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Using the index

By Richard Churchill – First Published June 2012

The internet is often described in the same terms as an encyclopedia, the first place you normally look in an encyclopedia is the index. So where is the index for the internet? The internet has a lot of indexes, each run by a different company, each giving you a slightly different answer, for example Google, Yahoo, Bing (Microsoft).

None of these sites work like the index of an encyclopedia, the internet is just too big! They work by looking for just a few important words of the page you are looking for. When they have finished, you are given a list of pages that match your important words, with the most relevant page first. This means you have to choose the words you search for carefully to get the best answers,

How do you choose the right words? My normal trick is to think of the question I want the answer to, “When did Henry VIII marry his second wife?” once I have thought of my question I then pick the most important words or ideas from it, so I might search “Henry VIII second marriage”. I don’t type my whole question in the search box for two reasons, first the non-important words may clutter my search with unwanted results, second, you need to pick words that are likely to appear on the page you want so “Marriage” or “Married” is much more likely to appear than “Marry”.

While this strategy works in general, each index (or search engine) works in a slightly different way. The results you get for the same key words will differ between search engines. Far from causing problems these differences actually help, if you are struggling to find the information you want on Bing you can switch to Google. Equally the different results suit different peoples way of thinking about questions, so if you find that you never find what you want using one search engine, try using another you may have better luck.

Finding things on the internet is as much an art as a science, you need to get online and practice. Once you’ve got used to finding your key words the whole world of information opens up to you.

Going further

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