: Has become a portal site for the ABC families with Disney and ESPN. Google is now the default search engine.
Database: See Google.
Operators: See Google
Features: New site submissions are added immediately. Removes dead lists and duplicate pages from database. Links to other search tools, e.g. Archie, Wais, Jughead, Veronica and Libraries.
Comments: An excellent portal site.

Home Page Address:
Help Page Address:
Search Method: Primarily subject. Also provides a keyword search using its own database of reviewed sites. Automatically extends its search through use of Inktomi if needed.
Database: Reviews the keyword sites in its own database.
Operators: Not necessary.
Features: Has a large very well organized database that is up-dated daily. Utilizes over 1 million sites, organized into 70,000 categories.
Comments: Employs an easy-to-use magazine format.

Home Page Address:
Advanced Query:
Help Page Address:
Search Method: Meta search. Provides advanced search. Also provides long lists of Popular Sites.
Database: That of search tools employed
Operators: "Simple Search" operators are applicable.
Accommodates most syntax and is tolerant of incorrect operators. Has a large listing of magazines that can be found under various subject headings. Also has a large newspaper listing by continent and country.  Also provides a safe search filtering option to exclude objectionable materials.
Comments: Conducts parallel searches of 10 search tools.

Home Page Address:
Help Page Address:
Search Method:
Meta search. Provides long lists of Popular Sites.
Database: That of search engines employed
Operators: "Simple Search" operators are applicable
Features: Removes duplicate and invalid URLs
Comments: Conducts parallel searches of 13 major search engines utilizing InfoSpace technology.

Home Page Address:
Advanced Query:
Help Page Address:
Search Method: Primarily subject with auxiliary keyword
Database: Among the largest and frequently updated.
Operators: Supports "Simple Search" operators.
Features: Provides a Special Collection listing by subject derived from 7100 journals, reviews, books, magazines and news wires. These documents are not readily accessible to other search engine robots. Search is free, and cost to utilize its full-text database is comparatively modest.
Comments: A well-organized search tool. Searches the WWW and its Special Collection separately.

Home Page Address:
Help Page Address:
Search Method: Primarily keyword and now with advanced search. Uses humans to examine every link.
Database: Contains over 25,000 reviewed sites. Recently partnered with Google Safe Search for default searching.
Operators: Provides simple options of either "all terms" or "any [of the] terms".
Features: Has a Best of Net search category that provides an extensive list of general interest topics. It is family friendly with appropriate controls for use by children. Offers subjects of particular interest to children.
Comments: Has an extensive topic listing. Claims it is the largest kid-safe search engine on the Web.

Home Page Address:
Advanced Query:
Help Page Address:
Search Method:
Meta search via keyword
Database: That of the nine search tools employed along with specialized searches.
Operators: "Simple Search" operators are applicable
Searches many special databases such as Usenet, software, news, academics, and commercial.
Comments: Utilizes nine web tools and provides subset searches in specialized catagories.

Home Page Address:
Help Page Address:
Search Method: Meta search via keyword with an extensive directory listing.
Database: One of the largest and most inclusive directory indices.
Employs "Simple Search" operators in addition to pull-down options for constructing a Boolean search. The latter are comprehensive and sophisticated.
Features: Provides ways of narrowing a search. Can limit search by date and retrieve references by last date modified. 
Comments: A leading search engine. Has a very effective search system.

Home Page Address:
Advanced Search:
Help Page Address:
Search Methods: Primarily subject with coordinated keyword option. In keyword searches, selects only sites that contain all search words. If no exact match is found switches automatically to Google.
Database: Reviews its own keyword database. Has at least 1 million subject sites listed.
Operators: When a search defaults to the Google search tool, both "Simple Search" and "Advanced Search" are applicable.
Features: Can search by title [t] and URL [u]. Lists Popular Sites.
Comments: It has the largest subject database on the Web. Its headings and links are well- organized and easy to use. Yahoo is a great place for beginners to originate a search.


H. Conducting Searches

The skillful use of operators helps define a query accurately, thus greatly improving the chances of a successful search. To facilitate learning, we have divided instructions into "simple" and "advanced" searches. Before starting this segment, you may want to review "Search Operators" in Section B for a presentation on the basics.

