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Top Ten Basic Internet Search Tips

  1. Use catalogs and specialized resources first. If you aren't sure about what you're looking for, or you're new to searching, try a specialized resource before a general resource, and try a catalog before a search engine. You will benefit from the structure of a catalog or the subject-specific nature of a specialized guide.
  2. If you find it, and you plan to use it again, bookmark it. The longest, most disorganized bookmark file in the world is still the easiest and most convenient way to get to resources you plan to visit more than once.
  3. Use a minute to save an hour. Always read the instructions for a site you aren't familiar with or haven't visited in a while.
  4. Every tool has different rules. Never forget that every search engine is different, which means every search engine has unique rules for constructing searches. Also, every catalog has its unique schematic and index vocabulary.
  5. Early to rise... When possible, avoid searching at the busiest times (in the Northeast United States, that's mid-afternoon).
  6. Perfect your search engine "end run." If you often have to search during "Internet rush hour," get to know the lesser-known tools. In general, catalogs are often more available than search engines, and specialty resources such as Envirotext aren't as busy as general sites such as Yahoo.
  7. Don't search for "potatoe." Particularly for search engines, check your spelling very carefully.
  8. It's almost always out there. If you don't get any hits from your search, assume that you misspelled something or constructed the search incorrectly. (And revisit Tip #1.) The next step is to use another tool. Remember, though, that search engines only retrieve freely-accessible Internet resources, not magazine indexes or other fee-based sources.
  9. Practice builds precision. If you get too many hits from your search, first see what you can learn about restricting the search, and consider using a catalog or specialized tool. Also, the general rule not to use an elephant gun on a flea applies here as well: you don't need Alta Vista to locate the environmental subset of the Federal Reporter--even if you forgot to bookmark it, the EPA search tool should find it for you very easily.
  10. Caveat Surfer. Remember that the Internet has plenty of champagne and snake oil. Prepare to be disappointed by sites you were sure would be good and surprised by sites that don't appear to be much at first glance. 

(reprinted from Tipsheet #B6 prepared by EPA, Region 2 Library)