Research on the Internet

When it comes to doing research on the Internet, knowing the tricks of experienced Web surfers can make finding your answer quickly and easily.

Let's say your World History professor assigns a 1,000-word paper. The topic: whether or not Christopher Columbus should be considered a hero for discovering the Americas. A student given this assignment many years ago would have had to painstakingly visit the library, use card catalogs, encyclopedias, and books. And that was after walking a couple of miles just to get to the library! Fortunately, you now can stay seated at your computer and tune into the great knowledge guru, the Internet.

First steps

Your first step to successful Internet research is to navigate to the search engine of your choice (such as, Google, Yahoo!, MSN, or others). This example focuses on a Google search to find information for your Columbus assignment. Type Christopher Columbus in Google's search box and press the Enter key on your keyboard. You'll notice that millions of results were returned in your search. This is both a good and bad thing — good because your search topic has plenty of information available, but bad because now you have to find the pages that contain the content related to your assignment.

The key is the keyword

To narrow down your search results, you'll need to add more detailed keywords to your search string. For example, type Christopher Columbus hero and press Enter. Now each result listed will contain these three keywords somewhere on the respective page. In just a matter of seconds, you already have a few leads for your topic.

Advanced Google tricks

If you want to restrict your search to only a specific type of site, use some of Google's advanced features to filter your results. For example, try Christopher Columbus hero site:.edu as your search criteria. You're asking Google to find matches to the same search string, except only within Web sites that end in .edu (a domain suffix used primarily by colleges and universities). But you don't have to search just educational domains, you can tell Google's "site:" search operator to view any site or domain just by adding a different domain name, such as site:cliffsnotes.com. This search would tell Google to only search pages within CliffsNotes.com.

Find more information on Google's advanced search features by browsing these links:

Google Search Tips

Google Advanced Operators

Consider the source

When doing Internet research, consider the reputation of the sites you're researching.  For example, quoting "Jim" from the farce site "Jim Johnson's Cool Christopher Columbus Hero Web Page" in your research paper may weaken the strength of your arguments, in contrast to using reasoning from an article you found on the Library of Congress site.

As with any research, you're smart to look for more than one resource stating the same facts. If you question the reliability of a Web site, search for several other sites that corroborate the information.

Citing your sources

Finally, your Internet research is done and you're ready to write your paper. Depending on the requirements of your assignment, you may need to compile a Bibliography or Works Cited.