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Searching the Web

As young people, you are probably glued to the Internet - in chat rooms, popular youth sites and overall exploring what the Web has to offer.

The Web is also a great tool for young reporters like you.

However, like any tool, you need to know how to use it effectively in order to make it work for you.

The information provided here may be well known to most of you web surfers.

You will need to have a Web browser and a connection to the Internet. Some of the most common browsers are Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Explorer.

You must then choose a search engine to help you find information in the vast collection of information on the World Wide Web. A search engine is a piece of software on the Internet that searches for certain words in Web pages all over the Internet. Some of the popular search engines are:

AltaVista  Yahoo  HotBot
Excite  Lycos   Infoseek
Snap  LookSmart  Dogpile
Netscape  Mamma  MetaCrawler
Ask Jeeves  Google
Northern Light  Fast Search  

Before you start searching, remember that not everything you find on the Internet is true. People can put whatever information they want on a Web page or a chat group — in that way, it is like conversation at a bus stop or a dinner party. It's up to you to check the source of this information and make sure it is valid.

There are a number of good resources to help you decide if the material you have found is reliable. To get some good advice on the subject, you can take a look at this tip sheet from the Media Awareness Network. The Five W's (and 1 "H") of Cyberspace which offers a checklist that can be used to determine if the information you are getting from the Web can be trusted.


Here are some tips that will make your Web searches easier and more effective:

Use small letters to do your searches.
If you use lowercase letters, AltaVista will automatically search for both uppercase and lowercase. But if you include any uppercase letters, the search engine will only search for the uppercase and ignore the lower case.

Use quotation marks to focus their search.
If you type in any three words (such as great white shark), the search engine will do a very broad search and you will end up with every page that includes any of those words anywhere in the document. It could be one of the words or it could be all three, and you will probably be found in no particular order.You probably couldn't find what you were looking for in this search because it wasn't specific enough.

But, if you type in "great white shark" with quotation marks around it, AltaVista will treat it as a phrase and only look for instances where the three words appear together. The quotation marks make your search much more specific because the search engine will only show you any page that has all of these three words in the particular order, with no words between.

Use the + sign to find specific combinations of words
If you type in several words and the search engine sends back too much information on totally unrelated topics, you should try narrowing your search by using the + sign.

For example, you want to find out about politics in your province (say - Manitoba) but just using the word politics in your search gives you information from all over the world.

Try typing politics+manitoba. That will only send you references of pages where the word politics and the word Manitoba show up.

Here's another example: you want to find pages that have references to both Prime Minister Chretien and British Prime Minister Tony Blair on the same page. You could search this way:

+chretien +blair

Only pages that contain both words would appear in your results. Here are some other examples:

+academy +awards +ceremony

That would find pages that have all three of the words on them, which is good if you want to narrow down a search to the Oscar awards night itself, rather than on the awards in general.

The + symbol can be helpful when you are looking for very specific information. Say you are planning a visit to Ottawa and while there, you would like to go skating on the Rideau Canal. Perhaps you started with a general request, like this:


You probably wound up with thousands of responses. Instead, you can try searching for all the words know must appear on the type of page you are looking for:


Use the - sign to further refine their search
If you want information about the movie, Titanic, but you already have plenty of information about Celine Dion, try using the - sign. This will help you find information about the movie without references to the woman who sang the theme song.

titanic -celine

That tells the search engine to find pages that mention "titanic" and to get rid of those which also mention "celine."

Or you may want to narrow the search further and exclude those pages that also refer to star Leonardo Dicaprio. You could eliminate them with a search like this:

titanic -celine -leonardo

In general, the - symbol is helpful for focusing results when you get too many that are unrelated to the topic.You can begin by subtracting terms you know are not of interest, and you should get better results.

Use * symbol to get variations on a word
AltaVista always looks for exactly what you tell it to look for. So, if you want information on dancing but you only put in the word "dance", Alta Vista will only find documents with the word "dance" in them.

But the *symbol tells AltaVista to search for variations of a word. Try typing this to find variations such as dance, dancing, dancer, and dances.


Learn more about searching the Web
To learn more about effective Web searches, check out the section on searches on Julian Sher's JournalismNet page.




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