Simple Searches

For both beginners and non-experts, the operators employed in simple searches are sufficient for composing most all queries. Use them in whatever combination that provides the best definition. The examples shown are illustrative and are not necessarily an ideal query.

1. Plus and Minus

2. Stemming

3. Phrases

A phrase is a sequence of words that has a particular meaning and is formed by enclosure within double quotes. A phrase is treated as a single term and is usually searched as such.

                                                       Examples: "American customs"

                  +"Man of the Year"+"Time Magazine"

If a query asks for American customs rather than "American customs", the responses will be for the words American and customs separately, in addition to the coupled words. This increases the number of irrelevant hits enormously.

Use phrases whenever you can appropriately; they are one of the most effective means of sharpening meaning and narrowing a search.

Example: +"search the www" +"tutorial for beginners and non-experts"

This example is a much more definitive query than the following example:

+search +www +tutorial +beginners +non-experts

4. Case Sensitive

Advanced Searches

Each search tool tends to devise and organize its operators differently. Our advanced search includes both simple and advanced operators, much like that of AltaVista.

1. Boolean

Example: "canine NOT dog* "

2. Parentheses

3. Fields

4. Refining Results

Query Composition Guides

Despite the differences in the way search engines select, index and retrieve documents, there are common guides that you can use to help compose your query.

Search Problems and Remedies

Even when your query is well defined, there are times when a search engine will return totally irrelevant responses. The following explains some of the causes and suggests remedies you can try.

1. Your query terms do not have a counterpart in the search engine’s index.

2. The search engine has failed to index significant keywords while spidering the Internet.

3. The search engine filters out or ignores important keywords used in your query! This corrupts the meaning of the query resulting in totally irrelevant results.

At times, despite all the skills you can apply, you may still not be able to find the document you want. Although the information indexed in the WWW is enormous, it is not necessarily complete, up-to-date or reasonably accessible. Search tools are addressing the problem, including that created by the recent unprecedented growth of Web pages. But despite its less than perfect performance, the Internet remains a remarkable source of information.


I. Home Page


The start of a search begins on the Home Page of the Search Tool and is accessible by its address or URL. Home pages vary greatly in their content, layout and looks; they can range from a tasteful, simple listing to a garish and complex array in various formats, graphics, colors and motions. The trend had been toward more easily read contents, but increased advertising is now reversing this trend for many of the search tools.

The beginner can utilize a search tool more effectively by first knowing what to expect and then charting a suitable course to identify and locate the information that is sought. The following lists and briefly describes the basic components of search tool Home Pages in the usual order of their use.

1. The Location or Address Box is used for the query in a keyword search. It is normally found at or close to the top of the Home Page.

2. Options or preferences are used for narrowing the keyword search and for reporting the results. Options are normally found under the location box. At times, however, they are under a heading that links to a listing on another Web page.

3. Subject Listing is where you originate a directory search. The process takes you through a series of sub-subjects along a search path. For coordinated searches, there are keyword search options offered at stops along the way.

4. Popular Sites is our designation for frequently used subjects and services that are situated on the Home Page. This search category has grown enormously in the past several years and for an increasing number of search tools dominates the Home Page.

5. Help and FAQs furnish links to instructions and information. Help usually provides guidelines for composing a query, and FAQs run the gamut from help to general information.

6. Advertising, Promotion and/or News are found to varying degrees, and in widely differing styles, formats and colors.

Your search approach will depend on the search method you choose to use, namely subject, keyword or popular sites. These categories have been covered in the body of the Tutorial, except for Popular Sites, which is described in the following segment.

Popular Sites

We designated this search category to encompass the many subjects and services directly accessible from the Home Page of a browser, search tool or Internet Service Provider. Popular Sites serve as links or shortcuts to often-sought information and services. Their use by search tools vary greatly, ranging from none to substantial.

Each search tool that employs Popular Sites has its own listing, sometimes designated as Channels. The Site titles are found as a listing on the left-hand side of the Home Page, as opposed to a center listing for a directory. But, they may appear anywhere. We have organized the more sought after Sites into the three categories shown in Table 3.

