Power Search Tips and Techniques for Financial Professionals

Jim KaplanPower Search Tips and Techniques for Financial Professionals
Presented by Jim Kaplan, CIA, CFE, CSM
Webmaster and Founder of AuditNet
Contact Jim at editor@auditnet.org

June 5, 2001

Visit the AccountingWEB Workshop Calendar for upcoming sessions.


Summary

Search skills are one of the core competencies for professional digital literacy. Financial professionals must have the ability to effectively and efficiently search and locate information on the Internet. Sometimes these searches are more like hunting for buried treasure without a map. I will act as your search guide and provide you with some tips and tricks that will lead you to the right strategies to find your information treasures.

Specifically, the workshop covered:

  • AuditNet strategies for finding information;
  • Search jewels for finding buried information;
  • How to use meta-information for finding elusive information;
  • Basic Web design techniques that will make you a better searcher.

The complete transcript of this workshop is available below.


June 5, 2001 Session Sponsored by: National Payment Corporation

National Payment Corporation


Workshop Transcript

Session Moderator: Welcome everyone, and thank you for joining us today! I'm happy to introduce Jim Kaplan, who will be presenting a workshop on power search tips and techniques for financial professionals.

Jim is the Webmaster for AuditNet, and is the Audit Director for one of the largest school districts in the United States. He has a Master of Science in Accounting from The American University in Washington, D.C. He is a member of the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA), the National Association of Local Government Auditors (NALGA), and the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.

From 1989 to 1995 he served as a contributing editor for The Internal Auditor, the professional journal of the IIA, and his column, Computers and Auditing (formerly PC Exchange), covered ways in which auditors used computers. His articles have appeared in the Internet Bulletin for CPAs and Internal Auditing Alert. He is the author of The Auditor's Guide to Internet Resources, 2nd Edition, published by the Institute of Internal Auditors, Inc.

I'd also like to take a moment to thank National Payment Corporation for sponsoring today's workshop. You can find out more about National Payment Corporation by clicking on the banner at the top of the screen.

Session Moderator: Welcome Jim - the floor is yours!

Jim Kaplan: Thanks Gail, Hello everyone and thank you for joining us today. The topic we'll be discussing is Internet search tips and techniques for financial professionals.

The true benefit of workshops like these is the opportunity to share. If you have questions as I cover the material please feel free to jump right in!

To open the discussion I would like to provide a quote from Paul Gilster, one of my favorite Internet authors. "It's common knowledge that the Internet is the world's largest and fastest growing storehouse of digital information. But locating information on the net is not an easy matter. Internet users trying to track down a document or a database are confronted with an overwhelming mass of data, a sometimes obscure and always changing electronic landscape, and a bewildering array of tools for taking stock of and organizing what's 'out there.'"

Have you been able to find what you are looking for and did you find it quickly? About half of my seminar attendees answer yes to the first question and no to the second. Search skills are one of the core competencies for professional digital literacy. Financial professionals must have the ability to effectively and efficiently search and locate information on the Internet. Sometimes these searches are more like hunting for buried treasure without a map.

Today, I will act as your search guide and provide you with some tips and tricks that will lead you to strategies to find your information treasures.

Specifically I will provide you with:

  1. Strategies for finding information;
  2. Search jewels for finding buried information;
  3. Using meta-information for finding elusive information;
  4. Basic Web design techniques that will make you a better searcher.

I see a few familiar names but for those of you that don't know me I am the Webmaster for AuditNet, an Internet based clearinghouse and resource for auditors and accountants. The research skills I acquired are closely associated with AudioNet's development as I searched and sought out information resources for financial professionals.

AudioNet's motto is Auditors Sharing Knowledge for Progress or ASK for Progress. It is supported by sponsors (advertisers) and maintained and operated by me. It could not however exist without the support of a global network of auditors, accountants and financial professionals that have found value in what AuditNet offers. As a result, AuditNet users from all over the world come back continually to contribute and share their knowledge and experience for the benefit of all. AuditNet and its resources are free to all that visit the site.

So much for the commercial portion of this workshop. Let's now turn to the issue at-hand, which is what is the best way for you to find the information you are looking for? According to Paul Gilster in his groundbreaking book, Digital Literacy, search skills are one of the core competencies that we need to circumnavigate the digital world. While search skills are necessary, we do have some barriers to overcome.

The Search Dilemma

The virtual library is not like the traditional library. There is no comprehensive listing or card catalog of what is available on the Internet. Following are some of the reasons financial professionals have difficulty finding information on the Internet:

  • The Internet was designed as a communication medium not an information repository or database.
  • The Internet is constantly changing creating an endless stream of new Web pages.
  • A card catalog of what is available on the Internet is nonexistent.
  • Limited bibliographic control, no language control.
  • No one has established a uniform indexing system for the Internet.
  • The nature of Web page authorship (misinformation and disinformation). Anyone with server access can put information on the Web.
  • Additionally Many financial professionals:
    • Do not have the time for detailed searches.
    • Use the wrong search strategy
    • Do not look in the right places
    • Use the wrong tools for the search
    • Use the wrong words to structure the search query
    • Do not use meta-information effectively

The information you seek is out there somewhere in cyberspace but it is useless unless you can find it when you need it. Search skills represent the key to unlocking information contained on the Internet. There are many different strategies for finding information on the Internet. However most people do not use a strategy but rather use a search surfing methodology. Surfing for information is hit or miss and can lead to wasted time and energy.

