Do you know what a search engine is and how to use it? Do you know how to use key words in order to find the information you are looking for with the internet? These are both important parts of doing research online. Thanks to the World Wide Web you no longer need to leave your home (provided you have a computer and an internet connection) to find the information you need for a paper or other school project. Yet even though you may have a computer at home it doesn't mean you know how to effectively and safely use it when researching. This guide will provide you with all the important information you need to know to help you to use the internet for research.

Choosing a Search Engine

What exactly is a search engine? It is a website you visit that “searches” for certain words (key words) throughout the World Wide Web and provides a list of websites, documents and/or images that have the words. Unfortunately there are some bad web sites on the internet that contain information or images that are not appropriate for children to read about or to see. How can a child using the internet be protected from these bad sites? Child-friendly search engines have been developed that actually filter out the inappropriate sites for you and only allow children to visit sites only that have been screened and found to meet certain standards. These search engines can even filter out sites that contain too much adult advertising. There are many kid-friendly search engines that are fun, good for research and safe for children of any age. “Ask Kids” is a child-friendly search engine which offers three main categories including: movies, games and answers. For example, if you select games it will provide you with numerous free online (and kid-friendly) games and list video game sites that are also kid-friendly. Another good search engine for children is “Yahoo! Kids” which features many fun categories to choose from such as horoscope, games, jokes and Ask Earl. A third great child-friendly search engine is “Kids Click!” which offers many categories to choose from such as weird & mysterious, popular entertainment and facts & reference. “Cyber Sleuth Kids” is an excellent child-friendly search engine which provides many categories to choose from. These categories include educational topics such as US History as well as purely fun topics such as games and Sudoku puzzles. “Kid-Friendly Search” is a final fun and colorful site that will offer you web site choices for different categories. For example if you select science it will provide you with child-friendly science sites such as “National Geographic Kids” and “Discovery Kids.”

Entering Search Terms

What are “key words” and why are they so important? Key words are the specific terms (or words) that you use in order to search for something on the internet. For example, if you need to know how to build a rocket for a school project you could type in the key words “how to build a rocket.” Other possible key words could be “rocket building” or “design a rocket.” Different key words will bring you different results. Sometimes when you are searching the internet it helps to be as specific as you can with your key words. You can also begin with a more general search and then narrow down your search. If you were writing a paper on heroes of World War II, you could begin your search with World War II. As you look through the articles that are given you search for names of people who did great things during the war. This then leads you to search for specific information on each important individual. When you don't find what you are searching for you can try changing the order of the words or possibly using different words.

Web Site Descriptions

When you search for information on a certain topic you are provided with a list of web sites that are in some way related to the topic. Each website has a title and a brief description of the site underneath it. The description briefly tells you what the site is about. For example, if you search for “good dogs for kids,” you are given many sites to choose from that relate to the subject. The top title is “Dog Breeds Good With Children” and the description explains that the site provides a list of dog breeds that are good with children. It also states that all dog breeds can be good with children. Typically the titles at the top of the page are the most closely related to your key words. When you enter a site where you want to use it as a resource for your project be sure to look for the date the information was published. If you are searching for a craft idea, for example, the date published may not really be necessary. Yet if you are seeking current, reliable information on a subject it is a good idea to find the date published. This date can often be found at either the top or bottom of a page.

Choosing & Evaluating a Web Site

How do you know if the web site you are looking at is a good and reputable site? How can you be sure the information on the site is correct or true? It is very important when you do research to make sure that the site you are using is considered an “authoritative” source. An authoritative source means it is considered an expert or official source regarding the subject matter. Most sites with URL's that end in .edu or include k12 and end in .us tend to be good educational sites to use. Sites that end in .gov tend to be reputable government sites. If the web site has a section (typically found at the top) called “About Us,” “Background,” “Biography,” “Philosophy” or something similar it is helpful to read it. These sections can provide you with information on the expertise of the author. Also if there are links anywhere on the page take a look at them. Are they reputable or questionable? Good or bad? Check to see if the author of the document states where he or she got the information from. Were the sources cited? As stated above make sure you find out when the information was published or last updated. Is the information current? Finally has the site won any awards? If the answer is yes, it is probably a very good site.

Plagiarism

Basically plagiarism is copying the words or ideas of another person and claiming that they are your own. It is considered a form of cheating. How can you use another person's ideas without committing plagiarism? You need to cite your sources and put the ideas into your own words. Citing sources means naming the source. If a bibliography is required by a teacher you need to list the author's name, title of the article and the date it was published. Many schools take plagiarism very seriously. It is possible that you could get suspended if you are involved in plagiarism. At the very least you would most likely fail the assignment. In college you can even be expelled for plagiarism depending on your school's policies.

Kids Health offers an excellent checklist to keep you from committing plagiarism. The list includes the following steps: list any and all research sources that you use such as websites, books and articles; write down exactly which information came from which source; if you copy a sentence exactly be sure to put quotation marks around it; even if you borrow another person's ideas be sure to write them in your own words and still credit your original source; and if you have any questions about how to cite sources or whether you need to list a source be sure to ask your teacher.

Beware

The World Wide Web is an amazing tool for research that allows people to quickly and easily access information which in the past they would have had to search long and hard for in a library. Yet not everything on the internet is suitable or appropriate for children to see or read and sometimes the information is even incorrect. A good web site will focus on the topic you are researching and will not be filled with advertisements for products and services. Beware of scams where they really want you to buy something instead of offer you reputable information. A good website is not trying to sell you something but instead wants to provide you with valid information. The child-friendly search engines will not only help you to find the sites that are kid-friendly but also sites that have little or no advertisements on them.