Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on September 1, 2011. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Find online resources with basic searches
The Internet can be a useful tool for finding information, but it takes a true cyber-sleuth to distinguish between fact and fiction.
Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox are just two of the Internet browsers that can act as gateways to search engines, such as Google, Yahoo, Bing and Ask, which are used to find information on the Internet.
To begin a search, go to the homepage of one of those search engines. In the search bar, type in a word or phrase to investigate. In many cases, searches will produce numerous results and can take some time to sort through. Consider using Boolean operators, such as the plus or minus signs (+, -) or the words “and” or “or,” to limit the results.
For example, a search for “fall tomatoes” might be narrowed down by adding “fall tomatoes +Mississippi” to view only articles that reference fall tomatoes and Mississippi. The minus sign also can narrow down a search. In the fall tomato search, the researcher may want to eliminate a tomato variety that did not produce well last year. In that situation, “fall tomato –name of variety” would exclude that variety from the search results.
Understanding the domain name or web address is important to determining whether or not the information presented is credible. The search results will end in suffixes such as .com, .net, .edu and .org. These endings are also known as top-level domain names, and they can help you determine the authorship of the website. A website that ends in .com is usually a commercial website that is hosted by a company for the purposes of commercial business. Anyone can create a website in a .com domain. Over time, more people and groups without commercial agendas have adopted the .com suffix, such as the educational website MSUCares.com.
A website ending in .edu is usually a website for a school, college or university. A website with the .org suffix is most often associated with a non-profit organization. There are numerous other domain names, such as .mobi for mobile compatible sites.
In 2012, new domain names will appear when the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, allows thousands more top-level names. ICANN is the organization that authorizes domain names. Understanding how to do research online will become even more important and more challenging with the release of the new domain names.
After evaluating the website domain name, look closely at the content. Is it written by a reliable source or authority in the field? Does it provide information that can be cross-referenced to verify its accuracy?
Many students fall into the trap of using websites such as Wikipedia to research their projects. Wikipedia is not an encyclopedia but collaborative platform to which anyone can add, edit or remove information. Wikipedia is fine to use as a generic overview of the subject matter, but it should never be used as the only source of information. One way to use Wikipedia is to look in the references for articles or information and then find those original articles to verify the information is correct.
To determine whether information is legitimate, see if the information is unbiased and if the article presents facts that can be verified in other places or by other sources. Credible websites often provide a way to contact the author of the information. If an online article is credible, it will often include the place it was published, the author, and contact information for the author or organization. Many credible websites also will have an “About Us” section or a “Contact Us” section to contact the author.
Another tell-tale sign is who sponsors or pays for the website, as well as what other websites it links to. The websites it links to can sometimes, though not always, reveal the organizational philosophy.
With billions of websites on the web, determining what is truth and what is fiction can be tricky, but with the right tools, users can find credible information on the World Wide Web.