Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Expanding Your Internet Search from Your Home or Office

Your search of websites is likely to have produced useful articles and reports that you have been able to download and read. It is also likely to have alerted you to the existence of other articles and reports that you were not able to obtain on the Internet. This is the point when you will need to visit a library (see the next section). On the other hand, you might have found very little of value or you may wish to spend just a little more time searching from your home computer or the one at work. To make the best use of your time, there are three things you might consider doing: (1) making a general search of the Internet using Google or similar search engine, (2) searching the online archives of some large newspapers, and (3) searching some online databases.

Searching the Internet Using Google (www.google.com)

Google is considered the premier search tool on the Internet, featuring not only the best web search engine, but also many additional features such as the ability to search .pdf files. To enter a query into Google, just type in a few descriptive words and hit your "enter" key (or click on the Search button) for a list of relevant web pages. These tend to be listed in order of importance as calculated by the number of links to the site.

† The website's uniform resource locator (URL), which is a standard way of identifying website addresses, provides useful information about the provenance of the site and can help you evaluate the information it contains. The suffixes you are most likely to encounter are: .edu = American educational institution; .org = non-profit organization; .gov = organization of the American government; .com = commercial enterprise; .ac = overseas academic institution. The URL may make use of a two-letter country suffix. Those you are most likely to encounter are: ..au = Australia; .ca = Canada; .nl = Netherlands; .se = Sweden; .uk = United Kingdom.

Because Google only returns web pages that contain all the words in your query, narrowing your search is as simple as adding more words to the search terms that you have already entered. Your new query will return a smaller subset of the pages Google found for your original "too­broad" query. Search for phrases by enclosing them in quotation marks. Words enclosed in double quotes ("problem-oriented policing") will appear together in all results exactly as you have entered them. Google also supports the OR operator. To retrieve pages that include either word A or word B, use an uppercase OR between terms (e.g., auto OR cars OR vehicles).

Google has released a new search tool called Google Scholar (www.scholar.google.com) that enables you to search scholarly literature, including peer-reviewed articles, books, and technical reports. A search might lead you to a citation for an article or book (which you will have to obtain from a library) or sometimes to a full text report.

Another Word of Warning

Unlike scholarly books and journal articles, websites are seldom reviewed or refereed. You need to be critical of the information you use when it comes from the Web, because anyone can make a website that looks expert. In general, rely more heavily on those sites sponsored by colleges and universities, government agencies, and professional organizations.

Online Newspaper Archives

Newspapers sometimes print stories about new forms of crime or accounts of police innovations in controlling a particular problem. Indeed, these stories and accounts might reach the newspapers before they reach the professional or academic journals. Newspapers, especially those with a national readership and high standards of reporting, can therefore sometimes be the best source of up-to-date information. These newspapers generally provide free online access to their archives of past issues, although you may need to register first. Some examples are the San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Chicago Tribune.

Online Databases Requiring a Fee

There are some useful databases that can be searched from your office or home computer, but to use them properly you will have to pay a fee. This can sometimes be a useful alternative to visiting a library (where you can often access the databases without charge).

  • Questia (www.questia.com) is an online library offering the full text and images of scholarly books, journals, magazines, and newspaper articles in the humanities and social sciences. You can search the collection at no cost, but if you need access to the full text of any document you must purchase a subscription to the service.
  • Ingenta (www.ingenta.com) is a searchable database of more than 11 million citations from over 25,000 publications. Electronic, fax, and pay-per-view document delivery is available for many of the articles.
  • PsycINFO (www.apa.org/psycinfo) contains abstracts of journal articles, dissertations, technical reports, and English-language chapters and books in psychology and related disciplines such as sociology, education, law, psychiatry, and anthropology. It includes coverage of several criminal justice periodicals. It is available in college or university libraries and in large public libraries, but it also offers a pay-as-you-go option that provides access to the database for a 24-hour period. During that time period you may view, print, and download records. Because PsycINFO is an abstract database, it does not have the full text of the articles. You may be able to purchase some of the articles for a fee, but you will probably need to visit your local library for assistance in locating the articles you have selected.