Finding & Selecting Websites
Listed below are suggestions on how you can locate and select web sites for your project.
The Internet has tons of information but it is unpredictable. Because anyone can publish on the Internet, be selective when choosing websites.
- Can I use only Web sites for my project?
- What types of information does the Web have that the library doesn't?
- What information can I find more easily in the library?
- How do I know if a Web site provides good information?
- How do I locate a Web site that will be useful for my topic?
- How do I cite a Web site in my bibliography?
That depends on what you want to do with your project. Because there are so many different groups that publish on the Internet, and the type of material they publish varies, you will want to have some idea of how your project will work before really digging in.
Here is an example why: click on the words to run a search on Google for the words "black holes" or "performance art." When this page was created, "black holes" returned 998,000 hits and "performance art" returned an amazing 2,100,000 hits. Needless to say, there is a lot of information on the Web!
How do you know when to search for information on the Web? Here are some basic questions you might want to ask when deciding:
- Do I have a fairly focused topic or topics I want to pursue?
- Have I made a list of the topic names and their synonyms I want to search for?
- Do I have a sense for the kinds of information I want to find? For the kinds of information where the Web is really good, see the next two discussion topics below.
As for all projects, you will have the best success by periodically taking stock of where you are and planning your next step before you begin searching.Back to topics
It is difficult to generalize about the Web, but it is particularly strong for:
- Current news - information travels very quickly online so you can't get much more current
- Access to businesses and organizations - get contact information, official positions on issues, event schedules, and publications
- Electronic images - get images that you can download
- Applications and forms - use online forms for schools, jobs, or government
- Detailed statistics - public and private groups often have statistics on their sites
- Hard to find information - if there doesn't seem to be a book or journal article about a person, event, or thing there is often something online about your topic
The Sarah Lawrence College Libraries have over 250,000 items in their collections. We don't have everything, but start with our resources for these kinds of information:
- Books - there are some electronic books online, but few compared to those in paper
- Academic articles - academic journals usually put only their most recent issues online for free
- Book or performance reviews - Reviewers get paid for their work so you have to subscribe to their magazines or journals to get the review; Sarah Lawrence often has the subscription
- Quick overviews and biographies - the reference collection has great summaries of almost any topic written by subject experts
- Video and audio - Sarah Lawrence has a great collection of movies and music
- Information more than one year old - Web sites will often post only the most recent information and remove the old
At the library, we select the resources for our collection based on published reviews, recommendations, faculty requests, and our own criteria. Each item comes with some information about the author, publisher, dates of publication and other pieces of information that let you know who is responsible for the content. This means that most of the information you find in our collection is reliable; if not, you can at least tell who created it.
On the Web, there is often no indication who has published a Web site, what their qualifications are, or who you could contact to learn more about the author. It can also be difficult to determine when the information was published. There is no way to be certain about the quality of information contained in a Web site, but here are several criteria to consider:
- Date of publication - Is there a date somewhere on the Web site that tells you when the information was last updated? Often this will appear at the bottom of the page.
- Authority - Is it clear who is publishing the information? What are the person's qualifications for writing the content? Are the sources of the information cited? Can you track where any numbers or claims are coming from?
- Bias - Is the material written from an objective point of view or is it advocating a certain position?
- Coverage - Is the information presented complete? Is what is presented excerpted from a larger source (i.e. a book or article)? Is the author trying to present a broad overview or only speaking to a narrow issue?
Searching the Web is different from our catalog and databases in one major way: there is no way to search specific fields. This means that a search engine does not distinguish between author, title, subject, or publisher.
When you search the Internet, you will get every Web site that has your search terms on it, regardless if the site is about the subject or not. For example, searching for "catapult" on Google returns sites from companies named catapult, Web sites using the verb "to catapult," and other sites not about catapults. To find information about your topic, try these strategies:
- If you know the name of the organization, company, or Web site you're trying to reach, search an Internet directory. Directories use humans to identify sites and organize them. This means the site will be about your topic, not just include the words.
- If you're searching for information about a topic, gather as many search terms as you can. Try a general search engine to find Web sites that contain your search words. Also, try the most unusual from your list of terms (for example, instead of "developmental psychology" try "piaget"). Here are some search engines that we like:
Each field of study has its own style. MLA, APA, and Chicago (or Turabian) are the three main styles for papers. See your professor if you're not sure which type to use. For citing electronic resources, see:Back to topics