Skip to main content

Finding Information on the Web: Start Here

Using the Internet for Research? How can you tell if the stuff on the Web is good to use in your class assignment?
Subjects: Computer Science

What is the Web?



The Internet is a system of protocols (a protocol is a specified means of communication) which allow networked computers to communicate transparently across multiple, linked packet networks.  These protocols are known as TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol) and are comprised of telnet, email, ftp, http, USENET, gopher, and others.  These protocols allow thousands of different types of computers linked to the Internet to speak to each other.  Packet switching forces the information request into packets (or small chunks of information), each packet being sent along the least busy segments of the network and reassembled into a full document when it reaches its destination.

The World Wide Web (WWW) or “Web” is really a subset of the protocols that make up the Internet.  The Web protocol is called http, it uses html coded “pages”, and is a distributed hypermedia system that allows distribution not only of text, but of graphics, sound and animation.  It is a network of information within the network of the Internet.  The Web uses a hypertext system to make navigation of that information possible.  When a document is displayed, words on the screen may be linked to other locations in that document, or to other documents or sources.  To see information on the Web, you must know an address.  This address is referred to as a URL (Uniform Resource Locator) and is in the form of   In order to view these pages on the web, you need a browser (such as Netscape, Firefox, or Internet Explorer) which will format the coding of the html into a layout that is readable by a person, viewable on a computer screen.

When you “search the web” you are actually searching this smaller segment of the total internet comprised of the html coded web pages.  While the amount of information contained on these pages is very large, it is not the total amount of information that is available.  Everything is NOT on the internet or the web.  What is available on the Internet is often what can most easily be translated into electronic form, which is not the same as the best information.  Numbers, statistics, facts, etc can easily be loaded onto a computer.  However, carefully researched, thoughtful scholarship takes longer to produce and is not as likely to make it to the web.

Mind Mapping

Work out your thought processes and make a mind map:

Recommended Approach


Step #1 - Analyze the topic to decide where to begin

Does your topic have:

  • distinctive words or phrases?
  • have NO distinctive words or phrases you can think of? You have only common or general terms that get the "wrong" pages.  
  • seek an overview of a broad topic?
  • specify a narrow aspect of a broad or common topic?
  • have synonymous, equivalent terms, or variant spellings or endings that need to be included?
  • Make you feel confused? Don't really know much about the topic yet? Need guidance?

Step #2 - Pick an appropriate starting point

Topic Analysis:

Search Engines

Subject Directories

Specialized Databases
"Invisible Web"

Find an Expert

Distinctive or word or phrase?

Enclose phrases in " ".
Test run the word or phrase in Google.

Search the broader concept, where does the  term fit in a larger idea?

Want data? Facts? Statistics?
All of something?
One of many like things?
Schedules? Maps?
Look for a specialized database on the Invisible Web.
See a Librarian for assistance.

Look for a specialized subject directory on the topic.
E-mail the author of any appropriate web pages.
Ask a discussion group or expert.
Never hurts to seek help.

NO distinctive words or phrases?

Use more than one term or phrase in " " to get fewer results.

Try to find distinctive terms in Subject Directories

Overview or broad topic?


Look for a specialized Subject Directory focused on your topic

Narrow aspect of topic?

Boolean searching as in Yahoo! Search.

Look for a Directory focused on the broad subject.

Synonyms, equivalent terms, variants

Choose search engines with Boolean OR, or
Truncation, or Field limiting.


Confused? Need more information?


Look at recommended web pages on
Try an encyclopedia.
Ask at the library reference desk.

 Step #3 - Learn as you go and vary your approach with what you learn

Don't assume you know what you want to find. Look at search results and see what you might use in addition to what you've thought of.

 Step #4 - Don’t bog down in any strategy that does not work

Switch from search engines to directories and back. Find specialized directories on your topic. Think about possible databases and look for them.  Ask for help from knowledgeable librarians.