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ENGL 1200: General Writing II Research Guide: Searching on the Web

Resources and information for students in all Writing 2 sections.

Boolean Searching

Boolean datatypes have only two possible values: True or False. All computer operations are based on this premise. Boolean Searching (as we use it in the library)  helps translate English commands into these computer values.  There are three main Boolean search terms that our used in our databases:

  • AND - Returns only results that have both terms (adolescents AND depression)
  • OR - Returns results that have either term (girls OR women)
  • NOT - Will not show results with the term (NOT review)

Not exactly Boolean but...

Putting your terms in quotation marks will return results with that exact phrase ("digital copyright").

Domain Names

The domain name of a site can give you a good idea of what content you might find there:

  • .com - "Commercial" A for-profit site selling something (sometimes information).
  • .net - "Network" Usually similar to .com
  • .org - "Organization" A non-profit, but likely has an agenda/opinion.
  • .edu - "Education" An educational institution, college, or university.
  • .gov - "Government" Sponsored by the US government.

Developing Keywords

Typing in a whole sentence for a search ususally doesn't get good results because the database is trying to match the whole thing - it's best to try to pull the main ideas out of what you are trying to search for - keywords.

All databases (including Google) use a keyword search to return results. (Library databases are also organized by Subject, but start with keywords.)

This online tool can help you create useful keywords from your topic sentence.

These one-page guides will also help you develop search keywords that will get results:

    Google Advanced Search

    We know most searches for information start on Google. It's important to remember though, that Google's results are ranked by popularity, not necessarily authority. The best source for your information might not be in the first 20, or even the first 100 results. You can utilize Google's Advanced Search to help narrow your results from the start:

    • Use Google's search box structure on the advanced page to enter the related terms in your search (i.e. girls/women/female) and create a Boolean search string (see box to the left)
    • Use the "Search within a site or domain" box to screen out .com sites

    You can also search Google Scholar, which indexes articles from scholarly sources, but beware - many articles in Google Scholar may not be available in full-text, especially if they're more than 15-20 years old. If you find an article in Google that isn't available online (as many aren't) write down the citation and try to find it in the library databases using the Journal Locator.

    How to tell if it is CRAP

    In 2008, Google stated that it had indexed over one trillion webpages (it's obviously only gotten bigger since then).

    How big is a trillion, really? Well, if you placed a trillion $1 bills into a stack, the stack would be over 67,000 miles high. Now imagine there are a few $10,000 bills in that stack (the information you're trying to find), but in a stack that big they look a lot like the $1 bills. So - how do you tell which are the $1 bills and which are the $10,000 bills?

    This handy acronym - CRAP - can help you determine whether what you find on the web is trustworthy or not:


      - Is there a date or copyright?
      - When was the last update?
      - How current are the links? Are any broken?


      - Is the information error-free? (Facts, grammar, spelling, etc.)
      - Can you tell if someone fact-checked the site?
      - Is there an editor? Are sources cited or linked?


      - Is there an author? What are their credentials?
      - What organization sponsors the content? Are they reputable?
      - Is there a link to more information about the author or organization?


      - Is there a bias or slant to the information presented?
      - Is the page designed to sway opinion? To sell a product?
      - Is there any advertising on the page? How much? What for?
      - Is the site aimed at a broad audience or a specific one?

    The Deep Web

    While more and more content is being digitized every day, there is still an enormous amount of information that is only accessible through what is known as the deep web, which is content that is not indexed by search engines. This includes:

    • Dynamic web pages that are generated from a search query
    • Sites that require registration and login (though you sometimes see "snippets" of this content - articles found through a Google Scholar search instead of the library databases often fall into this category)
    • Non-HTML content - text encoded in multimedia or in file formats not handled by search engines
    • Scripted content - Content generated by programs such as Flash and JavaScript

    The best rule of thumb with web searches is to realize that even with the enormous amount of content available, not everything is available or accessible through the web. Web searches should always be one of several search strategies - library catalogs, databases, reference resources, and archives all hold information that may be the best on the topic, but Google will never find.

      E-Learning & Instruction Librarian

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      Linda LeBlanc
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      HA-102, Amelia V. Gallucci-Cirio Library, Hammond Hall
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