- Chuck Gray
Getting stuck on the Web is a regular occurrence for pretty much everyone, from novices to experienced users. Some folks lack the experience to properly decode complex layouts; others have to slog through poor site design; and sometimes stuff just doesn't work. Here are some ideas for finding your way when this happens.
Don't panic. Read the screen carefully.
My most successful students are those who take the time to fully read the screen and look for anything that might indicate what to do next. It’s extremely easy to get flustered and let your frustration get the better of you. Take a few deep breaths and just read.
When in doubt, click.
There are a few exceptions to this rule—filling out important applications and doing anything financial like shopping or banking, but for everything else, I encourage you to throw caution to the wind and click. Click wherever. See what happens and where you’re taken. Not what you were expecting? Hit the browser’s back button and click something else!
Refresh the page.
Pages sometimes just don’t load correctly. Could be there was an interruption in the connection with the server or a bug in the page design. It’s hard to know, but it does happen. If the page you’re trying to load just sits there doing nothing, hit the refresh button in your browser or F5 on the keyboard. Do not do this if you’re submitting an important form for something like a job application or if you’re buying something. You might accidentally submit something twice, which you don't want to do when paying for an item.
Try a different browser.
There are a handful of quality Web browsers out there, and they all interpret and render content in slightly different ways. Every so often, you might run into a page that just won’t load correctly in the browser you’re using. I find it comes in handy to have at least one extra browser on hand just in case this happens. Windows PCs and Macs come with Internet Explorer and Safari, respectively. I also keep Firefox and Chrome installed. If one browser doesn’t work properly, try another. And another. If none of the browsers load the page, but have no problems with any other page, it’s likely the fault of the site and nothing to do with you. The sad part is, there's not much you can do at this point.
Remember the address bar is a search bar, too.
One thing I hear from my students a lot is that they “can’t figure how to get out” from wherever they’ve landed on the Web. I’ll be honest. It’s only recently that I think I’ve started understanding what they mean by this. Students and instructors don’t always parse each other’s words correctly. When I hear a phrase like that, my reaction is, "What do you mean 'get out?' Just go somewhere else!" The important thing to remember is the address bar or URL bar will take you anywhere you want to go. Just click inside it, type in a few words related to what you want, and your browser’s default search engine (usually Google, unless you’re running Internet Explorer, in which case it will be Bing) will bring up a list of results.
Turn it off and on again.
This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Close and re-open the browser. If that doesn’t do it, try powering the computer off and on again. It’s the kind of patronizing rookie tech support that we generally think couldn’t possibly make any difference. It does—I’d say anywhere between a quarter to a third of the tech problems people come to me with are solved in this manner.
Maximize the window and/or look for the scroll bars.
Lots of times portions of a page are hidden due to size constraints of the browser window. Look at the right side and bottom of your window. If you see a scroll bar, that means there’s something not currently visible. Click and hold on the scroll bars to drag them around. Also, if the window isn’t already maximized to take up the whole screen, do so by clicking the middle button in the very top-right corner of the window. The larger it is, the more of the page you’ll see at once.
Hit the Tab key.
There’s no cure for poor page design other than reading everything carefully and frequently just stumbling around. If you’re not sure what or where the links are, single-click anywhere in some blank space on the page, then start tapping the Tab key on your keyboard. Each time you tap it, a box will surround each successive link on the page. Look carefully. The boxes can sometimes be very subtle depending on your browser and the design on the page. When you see a boxed link, you can either click it like normal or just hit the Enter key on the keyboard. To go backwards through the links on a page, hold down the Shift key and tap the Tab key once for every link you’d like to go back through.
Use the "CTRL F" keyboard shortcut.
Research librarians and assistants need to be able to comb quickly through large amounts of information to help many of our customers. Picking out one word from an article several pages long is a time-consuming process, unless you use the "CTRL F" keyboard shortcut: hold down either CTRL key on your keyboard and while holding it down, tap the letter F key once, then let go of both keys. This keyboard shortcut will bring up a search box you can use to find that one particular word or phrase out of the page you’re currently viewing. Type in the word and look for it highlighted on the page. Hit Enter to move through each mention of the word.
Can’t find what you're looking for on a site? Use a domain specific search.
It’s not always easy finding specific information on a Web site. We may not always know exactly what to click, and finding what we’re looking for can take several attempts. Many sites have built-in search features, but not all of them are that great. The good news is you can perform a domain specific search using all the major engines, including Google, Bing, Yahoo, and my new favorite, DuckDuckGo. You can go to these sites or just type your search into the address bar of your browser. To perform a domain specific search, simply type site: and then the domain you’re searching with no spaces. Let’s say for instance you wanted to find all mentions of me on the library’s website, librarypoint.org. Here’s what you would type:
chuck gray site:librarypoint.org
And here’s what you’ll get in Google, for instance:
You’ll see that every one of those search results is from librarypoint.org. As I said, you can use any of the popular search engines or just type that into your address bar.
If all else fails, come see us at your local library branch. There's a good chance we can help!