6.7 The World Wide Web

The World Wide Web (www or web for short) is one of the most popular features of the Internet. It is made up of millions of ‘pages’ of information. A web page is one document or file of information, which can contain text, pictures, and sound. It is possible to move from one page to another by clicking on certain words, phrases or graphics that are usually highlighted and underlined. These are known as ‘hyper-text links’. They lead the viewer to related pages on the web.

The World Wide Web provides access to a vast amount of information on all kinds of topics. More and more organisations display information about their products and services on their website. Other useful facilities for resource centres include searching databases and accessing electronic journals and newsletters.

Example of a web newsletter

A website is a number of pages displayed by the same host computer. Each website has its own address or URL (uniform resource locator). An example of a typical web address is: http://www.healthlink.org.uk

http:// = the transfer protocol which tells the web browser that it is connecting to the Web
www.healthlink.org.uk: = the domain name of the computer where the information is stored
org = shows that it is an organisation
uk = country code showing which country the site is registered in

6.7.1 How to find information on the web

The range of information available makes the web an exciting tool. However, it also makes it difficult to find exactly what you are looking for, and to know that the information is reliable. There are several ways of finding information on the web – by typing in a web address, following a link from another site, or using search tools.

Typing in a web address
If you know the exact address of the website or page, type this into the location or address box.

Following a recommended link from another site
Many sites include a list of recommended links to related resources on the web. You can save a lot of time looking around the web by starting from a reliable site and following the links provided. Someone will have already looked at a wide range of resources and included only those that seem useful. Examples of recommended websites are included in Section 6.9.1.

Using the search tools
There are a number of search tools on the web, known as ‘search engines’ or ‘search directories’. These allow you to search the web for a particular word or combination of words appearing in a website. The search engine or directory will look through the web and display the addresses of those sites containing the word or words selected. These are often listed in order of relevance, with those the search engine thinks are most relevant appearing first.

Each search engine includes instructions on how to search effectively. Take time to read these before you start. All search engines are slightly different and some include more advanced features allowing you to search for a whole phrase, use Boolean terms such as AND, OR, or NOT to combine words, or automatically look for words with the same meaning. Therefore, if you don’t find what you’re looking for, it is worth trying another one.

Advice about searching the web, and a comparison of the various search engines is available at: http://www.searchenginewatch.com 

Recommended search engines include:

All The Web http://www.alltheweb.com
Google http://www.google.com
Lycos http://www.lycos.com
MSN http://www.msn.com/en-gb
Yahoo http://www.yahoo.com

Some search engines are also known as search directories. A search directory is organised into subject areas, allowing you to search just those sites related to a specific subject, rather than the whole web. Often, the sites included within the directory have been assessed and selected by subject specialists; sometimes this is a service that larger organisations pay for. Using a search directory can produce more accurate results. Of those listed above, Yahoo and MSN Search are directories.

There are also multiple search engines, sometimes known as ‘meta’ search engines, which search across a number of search engines at the same time. This can save you time, however, a meta search engine can only use those search features that all of the search engines it covers have in common and therefore only perform the most basic kind of search. Meta search engines are particularly useful for broad and shallow searches, for assessing keywords quickly, and for getting familiar with the individual search engines that they cover. Examples are:

Ithaki http://www.ithaki.net/indexu.htm
Zoo http://www.zoo.com/Zoo-Site/ 
Fazzle http://www.fazzle.com 
IBM Watson Explorer http://www.ibm.com/smarterplanet/us/en/ibmwatson/explorer.html

6.7.2 How to evaluate information on the web

There is a vast amount of information available on the web from all kinds of sources. Anyone can put a document on the web, unlike printed material, which has usually been edited or reviewed. It is sometimes difficult to know how accurate or reliable information on the web is. You need to consider:

  • Who has provided the information? Do you or others within that field know of them? Are they known to be accurate, reliable and professional?
  • Who has the information been provided for? Are the content and language appropriate for the audience?
  • Are sources and references given? If claims and statistics are presented, are the sources reliable? Is there a bias present, and if so, is it stated?
  • Is the site up to date

6.7.3 Internet databases 

Increasingly, databases are becoming available free of charge on the Internet. These databases can be less straightforward and accurate to search than CD-ROM, though, they are becoming easier to use as Internet technology improves. They also incur telephone costs and there is a risk of being disconnected if telephone lines are poor. However, Internet databases can be a valuable source of information if CD-ROMs are not available.

For example, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) has put all the major commercial databases on their website, so that they can be searched free of charge. Source’s bibliographic database is available free of charge from the website. For more information see Section 6.9.6.

6.7.4 Electronic journals and newsletters

Many journals and newsletters are now available in electronic format on the web, as well as, or instead of, in printed format. Some are available free of charge in full text, where the whole of each article can be read, printed or downloaded to disk. For others, only the contents pages of issues and abstracts of each article are available free of charge, and a subscription needs to be paid to view the complete articles.

The advantages of electronic journals or newsletters are:

  • They can be searched by keyword or subject as well as by title, author, date and issue number, allowing users to find a specific article without knowing the complete reference.
  • Articles can be printed off and read at users’ own convenience.
  • Articles can be saved to file to allow sections to be incorporated into other documents.
  • References within the articles can be given with the full web address to lead readers to the source.
  • A current annual subscription may give access to back issues of journals – though if the subscription has expired, access to the back issue may be lost.
  • A journal website might include more than the articles themselves. For instance, the British Medical Journal website includes discussion groups, more in-depth articles, and readers’ comments that are only available on the site.

Some electronic publications may appear on a website as PDF files. See ‘Portable Document Format (PDF)’ in Section 6.3 for more information on creating and viewing PDF files.

For examples of electronic journals and newsletters, see Section 6.9.2.

6.7.5 How to access the World Wide Web via e-mail

It is possible to access web pages even without a full Internet connection. GetWeb, developed by SATELLIFE in the USA, is one of a number of services now available which allow you to request and receive the text only of web pages through a simple exchange of e-mail messages. You need to know the exact web address of the page or pages which you wish to access.

To use GetWeb, send an e-mail message to:


Type GET followed by the web page address in the text of your message (leave the subject line empty). For example:

GET http://www.healthnet.org

The text only of this page will automatically be e-mailed to you.

You can request more than one web page at a time by beginning the message with the command begin and completing it with the command end. For example, to request three web pages, you might send the following message:


GET http://www.procaare.org
GET http://www.promed.org
GET http://www.edrug.org