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POLS-110

Searching the Web

In this section we will examine some of the features of web search engines that allow you to construct more effective searches, and we will look at ways of finding quality websites for your research. Critically evaluating the information you find on the Web is absolutely essential; anyone with access to a computer can make a website and content is usually unmonitored.

Effective Searches

In Section 2.3: Finding Articles, we looked at search techniques for constructing an effective search in a library database. You can apply some of these same search techniques when you are using a search engine - namely:

  • use search terms that specifically define your topic
  • connect keywords with Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) if supported by the search engine
  • use quotation marks to indicate a phrase

Let's look at how Google supports Boolean operators (if you use a search engine other than Google, go there now and look at its Advanced Search screen). Here is Google's Advanced Search:

Google Advanced

  • All of the words is equivalent to "AND" (in other words, search terms are automatially "ANDed" together)
  • With the exact phrase is the phrase search
  • With at least one of the words is equivalent to "OR"
  • Without the words is equivalent to "NOT"

You can refer to the Best Search Tools Chart for a description on Boolean and other search options available in other popular search engines and Web search tools.

Wikipedia: Acceptable or not?

A wiki by definition is a webpage created by people collaborating online. Wikipedia, therefore, is an online encyclopedia created by people as a collaborative effort. "People" includes anyone who has created an account. In some cases these "people" are experts in the field of the entry but in other cases not at all! The challenge is determining the authority and validity of the content.

The fundamental principles of Wikipedia may be summarized in five "pillars":

  1. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia.
  2. Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view.
  3. Wikipedia is free content that anyone can edit, use, modify, and distribute.
  4. Editors should interact with each other in a respectable and civil manner.
  5. Wikipedia does not have firm rules.

A few words of advice:

A good Wikipedia entry includes references. Good ones! (Sometimes the references are excellent, but more often than not they are insufficient. Use your critical thinking skills when you review the content and references. If something seems peculiar trust your gut.

Do not cite Wikipedia in an academic setting. Sorry, but it is far too risky and your instructor will not approve. There are numerous reasons why you should not, but perhaps the strongest is that an entry in wikipedia continues to evolve over time and are susceptible to contributor bias.

When is it o.k. to use it? Refer to Wikipedia to get basic background information on a subject and to get pointed in the right direction. Reviewing an entry may help you obtain keywords that can be used in a scholarly database search. But that's about it.