STRATEGIES FOR INTERNET RESEARCH
Learn how your favorite research engines operate
There are a number of major Internet search engines. None of them use the same syntax for organizing search requests. Serious researchers are advised to select several, and familiarize themselves with their syntax. For example, on Google you can search for pages that include your search term in their title like this: title:revolution, while on Yahoo the same search is done like this: intitle:revolution. This example only scratches the surface.
Use more than one search engine for important projects
The various search engines do not index the Internet the same way and they do not rank the results of their findings the same way and as previously pointed out, no one engine covers more than a fraction of all the web pages. For this reason, you will want to use more than one. There are "meta search engines" that will send your search request to more than one search engine simultaneously.
Plan your searches
There is no surer way to waste time on Internet legal research than to cast about without a plan. Just as you would with Lexis or Westlaw make sure you:
In drafting a brief, would you cite and rely on the National Enquirer or a high school student's essay to support an important point? It's not that hard to identify and avoid the Internet equivalents. To evaluate the quality of an Internet site as a research tool, consider objectivity, expediency, timeliness, accuracy, authenticity, and scope.
Some considerations: Is the site free or fee based? If it costs, are there any guarantees of quality control? Who is the author/publisher government agency, university, organization, company, law firm, a good hearted individual? What is the source of the data who provided it and in what format? Was the original pagination of paper versions retained? Is there an electronic signature to confirm authorship? What is the date of the web site/document? When was it last modified/updated? Is the document full text, index or abstracts? Is it complete or excerpted? Is the content of the electronic version as accurate as the print? Are there archives? How long is data retained at the web site? Broken links? Ease of navigation? Search mechanisms? How easy is the web site to access? Slow connections? Is information on the site stable? Is there a contact person? Are broken links quickly fixed?
If you have a choice of publishers for a document, choose the originator of the document such as a government agency, international organization or similar source. Rely on documents only where it is possible to verify date, authorship, and other indicia of authenticity.
Genie Tyburski, librarian for the law firm of Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll, has written an excellent guide to evaluating the quality of information on the Internet. This guide is available at http://www.virtualchase.com/quality/checklist.html and has been updated each year since its creation.