First, distinguish between a vague category search (looking for a college in southern California -- you can`t remember the name of it), a need for the answer to a common question (who was president of the US in 1844? what is the tallest mountain in the Western Hemisphere?), and detailed background information on a specific topic (need for and side effects of splenectomy -- removal of the spleen).
For a category search, you should use a directory rather than a search engine -- e.g., Yahoo, Open Directory (http://dmoz.org), or LookSmart. Browse through their cascading menus looking for the clues you need to
prompt you and help hone in on what you really want.
For answers to questions, go to AskJeeves. Simply type in your questions, in ordinary English. Then choose among the related options they show you in the first-level results.
For detailed info on a specific topic, use a full-text search engine, such as Google, AltaVista, AlltheWeb, Excite, Hotbot, etc. Don`t just type in one or two words. Rather enter every word and phrase that you can think of that is directly related to your target topic. Enclose the phrases in quotation marks (some search engines, like AltaVista will then look for those particular words in that particular order). Pages on which all those words and phrases appear should come out on the top of your list of matches.
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