Internet Searching Tips: Determining the Reliability of Internet Information

The internet is perhaps the most valuable research tool ever invented, and a few moments spent searching random keywords can yield a cornucopia of results and opinions. However, many professionals, educators, and students are reluctant to use the internet to do research because the quality of the sources vary greatly. You may find everything from the angst-filled ramblings of a 12-year-old to the published journal articles of renowned professors. Filtering information correctly is key to savvy internet usage. Rather than missing out on the valuable information available on the internet, take cautious advantage of its offerings.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when searching the internet:

Look at the Quality of the Internet Search

Inaccurate writing can still be well-written, but accurate, fact-based research is unlikely to be riddled with typographical errors and grammar mistakes. Look at the quality of the writing you’re reading. If it doesn’t flow well, seems like a child wrote it, or is filled with English usage mistakes, it’s probably not a good source. There is one exception to this rule: if you’ve used a translation service to translate a website, the writing may be a bit stilted. Look at the sources the translated source cites and then refer back to these to check facts.

Take a look at the results of your search. The webpages listed may all be one type, may vary from merchants, to articles, to research, to consumer, to YouTube–all could have relevant information, or you may be looking for one type of information. You should be able to make a decision to click or move down the search results based on the meta-tag information provided right below the link.

See the example below that shows a variety of results:

internet search

Consider the Source of the Internet Search

One of the simplest ways to determine whether the information you’re getting is valuable is to look for the author. If the author is an expert in their field, you’ve stumbled across a reliable primary source. Blog posts and message board discussions are generally less reliable; however, they can be used as a springboard for further research. If, for example, you find a credible-sounding discussion on the best flea meds for dogs on a blog, look for any studies and author references. If there are no sources, you should avoid using the information because it could be out of date, misunderstood, or completely manufactured.

Laypeople can be excellent sources of information, so long as they back up their opinions and speculations with facts. If a blogger directs you to scholarly studies or primary sources, the information is likely reliable, but you should still check the sources to verify.

Filter Sources From Your Results

Before the internet, getting published usually meant at least one editor and one fact-checker had to approve your work. Now, anyone can publish their ideas with a simple click of a button. They can then stuff their articles with keywords to place them at the top of search engines, making it difficult to find more reliable information. Try using a search filter. Google, for example, offers Google Scholar, which allows you to search for scholarly research and journal articles. You can also search for information from a particular source, like a famous veterinarian, or a top-rated school or university. Simply type the name into the search bar in quotation marks and then type the keywords you are searching for.

Use Good Search Terms for the Search Engines

If you’re looking for scholarly work or for reliable sources, it’s best to avoid using loaded terms and opinionated adjectives. For example, don’t search for “why highlighters are better than markers” because, objectively speaking, they’re not. Instead, search for “highlighter marker differences” or “highlighters versus markers.” Someone with a political or religious axe to grind is more likely to use strong adjectives in their writing, which makes Google more likely to pick up these webpages if you choose to use adjectives.

You may also have to clarify your search terms. If you are looking for a pet ramp for your dog, you could type in “steps for dogs.” However, based on my own searches, in addition to getting listings for the physical doggy stairs product, I also found articles that talked about the steps you take with dog training, which was not what I was looking for. I have also found that I can spend a lot of time looking at other non-related posts that will get me side-tracked, so the more specific, the better!

Photo by jjgwarren

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