Research on the Web

Various sites and search engines make research on the Web a snap

When I was a kid, I remember how excited I was when my parents bought an Encyclopedia Britannica set (OK, I was a geeky kid). The books were a great resource, and some of my best scholastic work was writing papers based on information that the encyclopedia provided. And comparing that 1969 edition to the 1933 edition that my grandparents had given us was fascinating. Even in those short 36 years, mankind's understanding of the universe had changed dramatically, and the science information provided in the two editions showed amazing differences. Even in more static fields, such as history, the analysis provided by the people at Encyclopedia Britannica showed significant cultural impact.

Encyclopedia Britannica is still going strong and has an excellent research site on the Web. You can even purchase the 32-volume encyclopedia set, if you're so inclined. But when my kids or I need to do research, we no longer turn to the encyclopedia—we search the Web.

My 10-year-old quickly discovered that she could find information on the Web about almost anything she needed for school. She even surprised me (and I'm an old hand at Web searching) by finding information about the glaze pattern on a potsherd she uncovered during an archeological excavation she participated in. She was able to find enough information, including photographs, to identify a 1.5" piece of pottery as part of an early 17th century salt container. I don't know how long her search took, but I'm sure an elementary school student couldn't have performed the search at home, before the Internet.

Many powerful Web search engines are available, but my favorite search site is Google. Google is fast and incredibly complete, but the searcher needs to know how to phrase the search query. Small changes in phrasing can make huge differences in the search results.

Search sites such as Northern Light, Yahoo! and About—The Human Internet, formerly the Mining Company, can give you topical links to search and let you do a drill-down style search to find the information you're looking for. And, of course, an indispensable site for school kids (and one I use quite a bit) is

Bigchalk—The Education Network, a resource site for teachers and parents, offers an age-specific search-engine link from its home page so that kids can find information appropriate for their grade level.

And, of course, Ask Jeeves lets you enter a natural-language question as your basic search parameter. I've found that Jeeves' first set of responses often have little relevance to my question, but the site offers you more detailed queries based on your original question, which often lead you in fruitful directions you might not otherwise have tried.

I firmly believe that there's no such thing as too much information; you just need to filter the data so it doesn't overwhelm you. Using the best Internet search engines can put that useful data at your fingertips and makes helping your kids with their homework easier.

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