We use the open internet to search for information all the time. Search engines like Google (the largest and most popular, with billions of web pages, PDFs, text-based documents, images and videos, and more) give us practically limitless search results, from all sorts of sources.
So, with such a large number of results, how do you know you're finding the best, most reliable information out there, especially for college-level research?
If you use the open web for research, follow these tips to find the best results:
- choose a topic, develop a research question using the KWL exercise, and brainstorm relevant keywords.
- be aware of your biases: know that you may be searching for information that fits an opinion or belief.
- keep in mind that your search is only as good as you make it: there's a lot of misleading information on the open web, and the information you're looking for may be buried deep in your search results. Choose your search terms and evaluate what you find carefully.
- basic searching is generally accessed on the landing page of a search engine.
- search results will include the primary words you type in, but articles such as a, an, the will most likely be dropped, so searching The State of Illinois may bring results that only use State and/or Illinois in the search.
- advanced searching is a little more complex, but can be more effective:
- locate the search engine's advanced search function (for Google it's https://www.google.com/advanced_search) and use the additional boxes there to limit or refine your search.
- use quotation marks to find an exact phrase (search for "French Revolution" to find specific results, rather than results that may include the words "French" and "revolution" anywhere in the text, but not necessarily linked). Using quotation marks will also help to include articles in your search terms (e.g. "The United States of America" vs. the united states of America)
- use Boolean operators (AND/OR/NOT) to link search terms or to expand or limit your search.
- add file extension designations if you are looking for a particular document format (.pdf, .doc, .xls, .ppt, and so forth), or domain names to find a particular type of website (.org, .gov, etc.).
- evaluate the information you find! Use your judgment, the CRAAP test, and other resources on this page.
Some information adapted from https://uri.libguides.com/netres/home, accessed 3 October 2018.