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8: Searching the Web

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    Databases, electronic resources, web, World Wide Web, the internet, online are all terms people sometimes use interchangeable. If your instructors have told you not to use online sources or that you must use scholarly databases, what are they talking about? The best thing to do is ask since the definition of these terms blur in conversation and might be used interchangeably. Let’s go through these terms.


    A database is an organized grouping of records. This could be a database at your school that holds all your school records, at your healthcare provider that holds thousands of people’s medical records, or a list of what your library owns (library catalog), a huge collection of articles (a database offered by your library) or a massive collection of links to pages on the World Wide Web (such as that offered by Google).

    Electronic resources

    Electronic resources include information that takes electricity to access. This could be a CD, DVD, database, or what you find on the internet. Electronic resources include e-books and library databases.
    Online resources
    Online resources are anything that is accessed via the internet. Online resources include e-books, articles in databases and other information sources in library databases.

    The Web

    The Web or the World-Wide Web is made up of the pages to which search engines, such as Google and Bing, link. The web is a part of the internet and is accessed via internet connections. It is the web that we care about in this book and is discussed in this section. The web includes e-books and library databases and more.

    The internet

    The internet includes the Web, but also includes all of the communication capabilities such as twitter, email and so on. The internet also includes information that can only be accessed if you know its address or how to get to it such as pages found through file transfer protocols (FTP) and other mechanisms. The internet is huge and contains much more than the World Wide Web. Since the Web includes e-books and library databases, and the Web is part of the internet, the internet includes e-books and library databases.
    Since many people use these terms interchangeably, if your professor asks you not to use internet sources, ask specifically if you can use library databases and e-books. Chances are you the answer will be “Yes”.


    Most of us will say we have used Google. What does that mean? It means we have used a database, created by Google, of links to websites. We do not search all the computers attached to the internet when you use Google. Currently, and this might change from time to time, there are two ways to get to the advanced search screen in Google: 1) click settings in the bottom right or 2) after you do a search, the settings tab will appear. When you click on that, you will have an option for Advanced Search as well.

    The first section on Google’s advanced search page offers phrase searching and the Boolean AND, OR and Not. Read the field labels and it will become apparent what Google calls the different Boolean operators. Google translates the Boolean operators as follows (repeated above)

    • AND: All of these words (that you have typed in)
    • OR: Any of these words (that you have typed in)
    • NOT: None of the words (that you have typed in)

    Examine the page for other ways to search the Google database.

    A very powerful search you can do is to limit to a specific domain. In lay-persons language, domains are what we call .edu .gov, .mil, .com, .net, .org. and so on.

    Domain Meaning Domain Meaning
    .edu Education .com Commercial *
    .gov Government .net Sites about the internet *
    mil Military .org Sites about the internet *

    * .com, .net and .org were originally intended for these specific kinds of websites but now designate just about any kind of website.

    It can be very useful to limit to either a government or an educational website to help retrieve good sources. .edu while most often retrieves valuable results could also retrieve less than valuable results. For example, if you want to retrieve solid information from experts in academia on your topic (e.g. moons of Jupiter), and you therefore limit a Google search to .edu sites, you might retrieve, Ms. Edelson’s 3rd grade class (Spielberg, 1997) reports on humanoid life on the moons of Jupiter, which might be entertaining if they existed, but not particularly good for an academic paper. Perhaps a medical school student has a website about her dreams of going to the moons of Jupiter. A medical doctor would not be an expert on the moons of Jupiter so you would want to be wary about using that information for an academic paper/project as well.

    If you indeed wanted to find education or government website on the moons of Jupiter you would type this into a Google search.

    • Jupiter moon*
    • Jupiter moon*

    Both of those searches retrieve way too many results. But you know what to do when you get too many results. Review your search strategy! Remember, the database has to combine your terms in some way. How do you think Google combines the terms Jupiter moons?

    Google searches don’t reach deeply into the web. Rather Google skims the surface. Beneath the surface are many free and useful databases. To find a database on the web that you can use, search for “searchable database*” and your topic. For example, type the following into Google.


    Sometimes you have to hunt around on the website to find the database or perhaps they are simply talking about a database and not giving you access. This kind of search, however, can returns great results.

    Google Scholar

    Searching Google Scholar is not the same as using the regular Google web search. Google Scholar returns results that Google has identified as scholarly but they may not be peer reviewed or in full text. They may be from a variety of sources such as freely accessible journals, items in the public domain, items for purchase or databases at your local college or university library. The latter will probably require a username and password to access the databases remotely (from home). If you create an account with Google, you might be able to change the options so that you will be able to directly access your library via Google Scholar. Some libraries have a Google Scholar link on their website which uses the Google Scholar interface to search some or all that institutions databases at one time. This is much like the federated searches described in 5C above. While Google Scholar can be useful, just like a Google web search can be, it is not a replacement for college or university library databases.

    Google is just one of many search engines. A few others are Bing by Microsoft, Yahoo’s engine, Dogpile (which is apparently enjoying a comeback) and Duck Duck Go. The latter is simple and clean and, unlike most others like Google, does not retain your search history so each time you search it is as it is your first time.

    Don’t confuse search engines with browsers. Browsers read computer talk and turn it into pages we can read. A few examples of browsers are Internet Explorer (IE), Firefox, Chrome and Edge.

    Always use your evaluation skills for website just as you would use them for articles and books. In addition to applying all previously discussed evaluation tools to web pages, consider these strategies. Back up the uniform resource locator (URL). Erase everything after the domain (.com, .edu, .net, .mil…) of the URL to move to or closer to the main home page. In the first example below, erase everything after the .gov. In the second example, everything after the .edu. Erase the parts of the URLs that are in italics.

    1. .

    If you did not know what nasa or si was and their webpages did not clearly define who they were, backing up the URL by erasing after the domain can be useful. It usually works.

    Another way to investigate a web page is to see who links to it. This can give you a little insight into how the site is perceived by others. To do that, in Google, type the URL after link:. For example, type link: Your results will be a list of website that link to



    This page titled 8: Searching the Web is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Carol M. Withers with Bruce Johnson & Nathan Martin.

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