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Library and Internet Research

Understanding URLs table available in full article.

URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator.

A URL is just the internet address for any given webpage:

Understanding the component parts of a URL can be helpful in a variety of situations. Here are just a few reasons why understanding URLs is useful:

  • The URL often reveals key information about a site
  • An understanding of URLs provides the needed foundation for many advanced search strategies
  • A heightened attention to URLs helps searchers recognize fraudulent sites


Web searching can appear deceptively simple. Type just about anything into the search box and the search engine will return results—probably thousands of them. This leads to both frustration and complacency: many users understand themselves to be proficient searchers at the same time that they struggle with large quantities of irrelevant results.

Search engines make available a great variety of tools that can improve search precision.

Search magazine articles, research reports, journal articles, and abstracts published in magazines, newspapers, and scholarly journals.

Magazines, newspapers, and scholarly journals provide contemporary material that is often on very narrow topics. Magazines are written in a more popular style and aimed at a general audience. The term "journals" is used for scholarly research publications. (Librarians use the term "periodicals" to include both magazines and journals.) Often journals are peer-reviewed, which means that the articles are read by a number of scholars in the field before being approved for publication.

Become proficient at quickly locating useful information via the library and Internet.

As repositories of our collective knowledge, libraries and the Internet host our cultural heritage, the memory of our present and past civilizations. Admittedly, though, the cornucopia of information accessible via the Internet and archived in libraries can be overwhelming, particularly if you are just becoming accustomed to the research process.

Conducting library and Internet research helps you quickly find the information you need. This page provides useful suggestions about how to conduct Boolean searches, for instance, and offers advice about how to identify whether you should begin your research using the Open Web, the Gated Web, or the Hidden Web.

Research we do on the web and through library databases often leads us to content from newspapers, magazines, and news agencies (such as Reuters and the Associated Press). What all news content has in common is that it connects in some way to something that is in the news.

News content can be roughly divided into the categories of news and opinion. News articles attempt to provide information on a current event, while opinion pieces attempt to persuade readers to adopt a particular position on that event.

Conducting research for papers, reports, and other assignments involves more than just typing a word or phrase into a search box. Understanding both the systems and the sources sets a foundation for retrieving relevant research. Before you jump into a search, take the time to think about where you should start and what types of sources you seek.

While internet search engines have made locating sources online easier, there are still many digital sources beyond websites. Databases contract with publishers and other content providers to package access to articles, reports, conference proceedings, ebooks, films, images, and other material. Using databases and having access to such a variety of source material is an important part of the research process.

It’s true. Searching a library catalog or database is not always as straightforward as Google. And sometimes, searching Google is frustrating because you get so many questionable results. So how can you make it easier to find strong sources for your paper? This video will show you some tactics to help get you on your way to being a Super Searcher!

These days, we’re finding more and more information for free online. The following eight websites (or types of websites) are recommended for first-year undergraduate students. Most of the websites are broad-based and interdisciplinary, useful for searching any topic or subject. A few of the websites are subject-specific (such as health/medicine or controversial issues) or type-specific (such as primary sources or writing lab handouts). The following annotated list provides:

Consult librarians when in doubt about where to obtain information.

Sometimes people are embarrassed about asking for help in using the library; they feel as if they should know how to use the library once they get into college. However, librarians are information technology specialists who are employed by colleges and universities to serve as research mentors. Information technologies are radically transforming research processes and even well-published professors commonly seek help from librarians.

Understand how to search for books, journals, government documents, and media that you can access through your college or university library.

You can hunt for information on your topic by consulting the library catalog. In many modern libraries, the bulky file drawers containing 3 x 5-inch cards have been replaced by computer terminals. Regardless of how the information is stored, all library catalogs list books and other materials owned by the library. The other materials might be videos, sound recordings, government documents, journals both print and electronic, and perhaps even some well-chosen web sites and electronic books.

 Use encyclopedias and dictionaries to research and develop a focused analysis about your question or topic.

The first step in any writing project is determining a specific topic. To help narrow your topic, you may find it useful to gather some general background information. This process can help you locate some valuable sources to consult. To obtain a few essential facts and to gain a sense of the "dialogue" that is transpiring among scholars and researchers about your topic, try consulting general encyclopedias and dictionaries or, if appropriate, specialized encyclopedias and dictionaries.

Review research reports, pamphlets, or statistics published by the Government Printing Office (GPO).

You may find it useful to discover whether the United States Government Printing Office (GPO) has published any research reports, pamphlets, or statistics on your subject. The GPO, along with the United Nations organizations, prints countless essays, pamphlets and research studies on the law, history, and such everyday subjects as growing herb gardens.