There is unlimited pool of source of information on the internet. However, when doing internet research, it’s important to rely on authoritative source. Here are some tips.
Look for subject-specific databases. Depending on the area of your research, you have several options for online databases specific to your field. For example, if you’re looking for medical or scientific research, PubMed, sponsored by the United States National Library of Medicine, is a great place to start.
Check government websites. Government sources will often have “.gov” somewhere in the webpage. For example, the United States Department of State’s website is www.state.gov.
Appraise the domain extension. Websites that end in .edu belong to colleges and universities. However, you do need to be careful with .edu sites, because often faculty and students can run personal webpages that will have the .edu extension, but the information there may not be vetted by the university. It’s better to find academic sources through an academic database or search engine, like EBSCOhost or Google Scholar.
Websites that end in .org belong to non-profit organizations. While some of these are highly credible, some are not. Anyone can purchase a website with a .org extension. Check these sites carefully, and don’t rely on them as your sole source of information if you can avoid them.
Major news sources such as The Guardian, CNN, and Al Jazeera tend to be credible, but you also need to make sure you’re reading a factually based article and not an opinion piece. Many news sites also have blogs and editorial sites where people can state their opinions, which aren’t necessarily backed up by facts.
Wikipedia can be a good place to start, but websites such as this are open to editing by anyone, which means that their information can be inaccurate, outdated, or biased. If you want to use Wikipedia or another wiki for research, scroll down to the “References” section at the bottom of the page and check those out. Go to the original source whenever possible.
Citing original source of research work will make your own research more authoritative and credible. For example, it is much more impressive to your reader if you cite an article from the National Institutes of Health (a US government source) than if you cite an article from webMD — even if they have the same information. If you can cite the original scholarly research that produced the information you’re discussing, that’s even better.
Look for consensus. If you can’t find the original source for a fact, your best bet is to verify the fact on multiple, credible sites. No matter what information you’re seeking, if you can’t find a single official source, it’s advisable not to trust a piece of information until you find identical information on several independent sites.
Check the source’s affiliations. Checking who owns or sponsors the website will help you figure out whether it is credible or not. For example, the Mayo Clinic website is owned by the Mayo Clinic, one of the most prestigious hospitals in the world. It is a not-for-profit organization, so it is not out to make money from its content. Its articles are written by medical professionals. These are good clues that information you find on this site will be credible. On the other hand, a “health” website that has a storefront or lots of ads, and doesn’t have any institutional or professional affiliations, won’t be as credible.
If you’re using an academic database, check out who published the article or book. Texts from prestigious journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine, and books from academic publishers like the Oxford University Press, carry more weight than sources from less-known publishers.
If you’ve never heard of a source, the first place to look is the “About Us” (or similar) portion of the website. If that doesn’t provide you with a good idea of who’s producing the web page, try conducting an internet search for the site itself. Often news articles, Wikipedia entries, and the like that reference a source will include information about its affiliation(s), ideology, and funding. When all else fails, consider using a web domain search engine to discover who owns the website. However, if you’ve had to go to that length, chances are good that the site is too obscure to be trusted.
Check out the author. Unfortunately, many internet sources will not list an author. If you are searching online for peer-reviewed research, however, you will usually find sources with named authors. Look at their credentials.
For example, does this person have education in his/her field? Has the author written anything else on the topic? Many authors, including journalists and academic scholars, have areas of specialty and have spent years studying and writing about these topics. If the author has written many other articles on the same area, this makes him/her more credible (especially if those articles are peer-reviewed).
If there is no author, is the source credible? Some sources, particularly government sources, will not list an author. However, if the source you are getting the information from is authoritative — such as an article on chickenpox from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the absence of an author isn’t cause for concern on its own.
Look at the date. It’s important to make sure that your information is as up-to-date as possible, especially if you’re researching a medical or scientific topic. Scientific consensus changes with the presence of new studies and information. Check when the article or website was published. Being more than five years old isn’t necessarily bad, but look for the most recent articles you can find for the best shot at updated information.
For example, if you were writing a research paper on treatments for cancer, you wouldn’t want to use only articles from the 1970s, even if they were published in prestigious academic journals.
10 Tips For Efficient Internet Research
1. Use unique, specific terms.
It is simply amazing how many Web pages are returned when performing a search. To reduce the number of pages returned, use unique terms that are specific to the subject you are researching.