Table 3
Popular Sites

Personal Use

General Interest





Directions and Maps


Purchases *


News Groups o

Yellow Pages

People and Organizations x






Table Symbols: [x] Home and Business Addresses Telephone Numbers, E-Mail Addresses[o] Usenet, Chat Rooms [*] Books, Cars, Travel

At present, most providers of Popular Sites use professional services to furnish their sites, either wholly or in part. Thus, more than one search tool can employ the same service. While less convenient, Popular Sites also can be found conventionally by conducting a keyword search.

The following are our recommendations for some of the current best Popular Sites:

Table 4
Picks and Choices

Popular Site


1. Cars



2. People


3. Maps


Yahoo! Maps

4. Stocks

Daily Stocks

5. Tollfree Calls


Internet 800

6. Travels

MS Expedia

7. Weather


Washington Post Weatherpost

8. Yellow Pages


Best Sites on the Web

There are many useful though less traveled sites on the Internet. HotBot and Lycos list some of the best, and are worth exploring. They organize their listings by category with subject titles under each category. USA Today Web Guide section also reviews web sites. For a strong subject specific approach, the Scout Report reviews many educational sites. Their URL’s are:


There is a class of Web sites referred to as portals, because they serve as entryways to the Internet. The early portals were mainly browsers and Internet Service Providers. Recently, some search tools have promoted their use as portals, mostly for the advertising revenues they bring. And to enhance their Web sites, they have added a wide selection of Popular Sites. Portals are characterized by the attractive and convenient features that have made America on Line so immensely popular and successful. Yahoo, Excite, Lycos and Infoseek are among the more prominent search tool portals. Not surprising, there is keen competition among all Internet entryways serving as portals.

There is one sad note about a recent trend among Search Tools, particularly those that have sought to serve as portals. Some have become garish and cluttered, which detracts from their use for searches. Among the poorer now are AltaVista, Excite and Infoseek. Among the best for ease of use are Hotbot, Northern Light and Yahoo. Hopefully, this situation will improve when sanity returns, as usually happens in such situations.


J. Glossary of Search Terms

This glossary contains terms used both in this work and other articles applicable to searching the WWW and use of the Internet. For ease of use by the beginner, the definitions are brief and in simple language.

Bookmark -A page on the Netscape Browser that lists URLs or Web addresses. Bookmarks serve as links for easy access to Web addresses. MS Explorer’s equivalent is called Favorite Places. To bookmark a Web page on your screen, click Bookmark on the bar, and when it is displayed, click Add Bookmark. The link then adds to the bottom of the Bookmark Listing. Favorite Places works similarly.

Boolean Search - A keyword search that uses Boolean Operators for obtaining a precise definition of a query. [See Operators Used In Keyword Searches in Sections B and H]

Browsing -In the WWW browsing refers to a directory search. In popular use, browsing, or surfing, is casually looking for information on the Internet.

Browser - A computer program used to connect to Web sites on the World Wide Web and access information.

Concept Search - A search that utilizes a term’s implied or broader meaning, rather than its literal one.

Data - Information such as text, numbers, images and sound contained in a form that can be processed on a computer.

Database - Stored information at a Search Tool’s Web site. For search engines, a robot is used to keep the database current by an automated procedure called spidering. For directories, the database is kept current through reviews conducted by qualified people.

Directory Search - A hierarchical search that starts with a general heading and proceeds through increasingly more specific headings or subjects. It provides a means of focusing more closely on the object of the search. It is also referred to as subject search, directory guide or directory tree.

False Drops - Documents that are retrieved but are not relevant to the user’s interest.

Fields - Components of a Web page such as a title, URL, domain, host, link, text and images that are used by some search engines to help narrow a search.

Full-Text Indexing -A database index or catalogue that includes all terms and URLs. In practice, each search tool uses a filter to remove words it considers unnecessary.

Hierarchical - A ranking of subjects or things from the most general to the most specific.

Hits - A list of links or references to documents that are returned in response to a query, also called matches or matching queries.

Home Page - The first page that appears on your screen when you access a Web site.

