Browsing and Keyword Searching

Approaches to Searching
       Therefore, rather then dwelling on specific terms, let's look at two general approaches to finding information on the web. These approaches can be used to find the same information, however, each one has its advantages and disadvantages. Many search tools now support both approaches. For the duration of this module we will refer to these approaches as "browsing" and "keyword searching", however, as you spend more time on the Internet, you will see many other names for these same approaches and their variations.

Searching by Browsing

       Searching by browsing is a lot like surfing the web. You start out looking at a very wide range of topics and after following six or seven links you have narrowed your attention to a specific web site. If the specific site does not contain the information you are looking for you can back up and focus your attention on a different page. The search tools that support the browsing approach organize the web sites into categories and sub-categories. You start out with the most general categories and work your way through a series of categories until you get to the information you are looking for. Normally this approach implies that you have some background information related to your search and can identify which categories it will belong to.

       For example, you might use the browsing approach to find information on the play "Romeo and Juliet". The top-level category might be "Literature", with a sub-category for "Authors" and so on. See the example below:

top-level category "Literature"
sub-category "Authors"
sub-sub-category "Playwrights"
sub-sub-sub-category "Shakespeare"
sub-sub-sub-sub-category "Romeo and Juliet"

This approach works well for this simple search because the categories were easy to identify and there were a small number of sub-categories.

       Subject Directories, such as Yahoo, are good for this type of searching because they are good at identifying general information. They group web sites together under similar categories, such as Internet Tutorials, English Universities and Paris Museums. The results of your search will be a list of web sites related to the subject you are searching for.

Keyword Searching

       In comparison, keyword searching provides a more direct approach. Most search tools employ a search engine which is a web accessible program that searches a database (index) of words and phrases from web documents, attempting to match key words that you supply. They provide a search entry box where you can enter a word (or, a few words). The tool will then produce a list of resources that contain that word. Occasionally, all of these resources are relevant to the information you were looking for, however, most often only a portion of the list will be relevant. At this point you will have to sort through the list to find the results that contain the information you are looking for. This approach can be much faster than browsing, however, depending on the keywords you select, and the number of "hits" returned, it can be much slower. In addition to sometimes being faster, this approach does not require as much background information. For example, you could use keyword searching to find information about the book "Crime and Punishment" even if you didn't know the author.

       If you are interested in locating the site for the Louvre museum, for instance, you might use the browsing approach. But let's say you want more specific information, such as biographical information about Leonardo da Vinci. A keyword search is the way to go, because all the contents of a website will be searched.