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From: Martelli, M.F. (2000). The Novice's Guide to Surfing (the internet). HeadsUp: RSS Newsletter, Vol. 2, No. 11 (Feb).

Also excerpted from:

Martelli, M.F., Liljedahl, E.L., Nicholson, K. and Zasler, N.D. (pending comp letion). The Internet Users' Guide to Disability Related Resources on the World Wide Web.

A Novice's Guide to Surfing (the Internet)

Michael F. Martelli, Ph.D.

Concussion Care Centre of Virginia, Pinnacle Rehabilitation and

Tree of Life, 10120 West Broad Street, Suites G & H, Glen Allen, VA

Virginia Commonwealth University and Medical College of Virginia, Richmond, VA,

The expanding Internet has become an increasingly valuable tool for world wide sharing of information. Health care professionals, patients, lay persons, family members and others are afforded instant access to masses of information and almost unlimited resources on virtually any topic, as well as an almost seamless vehicle for communication. This new medium offers tremendous implications for health care. However, the absence of a single clearinghouse, a single search procedure or guarantee of accuracy often make information access efforts challenging, confusing & frustrating. The present paper provides a brief introduction aimed at increasing appreciation of the Internet and enhancing its utility with regard to not only brain injury and neurologic conditions, treating and coping with them, but virtually any medical condition or health related topic, and offers rudimentary guidelines for efficient accessing of information.

Introduction to the Internet

The Internet is the total network of computers and services in cyberspace. It is the global communication system that enables individuals to contact each other from any part of the globe at almost no cost and allows accessing masses of constantly expanding information. This information superhighway has created an opportunity to provide enormous amounts of information to its many millions of users. As part of this Internet explosion, the format of information has expanded from pure text to text that includes sophisticated graphics and sound and this is the domain of the World Wide Web (www), although these terms are typically used interchangeably. In its overwhelmingly fast growth, however, this vast information library has, in many ways, accelerated beyond the familiarity and technology for accessing information for many persons. The promise of the Internet has given birth to public and private partnerships and a potential for improving health care worldwide in a way never before seen before. Yet confidence in the Internet may not be universally shared. In order for this marriage between health care and the Internet to prove a powerful force for good in improving the health of peoples worldwide, an increase in knowledge and facility in exploiting this technology is required.

Essentially, the Internet is a vast and geometrically expanding communications system and library of information that comprises hundreds of millions of pages, each of which has a unique address (Uniform Resource Locator or URL). The absence of a single clearinghouse or simple single search procedure or guarantee of accuracy, however, can make information access efforts very challenging, confusing and frustrating for persons unfamiliar with its use. The present paper offers a brief introductory summary of necessary information and procedures for accessing information on the Internet in order to help exploit this unprecedented information opportunity for improving health care.

Browsing, Searching and Recording Information

Locating specific information on the Internet requires use of a search engine and a browser. Surfing the Internet is accomplished through a browser (e.g., Netscape, Internet Explorer (IE), AOL), which is the software on your computer that gets and displays information from the Web in a graphic format. As previously noted, each page of the Web, including search engines, has a unique address (URL). This URL or address is typed into the web address locator window at the top of the browser (e.g., Yahoo: in order to access that page. Search engines (e.g., Yahoo, Excite, Dogpile) are programs on remote computers that search for information in cyberspace. Browser's are used to go to the search engine's website for locating the desired web pages on the Internet. Most browsers have options for using major search engines, although any available search engine can be used. Latest versions of most browsers simply require typing the name (e.g., "dogpile", without

Search engines (e.g.,,,,, employ a directory approach to indexing categories and locating pages, with better engines offering additional search options, including custom searches, specifying of keywords, languages, etc., and listing by relevance to keywords. They all produce a list of links or hits - these are the underlined words that connect users to their respective pages or web sites via clicking with the mouse. These change in color to reflect previous visits. Additionally, most search engines offer preset categorical link systems which allow viewing news, weather, sports, medical and health information, shopping and other sites of interest, organized by topic. Notably, in order to keep open the current web page while clicking on a link within a web page, this link can be opened in a new window in most browsers by clicking on the link using the right mouse button (e.g., Netscape, IE).

Metasearch engines operate by employing various methods to scan multiple search engines simultaneously (e.g.,,, Specialized search engines are also available for locating information from a combination of sources such as newsgroups (e.g.,, discussion groups (, medicine (e.g.,,,,, or addresses (e.g.,, Tutorials for search engine use are also available (e.g., In addition, specific medical directories that help refine searches for medical information are available and often represent useful avenues for searching specific medical information, including that relevant for chronic pain (e.g.,,,,

Special tips guide efficient searching on the Internet. The following 'tools of the trade' were derived from a combination of available publications, online tutors and experience of the authors:

With regard to finding desire words, phrases or other information on a page, this can be quickly accomplished using a Find command in the edit menu of most browsers.

With regard to recording or storing linked pages, frequently used or useful pages are ideally saved as "bookmarks" (Netscape) or "favorites" (Internet Explorer; AOL). These allow simple clicking for future access to the page. Pages can also be saved on the users hard drive through browser buttons.

