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Journalism - FIGs: Finding & Evaluating Information

Finding Information Using Search Engines

Understand how search engines work and evaluate the information they retrieve.

  • Internet search engines are used to pull information from the vast amount of content on the Web. 
  • Search engines use complex algorithms, "spiders" or automated program "crawlers" that search Web pages for words to index.  Google assigns a page rank and presents the information on a search engine results page (SERP). 

Google uses:

  • An algorithm based on keywords and their placement.
  • A PageRank system that is based on "link quality."
  • Customization based on searchers' previous Internet activity.
  • A set of customized search tools.

Google Search Results and PageRank System

An important feature of Google's algorithm is its PageRank System which assigns a score to every search result. The higher the score, the further up the results will appear.

PageRank scores are determined by:

  • Placement and number of keywords.
  • The number and quality of web pages linking to the target page.
  • The number of links on the page.
  • Longevity of the site.
  • Strength of the domain name.

Web personalization and the "Filter Bubble" -  a term coined by Internet activist Eli Pariser in his book by the same name:

Describes a phenomenon in which search engines use algorithms to selectively guess what information a user would like to see, based on information about the user (such as location, past click behavior and search history).

The search engine results page (SERP) tends to present links to information agreeing with the user's past viewpoint, effectively isolating the user in a "bubble" that tends to exclude contrary information.

Guide to Google

Google Advanced Search Tools

Specialized and Alternative Search Engines

Wolfram|Alpha is a computational knowledge base that retrieves dynamically computed results with source citations. 

Search Engines Without Personalization Features (They do not track you)

DuckDuckGo claims that their search engine does not track or personalize and provides source icons next to search results.

Search Encrypt is a privacy search engine that claims to be more private than DuckDuckGo.

Startpage (by Ixquick) does not collect personal information, is a metasearch engine with an international phone directory and video content.

You probably have a "favorite" search engine, one that allows you to gather information more efficiently and effectively than others.  It is important to know that there are several search engines and each one gathers and displays retrieved information differently. 

Search strategically by placing key concept terms in order of their importance, and to learn to exploit the features of each search engine. Exploit advanced search features and tools.


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Vera Elwood
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103A Reynolds Journalism Institute
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