Using the Internet as an Information & Referral Provider - Five Things You Should Know Before You Start Your Internet Search

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  1. What are you looking for? Who is the information for?
  2. Why are you using the Internet? How would you find this information without the Internet?
  3. What search tool will you use and how do you use it?
  4. How do you know if the information is valid and accurate?
  5. How will you use the information when you find it?

Five "Easy" Steps To Find Information on the Internet

1. KNOW what you're looking for and how the Internet can help

Before even using the Internet, ask yourself what the focus of your search is. Why use the Internet to find the information you're looking for?

The obvious question you need to ask yourself before you look at how to access information on the Internet is just what kind of information are you looking for?

There are two questions to keep in mind:

  1. Is the material you seek currently available?
  2. Is it available on the Internet?

How would you find this information without the Internet? The Internet can provide direct access to information that is available electronically; however, it can also provide you with information as to where to find the information offline (for example, in a library or a resource centre). These are both equally valid means of using the Internet in your search process.

2. FIND the information you want

How to use the Internet in your search, the basic Internet knowledge you need, what tools you'll need to become familiar with and how to access them.

Search engines

Search engines are WWW pages whose sole purpose is to help you find other WWW pages out there! You simply type in some key words (much like doing a search in any community library) and the search engine does the rest. In seconds, you will have a huge list of resources, set up as links that you can immediately access. Too many options, or not enough? As in any library search, you may need to change the parameters of your search, by typing in new keywords, new combinations of words, and so on. Search engines are excellent tools to help you find your way around the World Wide Web.

Not all Search Engines are created equally. If you want to find out how to best use a particular search engine, read their tips, or FAQ or Help section, as a means of finding out how best to navigate each engine's unique way of searching.

Directories

Directories, such as Yahoo!, organize information into categories that they have determined will be useful for you. You can usually search right away or click on the various categories until you find yourself deeper and deeper into a subject area. Web site owners must register their site with the directory and provide a description.

Subject Guides

Subject Guides work similarly to directories but may rely more on a staff of people to find or "mine" the Internet for content and then provide site descriptions. 211Toronto.ca is an excellent example of a subject guide made up of organization and program information.

Libraries and Bibliographies

Most major libraries are providing their information on the WWW and allowing surfers to search for books and materials that they house in their collection. These are generally great starting points for research that you may then be able to either physically access or access via interlibrary loans with your local community library.

Lists of links/documents

Research-oriented sites, Organizations, and "Think-tanks"

If an organization provides information and is large enough it's more than likely that they have a WWW site where they provide some if not all of their materials for access, whether via download or directly on their WWW pages. Searching for organizations such as the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal will most likely get you information as well as links to other organizations providing relevant information on the Internet.

The two principles at work here are:

  1. an organization that provides information and services may well provide some or all of their information on their WWW site, or at least let you know how to get the information
  2. finding one good site means that you will have found many others, because most good WWW sites provide lists of links to other organizations and information relevant to the work that they are doing - they have done the searching for you; it's time to bookmark their site!

Other options

Mail lists, Discussion forums, "announcement" lists (also referred to as listservs)

Participating in discussion groups via Email or on WWW sites can typically help you to network, make contacts and find people who will know where to find the information that you are looking for. Just because you're using the Internet in your research doesn't mean that you have to work alone. Access the contacts and expertise that you find in the many discussion forums available on the Internet. As well, some sites give you an option to receive an Email when content on their site has changed - can be extremely useful.

Many of these tools can be very useful to access the "deep" or "invisible" web.

Bookmarks

Once you have found great sites, make sure that you Bookmark (or add them to your Favourites) in your WWW browser. WWW browsers have Bookmarks or Favourites that can help you remember the sites that are of interest to you. When you are on a site that you think you may want to access in the future, but don't want to have to remember the site address, simply click on your Bookmarks or Favourites button and add the page. To get back to that site, you need only click on this button again and then select the page you want to go to.

This feature is very useful and you can actually group these remembered pages together in folders by subject of interest. In fact, you should make it a point of organizing your bookmarks in groups that make sense to you, or else you may end up with an unwieldy list of sites to work with.

Awareness Services

These are sites that send you an email every time something changes on a web site that you want to monitor regularly. You choose which web pages to monitor, the service will find which pages have changed, and collect all the new content for you. The new information is presented to you in an email and/or a personal web page. You can specify when and how often the changes will be collected. "Watch That Page" is a good example of such a service.

3. GET the information in a format you can work with

The technical mechanics of getting at that information, whether downloading material from a WWW site or dealing with copyright issues.

The WWW allows users to actually take files (MS Word, PDF, Excel, etc.) or even pieces of software from a WWW site and save them to their computer. Downloading something from the Internet means copying a file from another computer to your own computer. Two main steps are involved: downloading the file and then reading it on your computer. If you begin downloading you will need to have an anti-virus program on your computer. You'll want to scan anything you download onto your computer for viruses before using it.

Saving pages of information from a WWW site

A useful feature of any browser is the ability to save the text you see on the screen. You may need to do this if the material you want to save to your computer is not available to be downloaded, but just presented on the WWW site.

You can get the information in two ways:

Copy and Paste:

One is to highlight/select the text that you want to save, copy it and then paste it into your word processor or text editor program. You just need to have your program open and then paste it there.

Save As:

If you want to save the entire text on a page (perhaps it is a useful article or report), then click on the pull-down menu File and select Save As. Make sure that you in the Save as Type section you select Plain text and then make sure the name of the file ends in .txt. You'll be saving the file to your computer as a plain text file, without any of the funky formatting you may see on the screen and without the graphics, but you will get the content, which is what you are most likely after anyway!

One thing to keep in mind is copyright infringement. Just because something is on the WWW does not mean that it is available to be copied and used by the general public.

4. EVALUATE that information

Evaluating information you find on the Internet and what some things are to keep in mind.

Some very basic things to keep in mind: Like any information you use you need to check to make sure that it is accurate, reliable, valid and appropriate for what you're doing. Think about the things you would do to check the validity of any information that someone gave you and go through the same evaluation process with any information you find on the Internet. Don't assume that just because the information is on the Internet it is reliable.

5. USE the information

Using the information you find.

This one is entirely up to you! Basically, once you've downloaded or saved information from the Internet you can print it off and put it in your files or resource area, incorporate the information into a report (citing web site address (source) and date you found it on the site), email it or send it to someone else.