Web directories are designed for users seeking information on a wide topic or subject area: "rock music industry," "Winston Churchill," "The Boer War." Web directories present users with a menu of broad subjects. Users select the subject category that covers their particular area of interest, then select links to sub-menus closer to their topics until they find links to relevant resources.
Menu-driven Web directories, like Yahoo! and The Argus Clearinghouse, have the advantage over search engines that they are assembled by teams of editors who specialize in the available subjects. Where keyword searches can sometimes make the user sort through thousands of links, with a very low ratio of results close to what the user is actually looking for, Web directories can often point users to relevant information with just a few menu selections. Though there is no guarantee that every site linked to a Web directory will be accurate and relevant, the odds of finding irrelevant information in a Web directory is much lower than in the results of a Web search engine.
The distinction between Web directories and search engines is becoming weaker all the time, however. Yahoo!, one of the first directories on the Web, has always offered users the option of searching by keyword. Web search engines like Lycos and Infoseek, have now retro-fitted their sites to give users the choice to browse links by subject. Excite blurs the categories even further by offering topical searches and links to "related" pages with their search results.
More detailed information about the three recommended Web directories follows. Go directly to these sites by selecting the appropriate link in the bottom frame of the window.
Whenever I have ventured out into the world of search engines and directories, I always find myself drawn back to Yahoo!. Yahoo! is still the easiest directory to use. Although it has a smaller database than the major search engines, I can usually count on Yahoo! to produce a list of the essential sites.
The real advantage of Yahoo! is that it mixes hierarchical subject menus and keyword search capabilities. The most effective way to use Yahoo! is to start by selecting a subject link from the front page, then select links until you find a sub-topic menu close to your research topic. Then, enter a word or phrase in the "Search" box, hit the "search within" radio button, then hit the search button to focus in on a particular topic.
Another way to use Yahoo! is to begin with a keyword search, then browse the subject categories that appear at the top of the results page until you find pertinent information.
One advantage that "true" search engines have over Yahoo! is that many of them can search for keywords within the content of a Web page, where Yahoo! just searches by title and subject. This is why it is important to combine the results of a Yahoo! search with results from other search engines.
Before searching Yahoo!, read their help file.
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The Argus Clearinghouse is a directory of Web directories. By choosing a subject area from the main menu; then navigating subject, topic, and sub-topic menus; you can find links to independent directories that pertain to your topic.
The Clearinghouse has an editorial staff to make sure that the site contains links to only to the best available Web directories. Though it may not have as many links as Yahoo!, the sites available through the Clearinghouse will be more likely to lead to reliable sources because they are all hand-picked by specialists in the field.
Before browsing The Argus Clearinghouse, read their FAQ list and read about their rating system.
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Excite is actually a search engine, but it is one that can do sophisticated "concept" searches, and it can search for pages "related" to ones that come up in the results of a keyword search. These features make it worthwhile to check Excite before moving on to other search tools. If you have a vague topic, Excite may be able to point you toward a list of pages that will help focus the topic. If your topic is too focused, Excite may be able to provide a list of related pages that will widen your view.
To search for a concept, just put in the main keywords. Using one of our example topics, "the ethics of mandatory drug testing of high school athletes," we would type "drug testing high school athletes" into the search box. The results of an Excite search are presented by statistical relevance: the documents that have the most occurrences of your terms or concept will appear at the top of the list.
Read these search tips before performing a search with Excite.
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