2. Use the minus operator (-) to narrow the search.
How many times have you searched for a term and had the search engine return something totally unexpected? Terms with multiple meanings can return a lot of unwanted results. The rarely used but powerful minus operator, equivalent to a Boolean NOT, can remove many unwanted results. For example, when searching for the insect caterpillar, references to the company Caterpillar, Inc. will also be returned. Use Caterpillar -Inc to exclude references to the company or Caterpillar -Inc -Cat to further refine the search.
3. Use quotation marks for exact phrases.
I often remember parts of phrases I have seen on a Web page or part of a quotation I want to track down. Using quotation marks around a phrase will return only those exact words in that order. It’s one of the best ways to limit the pages returned. Example: “examples of primary health promotion for cancer”. Of course, you must have the phrase exactly right.
4. Don’t use common words and punctuation.
Common terms like ‘a’ and ‘the’ are called stop words and are usually ignored. Punctuation is also typically ignored. But there are exceptions. Common words and punctuation marks should be used when searching for a specific phrase inside quotes. There are cases when common words like ‘the’ are significant.
Most search engines do not distinguish between uppercase and lowercase, even within quotation marks. The following are all equivalent:
6. Drop the suffixes
It’s usually best to enter the base word so that you don’t exclude relevant pages. For example, recipe and not recipes, cook and not cooked. One exception is if you are looking for sites that focus on the act of cooking, enter the whole term cooking.
7. Maximize AutoComplete
Ordering search terms from general to specific in the search box will display helpful results in a drop-down list and is the most efficient way to use AutoComplete. Selecting the appropriate item as it appears will save time typing. You have several choices for how the AutoComplete feature works.
Use Google AutoComplete. The standard Google start page will display a drop-down list of suggestions supplied by the Google search engine. This option can be a handy way to discover similar, related searches.
8. Customize your searches.
There are several other less well known ways to limit the number of results returned and reduce your search time:
i. The plus operator (+): As mentioned above, stop words are typically ignored by the search engine. The plus operator tells the search engine to include those words in the result set. Example: tall +and short will return results that include the word and.
ii. The tilde operator (~): Include a tilde in front of a word to return results that include synonyms. The tilde operator does not work well for all terms and sometimes not at all.
iii. The wildcard operator (*): Google calls it the fill in the blank operator. For example, amusement * will return pages with amusement and any other term(s) the Google search engine deems relevant. You can’t use wildcards for parts of words. So for example, amusement p* is invalid.
iv. The OR operator (OR) or (|): Use this operator to return results with either of two terms. For example happy moment will return pages with both happy and moment, while happy | moment will return pages with either happy or moment.
v. Numeric ranges: You can refine searches that use numeric terms by returning a specific range, but you must supply the unit of measurement. Examples: Windows XP 2003..2005, PC $500 $600.
vi. Site search: Many Web sites have their own site search feature, but you may find that Google site search will return more pages. When doing research, it’s best to go directly to the source, and site search is a great way to do that. Example: site:www.cdc.gov Center for Disease Control.
vii. Related sites: For example, related:www.youtube.com can be used to find sites similar to YouTube.
viii. Forums-only search: Under the Google logo on the left side of the search result page, click More | Discussions or go to Google Groups. Forums are great places to look for solutions to technical problems.
ix. Advanced searches: Click the Advanced Search button by the search box on the Google start or results page to refine your search by date, country, amount, language, or other criteria.
9. Use browser history
Many times, I will be researching an item and scanning through dozens of pages when I suddenly remember something I had originally dismissed as being irrelevant. How do you quickly go back to that Web site? You can try to remember the exact words used for the search and then scan the results for the right site, but there is an easier way. If you can remember the general date and time of the search you can look through the browser history to find the Web page.
10. Ask for help.
Sometimes, you never can find what you are looking for. Start an internal clock, and when a certain amount of time has elapsed without results, stop beating your head against the wall. It’s time to ask for help. Ask a peer, call support, ask a question in our group.
Perhaps the most difficult — and important — task in internet research is ensuring the sources you select are credible. Generally, you want to prioritize information from government sources, academics, and nationally recognized news organizations. Use the tips above.
If you have questions, give it to me below.