Not All Information is Created Equal
the Web made for Manure?
David Schmidt, MS, PE, Assistant Extension
Michele Schermann, RN, Extension Educator
Deborah Hansen, Senior User Services Specialist
Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, University of Minnesota
All information is not created equal. Today, more information is
available than ever before, and this information is becoming more and more accessible to
people everywhere. Information about manure collection, handling, storage, treatment, and
odor is no exception. Although information about manure is easily found in scientific
journals, the popular press, and various electronic sources, locating quality information
about specific manure issues is not always easy. The World Wide Web brings a vast amount
of information directly to your computer, but of all the information available, it has the
potential to be the least reliable. This paper will focus on techniques for gathering
manure information on the web and evaluating information gathered from any source.
Defining Your Need
"What type of information do I need?" should be your
first question when embarking on an information search. The answer may lead to a variety
of information sources. For example, reliable technical information will most likely be
found in peer-reviewed journal articles or textbooks. Seldom will such information be
available in newsprint or on web sites. In contrast, popular opinion, sales information,
promotional information, and scientific fact sheets will be available in a variety of
formats, including the web. The challenge in finding information on the web is in knowing
where to go to find what you are looking for and then evaluating the quality of that
WWW Searching Overview
A vast amount of information is available through the World Wide
Web. Finding specific and useful information can be time consuming and overwhelming. Key
to efficient and effective searches is the use of search engines or search directories.
Search engines use "spiders" or "bots" to troll the Web collecting
information on all web sites. This information is then put into searchable databases made
available by the specific search provider. Alta Vista, Excite, Infoseek, Lycos and Hot Bot
are some common search engines available to web users. (See Table 1 for the web addresses
of some search engines.) Search directories, in contrast, are searchable databases created
manually by people. All information in these databases has been screened and categorized.
Typically you will get fewer accurate "hits" when using search directories.
There may also be a risk of missing some of the web sites that may have information you
are looking for.
Start Your Engine!
Conducting a search with any search engine or directory begins by
entering keywords. Keyword selection is the most important aspect of any search. It is
essential to list more than one keyword, and to choose keywords that accurately reflect
your interest. Although you may be interested in manure, a key word search for manure may
bring as many as 50,000 "hits." Not all of these hits will have much of anything
to do with manure since search engines list all documents that have that key word printed
anywhere in the document. For example, a keyword search for pfisteria, an organism living
in nutrient-rich waters on the east coast that causes human health problems, listed a
document from the "Seinfeld" TV show fan club page. Somewhere in the Seinfeld
document there was a reference to all the problems in the world, and pfisteria was
A search returning more than 100 hits should be narrowed. You can do
this by providing additional key words or key phrases. For example if you are looking for
"odors" from "manure" your keyword list should contain both
"manure" and "odor." However, making a search engine search for both
"manure" and "odor" may require more than typing in both words. This
is where it is important to recognize that there are differences in how search engines
search. Some search engines default to a search that requires all the keywords listed to
be in the document. Other search engines require you to key in a specific command to
ensure that all your document contain both "manure" and "odor."
Following are some common commands that can be used when searching. Remember that these
commands may differ between search engines. All search engines contain a help page that
you should review to learn its syntax.
Adding a plus sign (+) directly in front of a word, or typing the
word "and," will retrieve all documents containing those words. If you search
for +manure +odor, you will be sure to get documents containing the words manure and odor.
Both words must contain the plus sign and the plus sign must be directly in front of the
word (no spaces). If the search allows the use of the word "and,"
"and" must be typed between the two words you are searching, e.g. manure and
odor. Note that some search engines require "AND" to be in capital letters,
other searches automatically default to the "and" mode. (Check the help page for
that particular search engine.)
Must Not Contain
If you type a minus sign directly in front of a word or type the
words "and not" or "not" the search engine will exclude documents
containing that word. A search for +manure -swine will limit your searches to all
documents that contain the word manure and don't have the word swine.
Must be Exactly Like
Search for exact phrases by placing the desired phrase between
double quotation marks. A search containing the phrase "manure application" will
retrieve documents containing the exact phrase "manure application." This
feature will also allow you to search for case sensitivity in documents, e.g. Manure vs.
manure. You can also combine exact phrases with single keywords, for example +odor +
"manure application". Note that some search engines default to case sensitive
searches, others do not.
Conducting Advanced Searches
Each search engine offers several advanced search features. These
features can be extremely helpful if used properly. Some advanced search features offered
include sorting of the retrieved documents by website, searching by website, searching by
date, searching only document titles, searching within a website, and ranking retrieved
documents by similarity to keyword request. Be sure to read the on-line help for the
search engine you are using, since there are differences between all the engines.
