Fine Tuning Your Web Search
Doing a good Internet search means:
- Finding the information you're looking for in a relatively short period of time
- Getting enough information with enough depth to be meaningful to you
- Finding information that is accurate, of good quality and up-to-date
The following sections will teach you where to start your search, how to search the major U.S. medical research database (Medline), and how to identify online information you can trust.
Using Search Engines
The first step toward these goals is choosing a search engine and knowing the special features it offers to help you create a good search.
General Search Tools
When you use Google to research a particular health issue, there will be links right above your search results to help you quickly focus your search. The links lead to information on Treatment, Symptoms, Tests & Diagnosis, Risk Factors, Alternative Medicine, From Medical Authorities, For Patients and For Health Professionals.
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It is also helpful to learn how to use the Advanced Search features.
You can focus your search by typing in more than one search word to make your retrieval more exact. For example, arthritis exercise.
You can also limit your search to the type of website you want by using the Domain feature -- for example, organizations (.org), government sites (.gov), educational sites (.edu) or commercial sites (.com). You can put in one type of site that you want (such as .gov) or one type of site that you don't want (such as .com).
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Other Search Tips:
If you want to search your term and its synonyms, place the tilde sign ("~") immediately in front of your search term. For example if you're interested in the effect of food on arthritis, you would type in ~food arthritis. The search engine would then give you results for the word "food" that included the synonyms "nutrition" and "diet."
To find pages that include either of two search terms, add an uppercase "OR" between the terms. For example, to search for exercise for either diabetes or heart disease you would type in exercise heart disease OR diabetes.
To search phrases, put them in quotes. For example, "metabolic syndrome."
Use a minus sign (-) to remove words or phrases. For example, you might use "back pain -surgery" to find other treatment approaches for back pain besides surgery.
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Yahoo's subject directory selects and organizes information for you. Choose the "Health" link from the menu on the homepage, then select the health topic you are interested in.
You can also type your terms directly into the search box. Other terms will appear on the top of the page under Also try. This can help you think about your search in different ways and is especially useful if you're not getting the results you want.
If you click on Options near the search box you can select Advanced Search . Here, you can put it in specific words and phrases, select the site domains (.com, .gov, .org or .edu), and more.
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Other search tips:
- To search phrases, use quotes. For example, "metabolic syndrome."
- To combine words, use AND, OR, NOT in capital letters. For example, back pain NOT surgery; angina AND gingko.
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Learning to Search Medline
The following websites offer step-by-step lessons on how to do a good search in Medline. Using these resources will greatly improve your ability to search the medical literature. It's worth the time!
- National Library of Medicine Tutorial on PubMed
- PubMed Animated Tutorials with Audio
- University of Toledo Medline Tutorials
Audio and video files that range from 2 to 7 minutes each. Provide clear, easy to understand and very helpful guidance on doing an effective Medline search.
Spanish Language Medline Tutorial:
- University of Florida
- Biblioteca del Complejo Hospitalario Universitario
Searching Integrative Approaches on Medline:
- Bastyr University's Medline Tutorial
"Complementary and Alternative Medicine ( CAM ) Research Using Medline"
- NLM's CAM on PubMed Tutorial
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How to Evaluate Websites
When evaluating information you find online, most people's main concern is the accuracy of that information. But if you're not an expert on the topic, this can be a hard thing to assess. That is why other indicators are often used to help judge whether the information is correct and trustworthy.
Here are some signposts to use when judging the worth of a site:
Credibility - Who runs the site? Credible sources include universities, hospitals, research centers, libraries, government agencies, well known journals, professional organizations, and consumer advocacy groups. Commercial sponsors and individual sites may be credible, but it's harder to tell.
Authorship - Who wrote the information and what is their expertise? All authors and their credentials should be clearly identified. Mention of other publications and clinical studies should include the complete reference so you can find that information if you are interested.
Certification - More health sites are now being certified by two main certifying bodies: HonCode and URAC. When a site is certified, it has met specific standards - it's like a Good Housekeeping seal of approval.
Currency - the date of the last site updating should be posted.
Links - Are the links relevant to the topic? How were they selected? Do they connect you to other high quality sites?
Scope - Does the site cover the topic in enough detail? Are multiple points of view discussed?
Disclosure - Is information given on who owns or sponsors the site and if there is any commercial funding or conflict of interest?
Interactivity and Feedback - Does the site provide contact information so you can communicate with the site creator or the webmaster?
Site design and usability - Is it easy to find information on the site? Is the site appealing and easy to read? Do the links work?