Bacal's Key Rules to Effective Searching

2005-06 Guide to Internet Research:
Bacal’s Key Rules to Effective Searching
By Glenn S. Bacal, J.D., M.B.A

Revised 2004
©2004 Version Glenn S. Bacal

The following are my 10 key rules for effective searching.

Rule 1: Know Your Engine

Spend the time to read the information provided about each search engine’s methodology. Otherwise you will end up with less-than-useful search strategies and search results because

Time permitting, try to conduct your search with more than one search engine to confirm the results. A list of some of the most popular search engines is included in Appendix 1.

Rule 2: Keep Notes While You Search

You should keep notes while you’re searching because it is possible that in the course of your search you may get bumped off the Internet and may have to reconnect. Keep track of your favorite sites—they may be good starting points. Realize that hundreds of new sites are being added daily, so be sure to check "What’s New" in your favorite search engines from time to time. You can and should keep a record of where you’ve been by making "bookmarks" of useful sites while researching. That will allow you to find your way back quickly if you do get bumped off by the service, or at a later research session. But remember to edit your bookmarks on a regular basis. While bookmarks can be one of the most useful tools for Internet searching, an unorganized, randomly gathered list of sites can be a source of frustration. Also be sure to learn all about how the bookmark system for your Internet service works, in order to take advantage of shortcuts.

Rule 3: Choose Newsgroups Carefully

Find and subscribe to only a few focused newsgroups. Although usenet groups are intended to be electronic bulletin boards for posting and gathering useful information, the fact is that most of them are a waste of time and the newsgroup e-mails could clog your mailbox. Use those groups only to raise your own narrowly targeted questions, rather than to review the usually random thoughts of others. What’s On The Internet, an Internet Media publication, has a very extensive list of usenet groups. Appendix 2 to this article lists some newsgroups and some good legal sites for selected areas of the law.

Rule 4: Read About the Internet Before You Go On

Get at least two recent resource books on the Internet. What I mean by "recent" is that you should check on the ABA’s list of law related Internet books and newsletters (http://www.abanet.org/lpm/magazine/booklist.html) every four to six months to find out what is currently available. The books that are coming out about the Internet are multiplying exponentially each month. Two comprehensive books for lawyers regarding the Internet are The Internet Fact Finder for Lawyers: How to Find Anything on the Net by Joshua Blackman with David Jonk (see http://internetlawyer.com/) and Law, Law, Law on the Internet: The Best Legal Web Sites and More by Gale J. Hells and Richard P. Lau (http://www.abanet.org/lpm/catalog/511-0400.asp). An excellent bibliography of law related resources on the net is The Internet Guide For The Legal Researcher, 2nd Edition by Don MacLeod. The "Law on the Internet Booklist", a list of law-related Internet books and newsletters is also useful (http://www.abanet.org/lpm/magazine/booklist.asp). Some other books on the Internet are listed in Appendix 3.

Rule 5: Read About Your Browser

Buy several books regarding the particular Internet browser which you are using whether it be Netscape or Internet Explorer or whatever (such as Que’s Using Netscape). There are differences in the way that each of those browsers interfaces with the Internet; by learning the tricks of the software, you’ll be able to save time and increase your efficiency. Note that there is an increasing use of "Frames" and other formatting features at sites; these features may not be fully accessible using earlier versions of Internet browsers.

Rule 6: Subscribe to at Least One Internet-related Magazine

This will keep you up-to-date on at least some of the latest developments; new magazines appear every month. A list of some Internet-related magazines is attached as Appendix 4. Patronize your local newsstand from time to time, rather than rely exclusively on publications through the Internet sites. Remember that the Internet is an optometrist’s dream: no matter how good your computer is, your eyes can only take so much. You will still want to have hard copies of information available, whether through downloading documents off of the Internet or by subscribing to magazines or periodicals. One problem with downloading is finding the information later; in that regard, hard copies of magazines are usually easier to keep track of. Remember also that the Internet versions of any magazines available on newsstands tend to be moderately to heavily abridged. Sometimes you need the full story. Also, each week in the local newspaper there usually is a column, no matter where you live, devoted to the Internet. Sometimes these articles provide useful tips on hot sites, especially ones of local interest.

Rule 7: Get a Reliable Internet Connection

Content providers like America Online, who also provide an Internet connection, are becoming easier to use and more reliable of late. There can also be some useful business information found on content providers like America Online. But these extra offerings can also provide a distraction for a researcher.

In my view, a heavy user of the Internet will usually opt for an Internet direct access provider who may provide more reliable service at a lower monthly fee for unlimited use of the Internet. Those monthly fees can still vary, so you might do some comparison shopping before committing.

Rule 8: Use Adequate Hardware and Be Aware of Security Issues

The faster the connection, the better. There are only so many useful things that you can do while waiting for a site to download and if you’re conducting a search in the course of your workday, or if you’re conducting a search just before to going to sleep at night, you’ll want to get the search results as quickly as possible. If your firm is connected to the Internet through its network, rather than through individual modems on personal computers, that could provide even faster access to sites. Cable and other high-speed connections are now widely available and affordable. The virtually instant download of websites provides a huge timesaving.

Ease of use through high speed wireless connections should be tempered by considerations of security. While performing sensitive research, one should not be in a wireless environment that could be susceptible to snooping.

Rule 9: Find a Computer Professional To Help You

A computer professional can help you from time to time with technical questions that are likely to be beyond your own expertise, and to help you fine tune your computer for Internet applications. In the long run, that will save you lots of time and aggravation. Relying exclusively on help lines provided by software and hardware companies for technical assistance can be tedious and time-consuming.

Rule 10: Don’t Be Intimidated by Anything or Anyone

We're all learning new things everyday. Remember that many of the first ones to dive in always prefer to tell others that the water is infested with sharks to keep the pool less crowded. The Internet appears limitless, but keep in mind that it is still a man-made pool, not an ocean. It is large and growing, but it is becoming more and more manageable every year. It is an imperfect tool, but it has already become nearly indispensable, something that is used virtually everyday.

Jennings Strouss & Salmon

APPENDIX 1: List of Some of the Most Useful Sites for Lawyers

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