Pick and Stick
Each search engine has unique features. Spend some time getting
familiar with the basic features of five or six search engines, then choose one or two as
your primary search engines. Choose the search engine that is the most user-friendly to
you. If you learn to use all the features of your primary search engines, you will find
information quickly and have a better chance of finding the information you are looking
for. When looking for hard-to-find, obscure information, try more than one search engine
since each will give you different results.
Use as many keywords or key phrases as possible. While you might
find that you have made the search too narrow, it is easy to remove a keyword and expand
the search. Be as specific as possible with your choice of keywords. Use words that are
unique to the topic and be sure to spell them correctly. The old adage, "garbage in,
garbage out" applies to information retrieval as well as to computer programming and
data analysis. Check the help section of the search engine you are using to be sure to use
the correct syntax (and, AND, + or " ") so that all the terms are included in
the search. Also, be open-minded about your search terms. A search for feedlot and manure
will give different results than a search for livestock and manure. Try your searches
several different ways to find what best fits your needs.
More is not always better
Six search engines were used to find sites with the words manure,
odor, manure and odor, and "manure application." Results of the searches are
shown in Table 2. Four of the six searches returned far too many pages to be reviewed
manually. The first ten web site listings from each search differed significantly from
each other. A very valuable odor page, Clemson University's odor fact sheet (http://hubcap.clemson.edu/~blpprt/odor_1.html),
appeared in the first ten listings of the Hot Bot search but did not show up in the first
ten listings of any of the other five search engines. Adding more keywords and using more
than one search engine will help ensure that your search results in success.
Let someone else do the work
Many websites are now dedicated to keeping track of information
specific to a particular topic. These pages can be very useful since the websites listed
are usually organized and often have been screened for content. Such sites are available
on a variety of topics, including manure. One site devoted to keeping track of manure
information is the University of Minnesota's manure website (http://www.bae.umn.edu/extens/manure/manure.html).
This site lists some key manure websites and manure fact sheets from Universities
throughout the United States.
Evaluating Web Information
More and more information is available to everyone with less and
less effort required to gather that information. Time saved in gathering information can
easily be offset by the effort needed to evaluate the content of that information.
Documents can be placed on the web without oversight from anyone. (Although it is easy to
single out the web, it is important to note that documents from any source should be read
with a critical eye.) Several web sites are dedicated to teaching web users how to
evaluate the content of web pages. Many of these sites are listed at http://www.ithaca.edu/library/Training/hott.html.
Other fictitious web sites have been created to keep you on guard against bogus documents.
If you are seeking factual information, the following tips may be useful in evaluating the
content of the web pages.
Is the web page sponsored by "someone you can trust?"
Because there are several reasons for publishing on the web, knowing who sponsored the
page will give an indication of whether the information is strictly factual, commercial,
propaganda, or some combination thereof. Web pages can be sponsored by government agencies
(.gov), educational institutions (.edu), commercial companies (com.), non-profit
organizations (.org), and private citizens (typically .com). (NOTE: It is often helpful to
conduct a search that specifies the domain thus excluding sites that may be more
propaganda than fact.) Other indications of sponsorship can be found in the headers or
footers of the document.
Not all documents on the web contain accurate information. If you
find information that cannot be verified by other information sources or other web pages
chances are the information may be meant to serve some other purpose. Grammar and spelling
errors indicate little or no quality control in document preparation. Would you trust a
source whose author can't spel?
Try to determine why the document was placed on the web. Not
everyone publishing on the web wants to present an objective view of a topic. Many
businesses now have a web presence. These pages are trying to sell something and, as with
any advertising campaign, the information presented should be reviewed with caution.
Validity of the information presented might also be linked to the
dates when the page was written. Old documents are not necessarily invalid, but the dates
might give some indication about the upkeep of the website and may determine if the
information is valid for your intended use.
In searching for information on manure, or other topics, there is
the possibility that what you find is accurate, objective, and current, but does not apply
to your particular situation. For example, information about manure application can be
very site-specific. Best management practices for North Carolina may not be recommended in
Minnesota or Iowa. Make sure to use information as it is intended to be used.
A vast amount of information is available on the web. Information
about livestock and manure is no exception. The key is sorting through the vast amount of
information to find accurate information that is specific to your information needs.
Unstructured searches can lead to hours of web exploration without any meaningful results.
Effective web searches are the result of familiarity with one or two search engines,
proper selection of keywords or phrases, and a critical review of the content of the
documents that are found. The web has a significant amount of information available on
manure collection, storage, and land application that is free and at your fingertips. This
information is in the form of fact sheets, government documents, newspaper articles, and
sales literature, and propaganda. Time spent learning how to search properly will pay off
in the form of less time spent searching and more valuable search results.
Table 1. Search engine addresses
Table 2. Web search resultsnumber of hits per
search term for six different search engines.