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Research Databases for Students: Searching the Internet

This guide empowers students, parents, and teachers with the tools and resources necessary to complete research or homework assignments utilizing library research databases and library materials effectively


Getting Started

Search engines search electronically whereas most search directories use human editors to exclude irrelevant sites and include beneficial ones.  Wikis invite contributors to write and edit articles mostly without authorship.  Understanding the pluses and minuses of each of these search tools will help you to determine when they are appropriate to use for particular high school research assignments.

Explore information in the Search Engines, Search Directories, and Wiki boxes and read the following tips. 

Tips For Using Search Engines:

  • Search engines are best when searching for specific things such as “revolutionary war diaries” as opposed to the more general “war”
  • Use specific academic terms such as “climate change”
  • Use exact phrases such as “research on medical marijuana”
  • Go to Advanced Search tools to refine searches

Tips For Using Search Directories:

  • Read the annotations (summaries of sites written by directory editors) for your top results to see if you are on the right track
  • Browse subject categories
  • Keep search terms broad
  • Check sites for searching tips as all directories are organized differently
Tips for Using Wikis:
  • Read about the wiki you are using to see how it is managed and organized.  For example, Wikipedia relies on a vast number of dedicated volunteers to correct articles that don’t meet its standard for content neutrality (no bias or limited points of view) and verifiability. 
  • FOR ACADEMIC RESEARCH always verify facts presented on a wiki with credible sources such as books. 
  • Always check with your teacher to see if wikis are acceptable.  Most teachers will require credible verifiable sources for academic research. 

Search Engines

Popular search engines such as Google and Yahoo use complex computer programs to index websites, and these enormous indexes can then be searched using keywords. Search engines rank pages depending on how many times a keyword appears on a webpage (relevancy) and where a keyword appears on the page (proximity).  Google also uses popularity ranking, taking into account how many times searchers link to a page when using a certain keyword.   It’s important to remember that search engines search electronically whereas most search directories use human editors to exclude irrelevant sites and include beneficial ones.  Search engines are businesses that rely on ad revenue, so be aware that some sites show up because they have paid for a high ranking not because they have the information you need.  Search engines in order of popularity are Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Ask

Search Directories

Search directories use expert editors to select and organize websites.  Some directories are more tightly organized than others so it’s a good idea to read about how a particular directory is organized before you use it.  Two directories that are especially good for academic research are: Internet Public Library/Librarians’ Index , and  Infomine


It is very easy to edit a Wikipedia article, so many academic teachers do not trust the information on this site as editors and authors aren't identified and so the credibility of the information is questionable.  In fact, Wikipedia does not recommend its informaiton be used for academic research as noted in this entry Reseaching With Wikipedia.  Wikipedia articles are good for tracking down sources used by authors however, and can be a good place to start research.