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Tarleton State University Libraries Unit 3
INTERNET SEARCH TOOLS
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image of search the internet page   Internet Search Tools, as used here, refers to online tools used to locate and create listings of Internet sites. These tools help researchers find information that is not in subscription databases, behind firewalls, or in other unattainable areas of the Internet. At times, the information will be free. However, in many instances, the information is only available for a fee.

Internet search tools come in five primary forms: search engines, meta search tools, directories, pathfinders/research guides, and searchable databases.


image of a computer Search Engines use computer programs called "spiders" or "robots" to compile Internet pages and then scan these pages when users enter search terms in the search engine. Each search engine only scans the pages it has compiled, not the entire Internet. Therefore, it is always a good idea to use more than one search engine when looking for information on the Internet.

Most search engines offer "advanced search" or "guided search" interfaces that let users search by phrase, combine searches, limit searches, etc. Therefore, they help searchers locate more relevant information.

However, given the number of pages on the Internet (over a billion and growing), search results lists are often quite long, which decreases research efficiency. Also, search engines do not necessarily list search results starting with the best ones. Many different guidelines come into play when search results are listed--including paid placement and paid inclusion. Examples of search engines are AltaVista and AlltheWeb. Other search engines like Excite, Google, and Yahoo offer the combined features of search engines and directories (see below).
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image of several computers Meta Search Tools simultaneously search the sites compiled by several search engines, which can save you time when conducting searches that require broad coverage. However, meta search tools usually offer limited control over search options and may not search as thoroughly as using individual search engines would. Examples of meta search tools are MetaCrawler, Dogpile, KillerInfo, and Ixquick.
 
image of a computer on a road Directories offer lists of Internet sites organized by subject and are created by people who review sites to determine their worth before listing them (or not). Directories list fewer sites about a subject than search engines because directories are selective and the sites have been reviewed. However, this selectivity increases the probability that a listed site will be relevant and useful.

Directories are fairly easy to navigate. Users browse the categories and follow links to find desired material. However, this process can be time-consuming, and users must clearly understand where a site might be listed in order to find it. Many directories also offer search mechanisms to help users locate listed sites. Example directories include Argus Clearinghouse, Internet Public Library, dmoz (the Open Directory project), and The WWW Virtual Library.
 
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image of a crossroads Pathfinders & Research Guides are similar to directories, but are subject specific. They are usually compiled by experts in a field or subject-specialist librarians who search the Internet, evaluate web sites, and compile lists for a specific field, subject, discipline, etc. Many libraries, companies, and professional organizations offer online pathfinders and research guides.

Example research guides are the Tarleton libraries' Human Resource Management and Business & Accounting guides which offer links to Tarleton library resources (catalog and databases) and to lists of relevant Internet sites.
 
image of a computer and globe Free Searchable Databases can be good sources of information, but are often not found by search engines or listed in subject directories. You can sometimes find them while browsing the Internet. More likely, you'll find them listed in directories of searchable databases, such as The Invisible Web Directory and U.S. Department of Education's Cross-Site Indexing Project.
 
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Internet search tools are useful
•  when you are brainstorming ideas for a research topic,
•  when you need current information about companies, industries, people, countries, etc.
•  when you want to locate information regarding all levels of government,
•  when you need international information that is unavailable locally, and
•  when you want to locate online periodicals to retrieve articles (if they are available either free or for a fee).

Finally, researchers should remember that some search engines offer "paid placement" (determines how far up a results list a site is listed) and that no expertise is needed to post an Internet page. Therefore special care must be taken when evaluating information freely available on the Internet. Unit 8 offers more in-depth information about evaluating Internet sites.

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Library Orientation Site Index
Updated 5/2005