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Internet Research - Nuts and Bolts

Using the Internet for initial searching is good both for finding topics--because you can sample materials on many different subjects and topics quickly--and for locating specific sources--through searches based on your focused topic. Here are some quick guidelines to help you get started.

I. For the best results when you search:

Remember that each search engine--Alta Vista, Open Text, Yahoo, WebCrawler--searches different databases and handles searches uniquely.

Two of the best search engines:

--Alta Vista:

--Open Text:

These search engines typically produce more sources and more academic sources than popular sites like Yahoo and WebCrawler that depend on subscribers to provide information about materials and websites.

If you haven't used a search engine before, start with Alta Vista. It has a reasonably good help system with clear examples that will help you narrow your search. Use both the "refine search" and "advanced search" techniques to find more of the sites that apply to your focused topic.

II. For reliable sites on the Internet:

Don't turn off your critical thinking skills when you start searching the Internet. The Web is not value neutral. If you assume that all the information is correct and unbiased, you can have disastrous results, no matter how thorough your search is. Always evaluate the sites you access and judge the bias of each source before you decide to quote it or use it to help you find additional sites. For instance, websites constructed by groups with political agendas will include information slanted to support that agenda. Look for identifiers that you can use to evaluate the sponsor of a website and its agenda.

Knowing URL endings will help you evaluate sources:

.com commercial site

.edu educational institution

.org non-profit organization

.gov government site

.mil military

.net network

These endings can give you clues to who is sponsoring the site. I don't suggest limiting yourself to only .edu and .gov sites, but carefully evaluate every site.

III. For appropriate sites on the Internet:

Do your best to determine the intended audience of a website. Some sites are constructed with a general audience in mind, others for a highly technical audience. Some websites are written by or for children. Don't settle for the first site you stumble on as the perfect source for your paper. Make sure the information is thorough and appropriate for the audience you intend to write to. Always check multiple sources to confirm as many facts and statistics as you can. And compensate for bias in websites by reading material presented on a variety of sites.

IV. To avoid retracing your steps:

If you're searching in 227, don't use bookmarks when you locate good sites. These computers accumulate so many bookmarks that we have to delete them frequently. Instead, jot down useful locations on a sheet of paper. Be sure to note the complete URL or WWW address, including all the funny characters like underbars (_) and tildes (~). Slashes and capital letters are significant too, so take care to get the address right.

Be absolutely sure to get the URL for any site from which you download or print (not in 227) information. You can't cite the source in your paper unless you have the URL.

V. To cite your sites:

Look at these websites for information about and examples of citing Internet sources:



Typically, recent (1995-on) citation guides in print include info on how to cite Internet sources.

VI. Final reminder

Internet searching is not a substitute for library searching. You can get lots of useful information from Internet sites, but you need to supplement that information with published material you can find through library databases. (We'll go over how to find that information in our virtual tour of Morgan on October 1.) You will almost certainly need to track down print resources, so leave yourself plenty of time to get materials through Interlibrary Loan or by traveling for a day on the library shuttle bus. Staff at the public library downtown are also willing to help with searching and material gathering. The Colorado Division of Wildlife on Prospect has its own library you can use. And finally, don't forget that we have experts on campus and in town who can serve as good resources--for interviews and probably for some published material.