Understand that there is a fine difference between searching and doing research. Let's first discuss how to search for information on the Internet or in the UoPhx Library.

Fortunately, Internet Explorer and Internet Search Engines recognize that many people do not know how to search the Internet efficiently. For this reason, searching strategies change and improve almost weekly. Here is a lesson I gave just one year ago in my staff development classes. With today's browsers and search engines, half of the information is out-of-date; however, if your schools are still using Netscape or older version of Internet Explorer, this information will still be applicable.

Before attempting to search the Internet for information, it is helpful to configure your Internet Explorer to search AltaVista or Google using the Address Bar. Watch the Viewlet movie on this page to see how to configure your Internet Explorer (1:40 minutes). After configuring your Internet Explorer, you can easily search by typing the search strings in the Address Bar instead of going first to your favorite search engine's Web site. Note: This does not work in Internet Explorer 6; instead, configure IE to search from the Address Bar in Tools > Internet Options > Advanced Tab  This will set the Address Bar to search in MSN be default. To change that, use START > Search > Internet Options to select a different search engine.

Now study the following seven steps toward better searching on the Internet. This information was adapted with permission from Dr. Bernie Dodge. The original Web page can be found at:  Most people use a search engine by simply typing a few words into the query box and then scrolling through whatever comes up. Sometimes their choice of words ends up narrowing the search unduly and causing them not to find what they're looking for. More often, the end result of the search is a haystack of off-target Web pages that must be combed through. You can become a better searcher by simply mastering seven tricks in AltaVista (or your favorite search engine). To help you remember the seven steps, think of a sentence so goofy you'll never get it out of your mind:

My plump starfish quickly lowered Lincoln's tie.

My plump reminds you of minus and plus to exclude and include words.

The first two steps to practice with the simple search are the use of the minus sign (-) and the plus sign (+) to exclude and include words. Note: There's no space between the + or - and the word, but there is a space between words. For example, if you wanted to find sites about Atlantis, the purported lost continent, but you wanted to eliminate all pages that were about Atlantis, the space shuttle, you'd type: +Atlantis  -shuttle  Notice that the more specific the terms you include and exclude, the more focused your search.

Starfish reminds you to use the star (*) as a wildcard.

A common mistake people make is to inadvertently narrow their search too much by excluding variations on a word they're looking for. For example, if you typed in +mushrooms, you'd miss all those pages that just had the singular word mushroom on them. The * wildcard stands for any letter(s). The wildcard is also useful for catching other variations on a word such as different forms of a verb. In general, never search for the plural of a word. Use the wildcard to find both the singular and plural forms.

Quickly reminds you to use "quotes" to look for a phrase.

If you type a sequence of words as a query, AltaVista will look for documents that contain any of those words. If you want the words to hang together as a phrase, you should put double quotes around them. For example: "Abraham Lincoln"

Lowered reminds you to use lower case (usually).

AltaVista pays attention to any CAPITAL LETTERS you type into a query. If you search for Octopus, it will only find documents in which it's spelled that way (with a capital letter-O). In general, unless you're after a particular spelling, use all lower case. If you search for octopus, you will find documents in which it's spelled Octopus and octopus. Remember: If you use lower case, you'll find both lower case and upper case. If you use upper case (capital letters), you'll find only uppercase.

Lincoln's reminds you to use the link: tag to find pages linked to another page.

Suppose you found the absolutely perfect page about life in Ancient Egypt at You suspect that any other Web pages that contain a link to that page would also contain things that would interest your students. If you put all or part of the URL of the page after "link:", you'll get a list of pages that are linked to the one you found useful. As an example, this is what you'd type in the Address Bar:  Note that in Internet Explorer 5 and above, this feature has been replaced. Now if you want to find related pages, use the Tools menu and select "Show related links."

Tie reminds you to use the title: tag to focus your search.

A simple search will find a word anywhere on the Web page. To locate pages that are primarily about one thing, look for pages that have that thing in their title. The result is much more tightly focused. Note: There can be a space between title: and the next word or not. It doesn't seem to matter. Note that most search engines have an advanced feature that now searches just the title for you; as such, this tip doesn't work in modern browsers.

So, to recap... remembering this sentence will help you remember the seven techniques you just experimented with:

My plump starfish quickly lowered Lincoln's tie.
minus plus star quotes lower case link: title:
-exclude +include wildcard* "phrases in quotes" case MATTERS find pages linked find words in the title


Why do you think so few people understand how to do good searches on the Internet? Should we take the time to teach our students how to search for Internet information? If so, in which class? How should we teach this skill?


Doing research on the Internet is not quite the same as searching for an answer to a question. There are eight steps to doing scholarly research on the Internet and writing a formal research paper. The key to doing research on the Internet is to know what each letter of the word "RESEARCH" represents.

   emember: My Plump Starfish Quickly Lowered Lincoln's Tie

The first step to doing research on the Internet is to organize and plan your research.  Understand the writing process and the importance of planning your research before you actually start your research.  After you have decided on a topic and audience, carefully plan the search strings that will give you the greatest amount of relevant information. Remember to use the mnemonic of "My Plump Starfish Quickly Lowered Lincoln's Tie" to choose your search strings efficiently.


The first place you may want to begin your research is with an online encyclopedia. Although information in an encyclopedia shouldn't be used to gather information for a research paper, the encyclopedia article will give you an overview of your topic. The overview may also help you refine your search strings by giving you additional insights about the topic.


Research takes a great deal of time; it is not something you can finish in one class period at school. Nevertheless, there are some time-saving tips you can use to do research. Two of the best time-saving tips are to shift-click from AltaVista and to Save As from Internet Explorer.

shift-click: When AltaVista gives you a list of possible Web sites, do not click on each site and start doing research. Instead, hold down the shift key and click on the first site. Holding down the shift key forces the site to open in a new window. Instead of waiting for that site to load, do a shift-click on the other nine Web sites AltaVista found for you. Take a one-minute break -- rest your wrists (carpal bones) and look away from the computer monitor. When you come back, ten pages will be loaded and ready to read and evaluate.

Save As: If you are running out of time to research, choose "Save As" from the File menu of Internet Explorer to save the pages you have open. (Be sure to save the complete Web page.) Internet Explorer not only saves the Web page and all the graphics, it saves the URL of the page so you can cite it in your references if you choose to use this site in your research. This won't work in Netscape.


Evaluate the Web sites to be sure the information is authoritative and accurate. See the section of this lecture below on evaluating Web pages.


Now it is time to take notes from the information you have gleaned. In taking notes, be sure to observe copyright laws, record the citations, and avoid plagiarism.

 ough draft

Write your first draft (rough draft) of the paper, inserting references and quotations where needed. At this point, don't worry too much about spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Simply let the words flow. Check that you have the proper number of words for the assignment. Be sure to write a good introductory paragraph and summary paragraph. Go back through your rough draft and add transition words or phrases where necessary.


This step is perhaps one of the most important steps in writing a paper: Put your paper away for at least an hour (several hours or a day are better). This allows your paper a chance to get cold so you can read the paper later and notice more errors.

 one and polish

Rewrite and revise your paper. Home and polish the text. Pay particular attention to word usage, organization, sentence structure, and mechanics.

In one of the classes I teach, students are required to collect articles from the UoPhx library on an assigned topic. Here are the tips I give them: