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College Research Tips  

Last Updated: Jan 9, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Why not google?

The Internet is a worldwide network of computers. It contains a wealth of information published by governments, organizations, educational institutions, commercial enterprises, and private individuals.   It includes text, sound, video, and images.  Since there are no standards for quality, users must evaluate all information carefully to make sure it is reliable. Generally speaking, you can find reliable information in Web sites published by:

  • Federal government agencies and departments -- .gov
    • Example: (National Institutes of Health)
  • Professional societies and organizations -- .org
    • Example: (American Psychological Association)

Note:  Some .org sites are not professional in nature.  Be sure to evaluate them carefully.

  • Colleges and universities (excluding student pages) -- .edu
    • Example: (Harvard University)

Although the Internet provides a vast amount of information, it does not include everything. Books, periodicals, databases, and other publications that are commercially available are not usually available for open access on the Internet. Thus, some of the most reliable information in existence must still be obtained from print sources or electronic sources available by subscription only.


Searching Effectively

Some of these searching techniques will appear over and over again, so you will want to be VERY familiar with them.

  • Phrase search ("")
  • ~synonyms
  • Search within a specific website (site:)
  • Terms you want to exclude (-)
  • Search exactly as is (+).
  • The OR operator
  • filetype:
  • (Nesting) Just like in Algebra
  • Automatic stemming *if you want to make sure

Google Search Tips

Some basic facts

  • Every word matters. Generally, all the words you put in the query will be used.
  • Search is always case insensitive. A search for [ new york times ] is the same as a search for [ New York Times ].
  • Generally, punctuation is ignored, including @#$%^&*()=+[] and other special characters.

    To make sure that your Google searches return the most relevant results, there are some exceptions to the rules above.

Tips for better searches

  • Keep it simple.
  • Think how the page you are looking for will be written. A search engine is not a human, it is a program that matches the words you give to pages on the web. Use the words that are most likely to appear on the page.
  • Describe what you need with as few terms as possible.
  • Choose descriptive words.

How does Google organize its information?

Google uses a "PageRank" formula to calculate which websites show up when you search. This takes into account how often the keywords show up on the page, how important google thinks the page is (.edu and .gov are given more weight than .com). Their "hyper-text matching analysis" takes into account what font keywords are in and what information related pages are conveying.  Google also looks at how often the page is linked by other websites (i.e. how important other people think the website is).

Understanding how your search results are organized on your page will help make you a more refined information searching maching :)



The Google Game

Split yourself into groups of 4. Using one of the topics listed below, see who can find the smallest number of correct hits (hint: use the advanced searching techniques) Record your search terms and the number of hits each search returns.

  • Name the artist who wrote songs about the salem witch trials. (hint: one of the songs is about the demise of Goody Nurse)

  • How was Edgar Allan Poe related to Virginia Clem?

  • What was the highest crest of the 1937 flood in Louisville?

  • What University has an online exhibition of images created by children during the Spanish Civil War with an introduction from Aldous Huxley?


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