How Search Engines Work

web search

Students’ Guide to Web Search

Sure, the Internet is filled with cool sites like MySpace and YouTube, and lots of sites overflowing with information and help for homework assignments. But how do you know if a Web site is a good one? How do you know if the information it contains is truly reliable? The Students' Guide to Web Search helps you learn how to tell a good site from a garbage site, and shows you how to start searching smart.

How Search Engines Work

Using search engines such as Google or Yahoo is one of the fastest ways to find information on the Internet. Knowing how search engines work can help you get the most out of your search experience. Use this section to learn what search engines are and how they gather results.

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  • Instead of using people to choose sites, search engines use a complex math equation (called an algorithm) to figure out what sites match a search term the best. An algorithm can’t determine if 5.8 million results are more than you need, or if the sites have useful or reliable information—that part is up to you. 

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Using Search Engines to Get Better Search Results

Did you know there are lots of ways to make search engines find better results? There are even special search engines for different subjects, and there are some search engines that search many other search engines at the same time. Using search engines to get better search results is easy with help from the sites below.

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  • Remembering a few simple tricks can help you find exactly what you’re looking for on the Web. Make search engines work for you with tips for better Web searches.

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Evaluating Web Sites

Search engines can’t tell whether a site has reliable or credible information. Even search results from specialized search engines created especially for young adults still need to be evaluated to make sure that the results are worthwhile. That’s where you come in. Learn how to take a close look at a Web site and find out why evaluating web sites is so important.

Insights for Evaluating Web Sites

  • No matter what you search for, one of the top results that you’ll often get is Wikipedia. Wikipedia allows anyone to add or edit information, and doesn’t verify whether that information is accurate or correct. Though Wikipedia is okay for reading about pop culture and nonacademic matters, it can't be considered a reliable source of information for study or school projects. Learn more about Wikipedia and how it works.
  • For a more in-depth look at how to determine if a site is trustworthy, see the “Web Site Credibility” section of the Guide to Web Search.

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Starting an Online Research Project

The most obvious places to start looking for facts online are search engines, but they’re not always the best places to get reliable information. Library Web pages are also an excellent source of trustworthy information you can use for school projects and papers. If you're starting an online research project, use the sites below to find the best sources for conducting research, and learn how to cite (give credit to) the sources of your research.

Insights for Starting an Online Research Project

  • At-home researchers can get search tips from libraries or librarians by going onto a school or county library Web site from their own computers. These sites often have sections specifically for students, including homework help resources. Libweb lists library Web sites by state.
  • Students need to keep track of where they get their information (online or otherwise), and cite (that is, give credit to) the sources used in their reports or papers. The sites in this section help track and create citations for Web (or any other) reference material. We explain how to credit a source for your bibliography in the “How to Cite a Source” section of our Guide to Web Search. When creating citations for a class, check with a teacher to see what citation style is needed.
  • Learn how to use lots of cool tools, like Delicious and StumbleUpon, to organize your research in the “Social Bookmarking Tools” section of our Guide to Web Search.

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