Using a Pick List

A "pick list", or set of directories and subdirectories used to organize the surrogates, is used by Yahoo, Magellan, and other search engines. These have the advantage of pre-collecting a set of resources about a topic, so if a topic used as a directory heading matches your search topic, these are a quickest and most reliable way to find a starting point for your information.

Using a pick list is very easy. You examine the choices presented to you, and select the one more closely related to your search topic. That will take you to another level of the directory, where you again select the choice most closely related to your topic. You continue this until you find that there is nothing on your topic in that directory, or you find a trove of information. If you hit a "dead end" while searching, don't give up. Use the "BACK" button on your browser to move back a level, and try another choice. If none of the remaining choices fit, go "BACK" another step, and look again. You are done searching a pick list in this fashion when you return to the starting menu and no remaining choices apply to your topic.

Using the type-in box to speed your search

Many of these service will also have a type-in box. These do NOT work the same as the search engines described earlier. They are looking at a much smaller group of information (the directory structure and the descriptions, usually), and thus must be searched differently. You can use these type-in boxes to quickly learn if there are any directories on your topic.

When using one of these boxes, you must keep your searching simple. In this case, type in one term that applies to your topic. If that doesn't find anything, try a synonym. Don't use multiple terms or facets in this case - here you should use this just like you use the yellow pages - you think of a term, and turn to that page. If that's not right, you try another term. Multiple terms or multifaceted entries will just confuse the results on a pick-list search.

In addition, enter your terms in their simplest word forms. Most of these engines will check parts of words for your match. Don't bother with AND, OR or phrases. Just enter one word and hope. These boxes are not designed to be the all-encompassing tools that the other search engines are - don't do anything more than a word at a time.

Disadvantages of a Pick List

After hearing this, it might seem that you always want to use a pick list. After all, they are easier to search and navigate than the large search engines. You don't find the large amount of junk you can find in the engines, and it's a much faster way to get what you want.

The disadvantages focus around the fact that a person is involved in the process, and it's not automated like the search engines. Entries can take months to show up on the directory structure. If you can't guess the term that the organizer picked for the page, you'll have a hard time finding it. Pages that are about multiple topics frequently only get placed in one area, ignoring the other topics of the page. The databases are significantly smaller than the search engines (you count the pages in the pick list in the tens of thousands - you count pages in a search engine in the millions). For any indepth searching or non-mainstream topics, you'll have to use a search engine instead of a pick list.


Pick lists are a great place to start your Internet search, if you can find a matching topic. In those cases, it's a dream come true. If your topic has not been selected as a directory heading, don't spend time searching the directories finding the one or two pages that might be related. Instead, go straight to a search engine and work there. I usually start my searching with a pick list, and move on to a search engine if needed.

Ready for the last section? It's how to Select the Proper Web Database for your Search

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All contents of this page are copyright 1996, 2002 by Scott Nicholson.