Web Basics for Academic Study
What's on the Web?
The web is made up of billions of computer documents housed on computers all over the world. The documents may include text, video, or audio. They may be created by anyone from first graders to comedians to experienced researchers to political lobbyists.
The web can be a great place to search for current information, but finding scholarly information on the web tends to be much more challenging.
Many documents on the web can be located using search engines. These are the items that exist in the "visible web". Other documents cannot be found with these general search engines, and exist in what is called the "invisible web." The invisible web includes items that exist in searchable databases (those article databases we discussed earlier). Because these databases are paid for by universities, they require special logins and passwords that general search engines cannot provide.
Note: With the introduction of Google Scholar, there is now a database that is considered to be part of the visible web. Though Google Scholar is providing a bridge between the visible and invisible web, it only provides access to a small number of the scholarly publications that exist in article databases.
Untangling the Web
Conducting successful web searches requires:
- creativity (choosing good keywords - see the Keyword Search Builder in the Research & Study Guide),
- patience (looking through many web sites), and
- strategy (choosing a good search engine).
Using a combination of these three things will help you to locate useful and usable web sites for your research.
For a reminder on selecting keywords, review the Brainstorming Search Terms and Building a Keyword Search sections of the Research & Study Guide.
Choosing a Good Search Engine
The web changes constantly. Search engines do too. A search engine that's popular and impressive one month may be surpassed the next. You can try to monitor the emergence and disappearance of search engines yourself using websites like www.searchenginewatch.com or www.searchengineshowdown.com.
Or, you can just ask us for advice!
Currently, we recommend:
- Google Scholar
- Ask.com) These two are good to begin research on a topic ONLY.
- Dogpile )
When searching the web, it's best to:
- Become familiar with 1 or 2 search engines. Read the "help" screens to learn the tricks your favorite search engine uses.
- Use narrow and specific keywords.
- Be flexible. If a search doesn't give you relevant results, try another using different keywords.