I find the following steps helpful in conducting searches.

  • Define your objective – what is it that you are looking for?
  • Use the appropriate terminology – saying things right can help when you are searching.
  • Use the appropriate tool – oto e-mail, otm discussion group, search engine (by the way, oto is one to one and otm is one to many)
  • Refine your search ? revisit the terms used, tools used and results.
  • Save the results using bookmarks
  • Evaluate the results

Any questions before I give you some examples of power search strategies?

OK then let's continue.

There are many different strategies available for finding information on the Internet. The following are some power strategies that may help you.

  • Use the Right Tools – some search tools and techniques are more effective in certain situations than others. Take some time to make sure that the tool you are using is the most effective for the information you seek.
  • Use the Tools Right – learn all you can about the specific tools that you have selected for your search. Different search engines have distinguishing features that make them more powerful. Some of those features include:
    • Help Feature – Search engines are very flexible in constructing your query. This helps you focus on specific criteria that you define for your search. Some examples include:
    • Boolean Searching – Boolean searching is an implementation of Boolean logic and set theory. Boolean operators, such as AND, OR and NOT, are used to combine search sets in a variety of ways and appear within Internet search engines in a range of disguises. Many search engines employ Boolean logic but you need to consult their help feature to make sure.
    • Field searching – Field searching allows you to search for specific fields within an html document such as the title of a document.
    • Site Searching – Many search engines provide you with an option to limit the search to specific sites.
    • Link Searching – Search for sites that link to a specific site. (links confer authority). The usual way of structuring the above queries is by using title: or site: or link:. Again check the help feature of the search engine to ensure that it will allow for these types of field searches

  • Search Jewels
    There are specific tools that will help you tap into the "invisible Web." Sometimes a search engine does not do the best job on finding certain types of documents.
    Using these search jewels can provide you with greater depth in your searches. Following are examples of some search jewels:
  • Search for Adobe pdf files. Not all search engines do a thorough search for pdf files.
    Try http://searchpdf.adobe.com. This adobe tool searches specifically for pdf files and it works!
  • Search for government information. http://www.searchgov.com searches government sites.
  • Search for information on 501 C 3 organizations. http://www.guidestar.org/index.html where you can actually review the application and returns filed with the IRS!
  • Lycos Search Databases. http://dir.lycos.com/Reference/Searchable_Databases/
  • and finally Direct Search http://gwis2.circ.gwu.edu/~gprice/direct.htm

Meta Searching
On the net vs. Via the Net

Not all the information you seek is available "on the net" but it is most likely available "via the net." This means you have to learn what meta information is and how to access and use it. Meta information is information about information. Sometimes it comes in the form of links to other sites such as http://www.unh.edu/Internet/

But more often it represents the ability to network and reach other resources that before the Internet may have remained hidden or unknown. As an example, whenever you link to a site you will find a name, address, phone number and e-mail address. If you have reached a site which you think may have the answers to your question or the information you seek don't give up simply because there was no link.

Use the e-mail address, phone number or heaven forbid, the snail mail address to ask your question. Most times you will either receive an answer with the information or the suggestion of where to go or who to contact for the information. I have used meta information many times to answer my search questions. This is one of the most powerful tools available for searching.

Web Page Design and Power Searching

This may seem unrelated to the issue of searching but if you understand the basics of Web page design it can actually help you in your quest for the "information grail." Despite how powerful search engines appear they are limited in that they index pages by looking at the underlying html code behind a Web page. If you understand how Web pages are constructed it can make your searches more effective.

Some of the key components of Web pages are:

  • Page Title – Web page element that contains your document title and identifies its content. The title is usually displayed in the title bar at the top of the browser window, but not inside the window itself. The title is also what is displayed on someone's hotlist or bookmark list. A title identifies the page for search engines
  • Meta Tags - HTML elements that allow you to specify metadata (information about what makes up your document) within an HTML file. There are many kinds of metadata, some of which can help search engines index your documents more accurately.
  • Description Meta Tag - a brief description of your document.
  • Key Words Meta Tag - keywords related to your document that may help search engines rank you within their listings. If you want to see the HTML coding for a Web any page, just use the "View Source" or "View Page Source" button on your browser.

Start looking at some pages to see how the Web page designer followed (or didn't follow) the basics of Web page design. Many novice Web page creators fail to properly code their work so that a search engine would find it. They mistakenly believe that as soon as you load your page to a server that anyone can find it. If you understand the basics of Web page design it can make you a power searcher too!

Bottom line
Can you be a power searcher?

Yes. There is a wealth of direct information available on the Internet for financial professionals. Using some basic strategies and good common sense you can find the answers to most any question. While there may not be direct information related to a specific audit or accounting research project there is always going to be meta-information available on the Internet. Meta information is information about information and is one of the most powerful research tools available to financial professionals. Every Web site has contact information, links to other sites and meta-data that makes the Internet a uniquely creative tool for research. To effectively use the Internet, understand the basics of Web page design, and learn to use meta-information and search engines effectively.

