Ten Steps to Better Web Research

Stage One: Deciding Where to Search

In June 2013, Dulcinea Media will release Teaching Web Research Skills, a research-based multimedia experience that greatly expands upon these Ten Steps. Read this blog post for more information.

Educators and parents, please view our presentation on Teaching the Ten Steps. It includes a discussion of research studies and educator advice that informed these Ten Steps.

Step 1: The Internet Is Not Always the Best Place to Start

Should you start this research project by using the Internet?

Many schools offer access to remarkable databases that may be a much better place for you to begin your research. Sure, they may be a little inconvenient, but they may help you find the credible information you need more quickly than any search engine will.

As Joyce Valenza, librarian at Springfield Township High School in Pennsylvania, says, “students must be aware of the full research toolkit available to them. It's not just Google.”

Furthermore, when you do use the Internet, a search engine may not be the best place to start. The best rearchers have favorite websites that they either navigate to directly or click on when they see them in a search. Here is how you can develop a list of favorite sites of your own:
  • Ask a librarian or teacher to recommend a list of Web sites for you to search first.
  • There may be three to five Web sites that cover your topic credibly and thoroughly, and you may save a lot of time by searching on those sites only.
  • You can use the search box on those sites, or add their names, one at time, to your keyword search on search engines.
  • As you begin to learn the names of favorite sites of your own, bookmark them in your Web browser, or save them a bookmarking site such as Symbaloo or Diigo.

Step 2: When Using Search Engines, Always Use More Than One

Use several search engines on every search. Although major commercial search engines often return similar results, they work differently enough that you should use several search engines for every research project to help you uncover different resources. 

You should also start with the search engine that makes the most sense for your search; this isn't always Google or Bing. If you find yourself “addicted” to a single search engine that you use exclusively, you are not learning what you need to become an expert Web researcher. Even within Google itself, you should know how and when to use Google News, Books, Scholar, Timeline and other resources.

Take a “time out”—for two weeks, don't use your favorite search engine at all. This will force you to learn to use the full toolkit of resources available to you.

Try a meta-search engine, such as Zuula, which searches several search engines at the same time.

Specialty search engines often search a specific group of Web sites, or use different methods to search the Web, specialty search engines will almost always generate better and more targeted search results in particular categories. Wolfram Alpha is a "computational knowledge engine" and a great resource for math and science; it offers these examples.

Our own search engine, SweetSearch, A Search Engine for Students, searches only 35,000 Web sites that our expert research staff has evaluated and approved. We know it is very often the best search engine a student can start with. But not even we use it 100% of the time in our work; for every research project, we use a number of search engines, databases and often directly navigate to our favorite websites.

For other search engines that you should consider, depending on what you are searching for, read:

Step 3: When Looking at Search Results, Dig Deep!

The best search results are often not at the top—or even on the first page.

Some Web sites are very good at making their content rank high in search engines for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of their content.

Thus, results near the top of a search results page may not be useful, while the great sites that make your paper standout may be buried several pages deep. Often, there is just one article on the Web that furnishes critical information; find it, and it makes it much easier both to write your paper, and get a top grade.

So look beyond the first few results, and even the first page. Dig deep!

Yolink is a free tool that works like "x-ray vision" to help you browse through search results without even opening them. It is integrated into SweetSearch, and can be used on other search engines through a browser add-on.

Click here for Stage Two: Planning Your Research

Click here for Stage Three: Evaluating Your Search Results

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