Hypertext Link - A highlighted word or image [shown in color] on a Web page that when clicked connects or links to another location with related information. [Links provide an easy way to move about the Internet.]

Index or catalog - A file that designates the location of specific data in a search engine’s database.

Internet - The Internet, with a large I, refers to a worldwide system of linked computer networks that serve as a communication system. When used with a small i, a term used to mean a group of interconnected local networks.

Keyword - A term that a computer can recognize and use as the basis for executing a search.

Keyword Search - A search that utilizes meaningful terms to define a user’s interest.

Link - More accurately hypertext link. It is a connection between two Web pages or sites that have related information. For example, highlighted data such as text and graphics at one Web site when clicked provide related information residing at another Web site.

Location Box, Also Address Box -A designated place within a browser for an address [URL]. It is the starting point for accessing a Web site.

Multi-Engine Search or Meta Search- A search that uses a number of search engines in parallel to provide a response to a query.

Operator - A rule or a specific instruction used in composing a query.

Phrase Search -A search that uses a string of adjacent, related words enclosed in quote marks as the query.

Popular Items - A search category created to cover frequently sought subjects and services. Search tools list Popular Items on their Home Page.

Precision - A standard measure of information retrieval, defined as the number of relevant documents obtained divided by the total number of documents retrieved.

Proximity - Proximity is how close query terms are to each other within a document. In this context, adjacency or phrase usually means that words must appear exactly in the order specified with no intervening words.

Query - A search request. A combination of words and symbols that defines the information that the user is seeking. Queries are used to direct search tools to appropriate Web sites to obtain information.

Query By Example -Use of an example to solicit more like information.

Ranking - A means of listing hits in the order of their relevancy. It is usually determined by a selection of the number, location and frequency of the term in the document being searched.

Relevance -The usefulness of a response to a query. Most search engines rank their hits from the best match to the query to the poorest.

Robot - The software for indexing and updating Web sites. It operates by scanning documents on the Internet via a network of links. A robot is also known as a spider, crawler and indexer.

Search Box -A place within a search engine’s Web site to enter a query. It is also called a location box and address box.

Search Engine - A computer program that locates information in its database. A search engine functions as a service that searches for information on the Internet. It responds by matching your query terms to the search engine’s index terms in its database, ranking the matches and returning the hits to you..

Search Tool - A computer program that conducts searches on the World Wide Web.

Site - The location of a Web page on the Internet. In WWW, it is called a Web site and identified by its URL.

Spider – The software that scans documents on the Internet and adds them to the search engine’s database. A spider is the same as a robot. To spider is the process of scanning Web sites to add new pages and to update existing ones.

Stemming - The use of a stem [i.e. root] of a word to search words that are derived from it. For example, "child" would retrieve information on child, children, childhood, childless and so on.

Term - A single word or an association of words used in a query.

Truncation - See Stemming.

Uniform Resource Locator [URL] -Uniform Resource Locator is the Internet designation for a Web address.

Web Page - The address of a Web site. It can also refer to a page within a Web site. When Web pages are part of the same document, they are also collectively known as a Web site.

Web Site - In search use, it is a specific address or URL on the WWW. In function, it is a computer system that is set up to distribute documents stored in its database. Web sites range in size from as little as one page to a vast number of pages, such as those of a search engine’s database or a full textbook.

Wild Card - In a query, a symbol that replaces a portion of a word to indicate that other word constructions are applicable.

World Wide Web [WWW] or the Web - A global computer communication system that uses the Internet to transmit data [i.e. text, numbers, images and sound]

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Using and Searching the Web

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Checklist of Internet Research Tips
A collection of tips in a cogent format, with an emphasis on the use of subject directories and search engines
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Advice on using e-mail discussion groups, Usenet news, and basic recommendations on the use of subject directories and search engines with tips on conducting searches
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Strategies for evaluating resources found on the Internet

Search Engines, Subject Directories & the Deep Web

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A chart listing general query types and the kinds of search tools that support them
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The principles of search logic and the different manifestations of this logic on Web search engines
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How to save portions of a Web page to a text editor; these instructions will work with most browsers

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