Thank you for the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience with you today. If you think of questions after the session has ended feel free to contact me via e-mail. If you prefer, I have added an Ask the Auditor Forum to the AuditNet site located at www.auditnet.org

In order to keep up to date with audit resources and tools, subscribe to the monthly newsletter, AuditNet-L. For a free subscription to the AuditNet-l newsletter go to http://www.auditnet.org/subscribe.htm or send an e-mail to: imailsrv@list.auditnet.org; Subject: (leave blank); Body: Subscribe AuditNet-L (yourname) or send your request to jmkaplan@ix.netcom.com.

The AuditNet Web Site is located at http://www.auditnet.org/

I welcome any questions you may have related to searching the Internet.

Richard Stinson: Jim, do you have a top 10 list of search engines for the finance professional?

Good question Richard. The search engine that I was first attracted to was AltaVista however I think that Google is now at the top of my list. After that I would say FastSearch (www.alltheweb.com). Then it depends on what type of search you are conducting. For instance Hotbot allows you to put a date parameter on your search. Other search engines have unique features such as AltaVista which does a great job of limiting searches to a domain, links, etc. Every search engine has its own character and it is best to try more than one.

Maybe not Top 10 but at least preferences on which is more effective. The latest technology is looking at hyperlinks as authorities. In other words sites that contain a lot of links from other sites are recognized as authorities. AuditNet would qualify as an authority because of the number of external links.

Richard Stinson: Do you have any comments on Dogpile? I have used it in the past but recently it seems to have become very cumbersome.

Jim Kaplan: Dogpile is a meta search engine, which means it uses multiple search engines. Good for the first time searcher but tends to provide too much information for me. I advise novice searchers to use it to focus in on a search engine that gives them good results. Cumbersome is a good word for Dogpile and other meta search engines. The search technology is evolving and is not perfect. That is why I stress meta searching as a powerful alternative. Also using one to one e-mail and discussion groups. The beauty of the Internet is the ability to foster communication. And discussion groups do just that. I assume that most of you are familiar with how discussion groups or listserves work.

Has anyone experienced unique problems in trying to find information on the Net?

I act as sort of an information broker. In fact the new section of AuditNet called Ask the Auditor provides a forum for auditors and accountants to pose questions. Check it out if you haven't already.

Are there any participants that haven't visited AuditNet?

There is a link to Google and other of my favorite search engines on the site.

Dale Rooks: I haven't been there yet, will do now

Julie Anderson: I haven't visited AuditNet...and I am always having trouble finding what I need on the Internet. I will definitely check it out.

Deborah Ray: Hi Jim! I have found the AuditNet Newsletter very informative. I particularly enjoy the information on new websites, etc., some of which I would never have known about without the newsletter.

Jim Kaplan: Hi Deborah. A regular contributor to AuditNet and listserves

I usually issue a challenge for me to find something on the Net. If you are having a problem then contact me. Be warned though, I will ask where you have looked before and what you have done. I believe in educating rather than hand feeding!

I will be in New Orleans later this month presenting to the USDA OIG Annual Conference on Effective Search Strategies. I find these online presentations very helpful and encourage all to participate. The Internet is all about sharing and I learn from speaking as much as I give.

Troubleshooting error messages is another way to help your searches. Many times an error message can trigger actions that will tell you what to do to locate a bad link or "404 error." Simply backspacing to the sites root URL and then looking for a site specific search feature. Also using the browsers "find on this page" feature can help you locate the information after a search engine linked you to a page.

There are lots of tricks and techniques that can help you become a better searcher. I hope that you got at least one good idea here today!

Any more comments or questions?

If you are looking for audit work programs, ICQs, workpaper templates check out AuditNet. It's free and easy to navigate. If you want to ask a question after the session is over just send it to jmkaplan@ix.netcom.com

Session Moderator: Jim - thanks so much for sharing all of this great information and for giving us your time today!

Dale Rooks: Thank you!!

Jim Kaplan: You are very welcome. Hope you all have a successful search day!

Session Moderator: I'd also like to thank National Payment Corporation one more time for sponsoring this workshop

Deborah Ray: Jim, Thanks for the information.

Jim Kaplan: Deborah, You're welcome!


Biography

Jim Kaplan, the Webmaster for AuditNet, is the Audit Director for one of the largest school districts in the United States. He has a Master of Science in Accounting from The American University in Washington, D.C. He is a member of the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) the National Association of Local Government Auditors (NALGA) and the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. From 1989 to 1995 as a contributing editor for The Internal Auditor, the professional journal of the IIA, his column Computers and Auditing (formerly PC Exchange) covered how auditors used computers. His articles have appeared in the Internet Bulletin for CPA's and Internal Auditing Alert. He is the author of The Auditor's Guide to Internet Resources 2nd Edition, published by the Institute of Internal Auditors, Inc.

E-mail: editor@auditnet.org
Web site: www.auditnet.org

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