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Research Help: Find Web Sites

Note: "Web Sites" refer to the "free web", web sites which anyone can access, not the web-based research tools like the databases to which the Libraries subscribe for Washington University students, faculty, and staff.

The web can be very useful for finding immediate coverage of an event and has the advantage of being available whenever you want to access it; however, the information found on a web site is different from most other information because:

  • Anyone can create a web site and there are no official organizers, catalogers, or evaluators.
  • There is no complete list of web sites.
  • Sites constantly change; new sites are constantly created; and sites often disappear or are not updated.
  • There are no standards for web search tools.
Given the nature of web information, it is vital to evaluate the web sites you find before using the information for your research project. For more information, see the Evaluate Sources page.

Resources By Subject are lists of web sites in various subject areas which have been evaluated and selected by Washington University subject librarians.

Directories are the best place to begin browsing a subject, and most directories focus on including quality web sites. The people who work on directories organize web sites by categories or subjects.

Some examples of directories are:

Academic Info | Argus Clearinghouse | Britannica | INFOMINE | InfoSurf | Internet Public Library | Librarian's Index to the Internet | Open Directory | Yahoo!

Search Engines are best for finding specific information. Search engines use software (called spiders, webcrawlers, or bots) to automatically collect the words on millions of web pages. These words are entered into a searchable database. When you search using a search engine, you are not really searching the Web -- you are searching a database of words from web pages collected by that search engine's spider in the recent (or not-so-recent) past. Relevancy software determines in what order hits are listed, so the first hit may not be the best one for you. Each search engine has different searching options. There is little overlap between the search engines' databases, so you should use more than one search engine on a regular basis. Many search engines also provide a search directory.

Some examples of search engines are:

AltaVista | Excite | Google | HotBot | InfoSeek | Lycos

Meta-Search Engines are best at searching for obscure keywords. They send your keywords to a few search engines and give you the combined search results. Meta-search engines can't handle complex searches, so keep your search expression short and simple.

Some examples of meta-search engines are:

The Big Hub | DogPile | Go2Net | Metacrawler | ProFusion | SavvySearch

Portals attempt to provide a wide variety of information and services. They are best used for finding the most popular types of information (weather, stock quotes, sport scores, etc.). Most include a basic search engine as well as a search directory.

Some examples of portals are:

Excite | Go Network | Lycos | Yahoo!