Having assessed the pertinent evaluation criteria for free contents on the web, the next step is to figure out the right steps to approach searching for content. There are numerous ways to start searching for relevant web content; an Harvard Business School article outlines a few effective approaches to consider (Source: Jan Rivkin & Ann Cullen, HBS Publishing 2008, p. 17):
1) Search Engines: Google may be the most common means for searching the Web. Their approach is to search the entire text of certain Web pages. A good approach is to utilize the “Advanced Search” page to ensure the most relevant search results. Remember though that each search engine has different search options and features; it is also recommended that users review the Help section of the search site they’re using. For a comparison of major search engines, visit Infopeople.org
3) Searches Within Specific Sites: This is a useful approach if you want to focus your research on the information posted on very broad/comprehensive website such as www.census.gov
4) Links: A classic example of using links on a site to expand your research is when users refer to the bibliography of Wikipedia articles.
5) Wikipedia: Almost everyone has used Wikipedia at one point or another. Wikipedia is an online collaborative encyclopedia that can offer excellent means for research sources. A bold caveat about using Wiki is that it should not be used as a standalone source since it may be difficult to assess the validity of the article’s authors. A tip offered by the author of the HBS article recommends users to look at the “discussion” and “history” tabs of Wiki entries to learn about consensus or disagreements among authors.
6) Meta Search Engines: These websites allow users to search multiple search engines at once. Examples include www.metacrawler.com, www.dogpile.com, www.clusty.com
7) Directories/indexes: These are webguides compiled by other people. Sites are listed by categories. Some examples include www.completeplanet.com, www.searchenginecolosus.com, and www.libraryspot.com
Lastly, I would argue for one other information search/sharing platform is social media sites and forums. Medical and Dental students have long used Student Doctor Network as a primary source for learning about topics such as application process, interview tips, etc. Other valuable forums include our very own OneVietnam Network.
Let us know how your search experience has been and if you’ve discovered other “best practices”!