Using the Internet for Research – 1
By Bob Barratt
As with all issues affected by IT the first issue to be addressed in writing this paper is what knowledge to assume? Most of us now use the Internet for sending or receiving E’ Mail. This paper is intended to assist those of us who would like to use the internet as a tool for obtaining information as efficiently and effectively as possible. Try as I might it has not been possible to avoid using some IT language. The text explains the terms used in plain English and I have attempted to minimise the use of technical terminology. It is unfortunately an anoraks jungle, and its growing.
This paper is very much an introduction to this increasingly diverse area and I apologise in advance to those who’s knowledge of the ground covered is already well established. My measure of success will be the feedback I obtain for a further paper which may enable more detailed exploration of particular issues. I have also appended references to my principle sources of information that may be useful for further background reading if required.
Uses for the internet fall into two main groups: communicating with like-minded people and discovering and sharing information about almost any area of interest. On the internet the three most widely used facilities are: electronic mail (email), the newsgroup system and the World Wide Web. The power of the internet is most obvious when all three are used together. Most of us are familiar with email and the ‘WEB’. We probably make less use of newsgroups (also known as usenet).
Using the internet as a research tool then isn’t so much about suitability but much more about application and technique. The following is an attempt at making the process a little more rewarding.
Web Browsers are installed all ready to go on all machines purchased in the last two to three years. Their purpose is to facilitate navigation and display pages on the World Wide Web. Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator are the two dominant internet browsers. Other browsers may be located within larger ISP home pages such as AOL. Searching for information with a Web browser is Directory (see below) orientated.
Search Engines enable subjects of interest to be investigated by using Search terms. The search engine will then come back with all the web sites that contain the chosen word. There are a number of search engines on the web, some of which operate sophisticated protocols for searching for the information required. According to some estimates less than 20 % of web pages are indexed in search engines. Unless the URL is sent directly or posted in a newsgroup article or mailing list the 80% of pages that are not listed will not become generally known or available.
Advanced Search Techniques are used where enquiries either fail to turn up any information or too many irrelevant entries.
Web directories are generally arranged hierarchically, although most offer key word search as well. E.g. Government, Engineering, etc. On some sites there will be intermittent links to more detailed sources as you drill down. Yahoo! is generally regarded as the founding web directory. MSN also provides a directory of quality web sites.
Portal sites or home pages for the range of ISP’s now available can be visited no matter who your service provider is.
UK On Line has a wide range of UK links, whilst LineOne features a range of information from the news media.
Business Directories enable searches to be made in much the same way as yellow pages. The UK version of the latter is called Yell. The Askalex directory has more up to date information and can be added to directly free of charge by individual companies.
Paper Directories are also available although, and for obvious reasons, their currency diminishes relatively quickly. As a result it is possible that subscribers to such directories may not be fully representative of the service areas they purport to represent.
There are a number of very good search engines on the web. For simple searching most search engines work the same way. Simply by entering a word and clicking the Search or Go button a list of results will be produced. Search engines do however have their own protocol for making complex enquiries and refining searches. It is worth printing out the Help section of the individual search engine to enable the various routines to be digested and used for reference purposes.
www.dejanews.com DejaNews is used primarily to search Usenet newsgroups.
www.mckinley.com This is the Magellen internet directory
It should be noted that the Microsoft internet Explorer offers a simple search box for UK sections of several search engines. The Search button will open a special Microsoft page offering an array of search engines.
Advanced Search Techniques
Boolean Logic Searches
Most search engines accept search queries that use Boolean operators. These include the words AND, OR, NOT and NEAR as well as symbols such as quotation marks and parenthesis. These terms are very effective filters of what you do or do not require.
The above are examples only and there can be variations between search engines.
Meta Search Engines do not search the web directly, but will submit requests to other well known search engines. The results are collated and presented to you in a unified list. www.mamma.com is the unfortunately named Mother of all Search Engines.
A list of meta search engines can be found at www.yahoo.com/computers-and-internet/internet/world-wide-web/searching-the-web/all-in-one-search-pages
Notifiers are an excellent way to keep tabs on something that changes infrequently or unpredictably. By sending a notifier your email address and the page URL to be monitored you will be emailed every time it changes.
Finding an email address can be achieved in a number of ways
Obviously with web sites as large and diverse as the DETR’s, and to lesser extent the ICE’s, much of the directly related information that we seek is already concentrated in a few areas. However to be wholly dependent on such sources or the links that they provide for us to other sources of information should not limit our need to explore the wider spectrum of possibilities that exists within the internet, providing it can be done efficiently and effectively. I hope the above proves to be a useful first step in researching information on the internet.