eGuide: Effective internet searching

Last updated: July 2019

Identifying the right search engine

Remember that you are searching across all the content that is openly available on the Internet. Your results will not prioritise academic content. In fact, many journal articles, books and other academic sources are held behind pay-walls, so won’t be included at all). Here is a list of the major search engines:

  • Google Search for images, videos, maps, news stories, shopping, etc. Copes with spelling mistakes and translates non-English language pages.
  • Bing Microsoft’s own search engine. Default engine in Internet Explorer.
  • Yahoo Yahoo results are from Bing with added features from Yahoo.
  • DuckDuckGo Emphasises privacy. It doesn’t track or profile users, which means that everyone carrying out the same search will see the same results.

Why you must go beyond Google?

If an assignment instructs you to find peer-reviewed or scholarly sources, just Google won’t be the most appropriate place to look. In general, the following kinds of content remain hidden from search engines:

  • Many sites require registration or login (which includes almost all of the library’s database content)
  • Some sites are deliberately excluded by their owners
  • Some sites are not linked to by other pages
  • Some sites require special software to access

For a List of academic databases and search engines see here.


There is more to Google than just the search box on the homepage:

  • Google Scholar Searches across scholarly literature such as articles and theses. To limit the search to resources available for Cambridge students, go to settings to set Cambridge as your preferred library. For instructions see but select University of Cambridge.
  • Google Books Database of books digitised by Google. Some results will show the full-text, other results will show a proportion of the text e.g. content pages.
  • Google Scholar Metrics provide an easy way for authors to quickly gauge the visibility and influence of recent articles in scholarly publications. Scholar Metrics summarize recent citations to many publications, to help authors as they consider where to publish their new research.
  • Google Alerts Stay up to date, create alerts on a specific topic.
  • My Activity Stores all the searches you have carried out (with a Google Account). You can opt-out.
  • Advantages: find previous search terms and results so you won’t lose time repeating a search.
  • Disadvantages: lack of privacy and anonymity and skewed results e.g. search results and adverts will reflect your perceived interests and may not show the most useful results.

Tips for effective internet searching

  • Using keywords

Combining words in a search (Boolean searching)

  • + (AND) – use to specify words which must be included e.g. American + President
  • | (OR) – use to broaden a search and find more sites, e.g. American | President
  • – (NOT) – use with care to eliminate unwanted search words, e.g. American President
  • Use exact phrase (quotation marks) to search for a precise phrase, e.g. American President

Searching for words with similar endings – most search engines allow you to type the first part of the word and then use a character, e.g. * or ] or ? (it varies from one search engine to another) to replace the subsequent letters. So, to find American, Americas, Americans, you might type America*

  • Searching the webpage to find a word or words on a page  – use Ctrl+F

Refining your search

  • Site: use to find information within a specific site e.g. student bursaries You can also exclude a specific site or domain e.g. –
  • Related: use to find similar sites to ones you already use
  • Filetype: use to find a specific document type e.g. Barbara Bodichon filetype:pdf
  • Number…Number – search within a specific numerical range e.g. women authors 1800…1900
  • Intitle:/intext:/inurl: search for a word within the title, text or URL e.g. intitle:Girton


What type of website is it?

URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator and is the address of a webpage. You can check the URL of the webpage to determine what type of site the information is coming from:

  • .edu signifies that the pages is created by an educational institution
  • .gov signifies that the page is created by a government department or body
  • .org signifies that the page is created by an organisation (usually a not-for-profit or charity)
  • .com or .co signifies a commercial site

The credibility of the information shouldn’t be judged solely on the particular type of site it has come from. However, knowing the type of site can help put in context the information provided.


Searching for images

Just remember that ALL images on the internet are subject to copyright law. Only because the image is there and you can save it to your device does not mean you can use it.

  • Google Images Quick and easy way to search for images. Upload and search for a specific image by clicking on the camera icon (to use/re-use/edit pictures from google images go to Tools-usage rights and select appropriate option from the drop down menu)
  • Librestock Searches over 40 different free stock photo websites to find images that are free to use (Creative Commons Zero license)
  • Pixabay Free to use images (Librestock searches this site)
  • Morguefile Free to use images


Searching social media

  • Social searcher Searches multiple social networks and provides analytic data.  You can set up email alerts to stay up to date. It also has a Google Social Media search tool, which searches social media via Google. Each site (e.g. Twitter and Facebook) is presented in a separate, easy to read column.
  • Google Social Search A behavior of retrieving and searching on a social searching engine that mainly searches user-generated content such as news, videos and images related search queries on social media.


Evaluating results

Search engines vary in their quality control over sites listed. Many search engines “guarantee” higher rankings in return for payment. Results labelled as advertisements often appear at the top.

You will need to look critically at the sites you find. Aspects to look out for when evaluating sites:

  • Authorship – who is responsible for the site? An individual or an institution or organization?
  • Intended audience – Academics? Children? Anyone? Unclear?
  • Accuracy – do all the links work? Are there any mistakes?
  • Last modified – is the site updated regularly? Look for a date at the bottom of the page.
  • Objectivity – how objectively has the author presented the information?


Unsuccessful search?

Remember, search engines don’t index everything that’s out there – sometimes known as the “invisible web” or the “dark web”.  This can include sites that are password-protected, including Moodle. Content may also have expired or been removed. Some useful archive resources are:


Help within College

Library staff can provide support and assistance. You can book an appointment with library staff, or, ask a question via The Colleges’ Bye-Fellow for Study Skills will also be able to help.


Additional resources


Knowing where to look: your search toolkit

My Learning Essentials : Online Resources


Help With Electronic Resources

Jenny Blackhurst
t: +44 (0) 1223 338970