Communication via E-mail and Forums

Communication on the Internet is accomplished through various e-mail programs that are available that all provide tools to compose, send, receive and store mail. Many have filters that sort messages into pre specified folders, automatically reject "junk" or "spam" e mail, block certain addresses, etc. Selectable settings are usually under tool bar "Preferences" or "Options". Many offer options for quoting the sender's original message in a reply, using different fonts, attributes and colors ("html" features) and attaching or inserting files or images, although not all e-mail programs are equipped to handle these features.

E-mail can be sent directly to an Internet service provider (ISP) site or one of the many web-based sites (e.g., Juno, Hotmail, Excite), including ones offered by most of the major search engines. A large listing of free e-mail services is available at Some advantages of web-based e-mail include: a) retrieval of mail from any computer worldwide that has Internet access; b) retrieval of e-mail from organizations that block external e-mail programs; c) direct forwarding of messages to an ISP mailbox when preferred; d) assumption of an anonymous identity for mail or news groups or chat rooms. Disadvantage include: a) relative abundance of advertising; and b) sometimes limited formatting features.

E-mail Newsletters

Opportunities for receiving newsletters from various services on designated topics are becoming increasingly popular (e-mail newsletters). Simple registration through a web site is usually all that is required.

E-mail Lists (Listserv and Discussion Groups)

E-mail lists are handled by robots that collect and reflect messages to all subscribed members. Any person with a standard e-mail system with Internet access can participate in the list and will receive each message received by the list as a separate e-mail message. Listserv is the first, biggest and apparently most popular of these robots and has been adopted as the generic term to which e-mail lists are referred. One of the easiest ways to find these is to use a dedicated search engine. One of these is ( which allows a search using "Internet", discussion groups. Another comprehensive, searchable database of these is at . allows searching for and subscribing to several e-mail lists at once, and keeps track of lists subscribed to.

Additional search methods include using any search engine and including a particular topic, diagnosis and/or list words. Most groups allow options for message receipt (e.g.., digests, or one daily grouping, indexes which allow message requests, etc.) Finally, an extremely easy to use software for searching a LISTSERV® archive / database is 'The Search-and-Ye-Shall-Find Tutorial' at: This page offers instructions and sample searches that can be copied and pasted into your mail program. These can then edited for specific searches and used to search any archive on any LISTSERV by substituting a desired list name and address for the sample one. Be careful, however, about subscribing to an excessive number of lists before ensuring that number of daily e-mail messages is not overwhelming.

Web-based Forums & List Serve Communities Forums and list serve "communities" are centers for sharing information about a particular common interest. Access is achieved through the web, rather than e-mail programs or news group readers. In addition to text messages, graphics and images can be posted and real-time chats can be conducted. Forums can be established by anyone and designated as private or public (no password required). Participant subscribers visit the forum site simultaneously and communicate via keyboard.

Typical forum capabilities include using aliases for identification, searching through messages for keywords, and e-mail notification when new messages are posted. Moderated forums often determine rules of membership, discussion topics, filters, etc. Some of the many web sites that host such forums include:,,, (which also allows sending and receiving private e-mail), as well as, many of the major search engine sites.

News Groups (Usenet)

News groups are forums that do not require registration but do require a newsreader for access (contained in both Netscape and Internet Explorer). Thousands of groups on thousands of topics can be explored at Because most are unmoderated, discussion quality can vary greatly. Searching for messages by a specific keyword topic can be accomplished at

General Reference Sites

The following are a collection of generally useful refernce sites that have more general relevance to medicine, social sciences and, more:


The information superhighway has clearly revolutionized information technology. The opportunities for world wide sharing of information and improving healthcare are tremendous. However, in order to realize this potential, increased understanding of the communication and information technologies of the Internet are required. Brain Injury rehabilitation technology is a rapidly growing area of healthcare and can only benefit from this technology. The present paper offers a brief introduction aimed at increasing appreciation of the Internet and enhancing its utility with regard to not only brain injury and its management, but all health related conditions, and offers rudimentary guidelines for efficient accessing of information. Hopefully the procedures offered herein represent useful 'tools of the trade". Finally, the results of a search for useful Internet links for professionals, as well as patients, family members and other interested persons who assess, treat or cope with health problems are included.


Habib, M. J. Crusing the information highway: A primer on the Internet for pain management health care providers. American Journal of Pain Management, 1997: 7: 83-88.

Kerns, K. A., Mateer, C. and Brousseau, S. Computerizing the Clinician: Internet resources for neuropsycholgy. The Clinical Neuropsychologist, 1998: 12: 2: 217-230.

Martelli, M.F. (2000). The Novice's Guide to Surfing (the internet). HeadsUp: RSS Newsletter, Vol. 2, No. 11 (Feb).

Also excerpted from:

Martelli, M.F., Liljedahl, E.L., Nicholson, K. and Zasler, N.D. (pending comp letion). The Internet Users' Guide to Disability Related Resources on the World Wide Web.

Powsner, S. M. and Roderer, N. K. Navigating the Internet. Bulletin of the Medical Library Assocation, 1994: 82: 4: 419-425.