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Search Tips: Finding What You Need...Maybe

TWO Different Search Modes: Subject OR Keyword


"Subject" means a human being has decided what the TOPIC of the information is and has put LIKE TOPICS together. The Web is so BIG that no subject catalog can keep up. But subject searching is the best FIRST step when looking for sites to explore.

Examples: "Science--Biotechnology," "Education--Special Education," "Government --State Government."

GOOD POINTS: Selection of major sources.
BAD POINTS: Slow to be updated or add newest resources.

MAJOR Resources for a wide range of SUBJECTS (Education, Engineering, Medicine, Museums, Publishers.

    The LARGEST subject-organized resource on the Web and the MOST USED. Believe it or not, the subjects are assigned and checked by human beings. Yahoo also permits KEYWORD searching.

  • WWW Virtual Library
    This site is the one MOST like a library catalog. Each section is created and maintained by an "expert" in that particular field.

  • Trade Wave Galaxy
    This site includes general, commercial and personal websites.
Search Engines--software programs that scour the Internet & the World Wide Web--collecting HUGE databases of website contents. The visitor to the search engine can search through this database looking for any word or phrase.

GOOD POINTS: You can find single words, uncommon expressions appearing in thousands (millions) of pages. Since humans are not involved, the updates are quick and cheap.

BAD POINTS: It is often unclear how BIG or how CURRENT the database is. No human is involved so you will get lots of "noise"--"apple" will get you fruit AND Apple Computer. Searching for general information is extremely difficult here: "Architecture," "Education." Your search must be VERY precise!

Example: "A-frame and construction and standards" or
"Montessori and "Bay Area.""

[NOTE: Every search site works a bit differently. If the site you visit offers a "Help" or "Options" or "How to Search" link, spend some time learning how to formulate the best search for your needs.]

  • Google
    Everyone's favorite search engine--and for good reason. Google delivers results based on how many other sites have linked to the same page so you are often able to find what you need within one or two pages of results.

  • AltaVista
    Alta Vista is best for searching words and phrases where you don't expect to find thousands of documents. (Try searching for your neighbor's names!) If you search a term like "Anthropology" or "Computers" you'll never get to the end (or even the middle) of the results.

  • Yahoo
    Yahoo is good for browsing or searching for broad terms, like "Anthropology," rather than your next-door neighbor's name.
Or try out a few of the "All-in-One" Sites where you can use many different tools at, almost, the same time:

Keep in mind that each tool works differently, so don't give up after one or two. Keep trying.

When you find a site that's "smack on" your topic, spend sometime exploring their links. Chances are the sites THEY include will also interest you.

All this takes a bit of practice. But what it really takes is TIME. The World Wide Web is a medium that tantalizes us with its speed. But there's so much to see, that sorting through it all can take a lifetime. So focus, bookmark, get connected and put in the time. There's a lot of useless stuff out there, but with time you'll find the gems.


Use keyword and subject searching to find resources for your case study client.

1. Write down your search GOAL:

Accounting, Employment, Bay Area
Multimedia, Job Descriptions
Teaching, high school, California

2. Start with YAHOO.

(Note that Yahoo will first present you with YAHOO Categories using your term and then YAHOO Sites containing your term. Compare the usefulness of the headings and the keyword.)

Play with the term until you get adequate results (for example, "accountants" might work better than "accounting.")

3. Explore several resources from your YAHOO search and evaluate the usefulness to your search topic.

4. Return to YAHOO and modify your search:

If you got too many results in Step 2, make your search more SPECIFIC:

CPA, employment, California
CDROMs, employment
Special education, Bay Area

If you got too few results in Step 2, make your search more GENERAL:

Accounting, California
Multimedia, jobs
Schools, California

5. Take your BEST search statement from YAHOO ("special education, "Bay Area") and try the same terms in a KEYWORD search site:

6. Assess your results so far and make a plan for a new strategy: more precise or more general.

What were the BEST sites you found?
Which search strategy worked best?
What other searches would you like to try?
How much time might it take to find the BEST resources on your topic?