Have you ever wondered what happens when you do a Google search? How does Google determine what to show you? How is a search engine like Google different than a subject directory? Understanding how the Google index works when it searches the web is part of being a savvy consumer in a knowledge based society. Students need to know how to access information efficiently and effectively, evaluate information critically and competently, and use information accurately and creatively.
So let’s start with what happens when you do a Google Search:
With Google’s ranking index, it is apparent that search terms are very important to effectively receive the web sources you require. Basic Search suggests that people keep terms simple, use the important words, and think of words the author may have used instead of your own. How do we support students to use effective search terms? Recently, MindShift published some strategies on their blog. I particularly like how to support students from taking their research questions (or questions of import) and constructing queries from them.
By having students write down their research questions, circling the nouns, and crossing out the unrelated words helps clarify important search terms. In addition, having students create synonyms to the important words for additional search queries for further results on how the author may have said it. Here is 12 more savvy search tips from MindShift.
Once students have the basics down for simple Google searches, they can filter by using symbols to gain more control of what the Google Index will give them.
So what is the difference between a search engine like Google, and a subject directory?
Search engines are widely used throughout the web. As the Google video explained, they use spider programs to search millions of indexed pages for you. Unfortunately these pages are not organized in any discernible order, which is why it is common to get a lot of unrelated page hits. They are best used for general facts or information, or information about people and organizations. Bing is another example of a search engine.
Subject directories are similar in the fact that they use spider programs to search for indexed pages. The difference is that these pages have been organized into hierarchies by human beings. Subject directories have less web pages, as they emphasize quality over quantity. Some examples of search engines are ipl2 and about.com and yahoo.com. Subject directories are best used when you have a general notion of what you are looking for as it will start with a big category and you can work you way down until you find references to related websites.
Meta-search engines try to give the researcher the best of both worlds by searching several engines and directories at the same time. This may be a good place to start your search, especially if you have little notion of your topic. Be aware that there can be issues with meta-search engines trying to change the search query for the different types of search engines unsuccessfully. Examples of Meta search engines include Dogpile, Clutsy and Ixquick.
Developing a research strategy (and the appropriate type of search) will make your research more effective. Happy researching!!
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