Find and Evaluate Internet Sources
You’ve been asked to write a research paper and your instructor said, “if you use Internet sources, they should be scholarly in nature.” Aren’t all Internet sources scholarly? you wonder. Well, no. Quite simply, you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the Internet. Your Internet searches will lead you down many different roads to many destinations (or websites). Some of these destinations will be useful to you, many will not. You must critically examine websites and pages to become “a careful consumer of information” (Adams & Clark, 2001, p. 166). In this handout, you’ll learn first about techniques for finding Internet sources, and then you’ll learn about ROAD, a technique for evaluating Internet sources.
Finding Internet Sources
Searching the Internet can seem a daunting and overwhelming task, but many tools exist to help you in your search. You’re most likely to use three of these tools often in your search: directories, search engines, and metasearch engines. Let’s look at each of these tools individually.
Directories are also known as subject directories or website directories. Two common directories are Yahoo! and Lycos.
Jane asks, “When I go to Yahoo!, there’s both a “search the web” box and a Website Directory. Why?” Good question! Adams and Clark tell us, “Over the last few years, search engines and directory outlines have begun to merge. [. . .] Today, search engines that used to be exclusively key-term driven now offer directory outlines, and search engines that used to be just directory outline-oriented now allow for key term input. Not to be outdone by the other model, each adopted the properties of the other.” (2001, p. 166)
The strength of directories is that they are compiled and indexed by humans. Directories generally present you with major categories, and your choices lead to the categories becoming more and more specific. For example, if you choose “Games” in Lycos’ Website Directory, you’ll be able to decide whether you want to learn more about board games, card games, or party games (among many others). If you decide you want to learn more about card games, you’ll find more choices, including Whist, Bridge, and Spades. Essentially, you receive increasingly specific categories with each decision you make.
Search engines do keyword or phrase searches of a database (not the entire World Wide Web but the portion of it stored within that particular engine’s database). Your keywords as well as the use of Boolean operators influence your list of results. The structure of individual search engines also will influence the results and the ranking of your search. Search engines may rank the items in your search by the title of the website, the first heading on the web page, META tags, page popularity, and so on. And, unlike a directory, there’s no human making decisions about categories of information. Additionally, keywords are often case sensitive (meaning CAR, Car, and car may result in different results) and correct spelling may be important to maximize the effectiveness of your search.
Joe asks, “What’s a ‘Boolean operator’ ?”
Boolean operators allow you to search for combinations of keywords.
Three important Boolean operators to know are
AND- Find websites or pages that contain both words.
OR- Find websites or pages that contain either word.
NOT- Find websites or pages that contain the first word but not the second word.
Some search engines require that Boolean operators be capitalized; it’s best to check the FAQ or help files for tips.
Search engines will, however, search more of the web than most other tools for finding information online. You’ll benefit the most from search engines by reading the Frequently Asked Questions or help files to see how the search engine “works.” Two examples of search engines are Excite and Google.
It can be very helpful to “get to know” one search engine—you’ll get better and better at searching (and get better results) as you increase your knowledge of the search engine itself. But, for items like research papers, you will want to try more than one search engine in your search to increase the likelihood of finding valuable sources. You may also want to try a metasearch engine.
Metasearch engines are search engines that submit your keywords to several search engines. While metasearch engines sound like a good idea, they do have drawbacks. Metasearch engines collect the first few results from each search engine to display for you, which may leave out valuable information in your search. Two metasearch engines include dogpile and metacrawler.
A Bright Idea . . . Check out the Reviews of Search Engines
Have you ever wondered how all the search engines are different? You can find out on the Internet. Some sites offer lists or tables that compare popular search engines. Check out the Search Tools Chart.
Travel Down the Right ROAD: Evaluating Internet Sources
Now that you’ve found the ROAD to evaluating your Internet sources, remember that you’ll always need to cite these sources when you include information from them in your research papers. The Academic Center has handouts on APA and MLA Style that provide guidance in citing sources. If you’re a UHV student, you can discuss citing information with a peer tutor. (Give us a call at (361)570-4288 or email us to find out how you can schedule a one-on-one peer tutoring session.)
Whether you use a directory, search engine, or metasearch engine, you must evaluate the information you find on the Internet to ensure that it is valuable and trustworthy. We’ve developed a simple acronym that should help—ROAD.
Remember, too, that as you’re researching and writing your papers, you shouldn’t limit your search to the Internet. You’ll want to use traditional print sources that you can find in your public or the UHV Library. Often it will be a comprehensive search strategy that leads you to the variety of sources that will help you write a well-researched paper: you’ll search the Internet, the library, and electronic resources like bibliographic databases.
Adams, T. & Norman, C. (2001). The Internet: Effective online communication. Fort Worth: Harcourt College Publishers.
Harris, R. (1997). Evaluating Internet Research Sources. Retrieved 7/25/22
Infopeople Project. (July 2022). Search Tools Chart.
Smith, Al. (1997). Testing the surf: Criteria for evaluating Internet information resources. Retrieved 6/6/03 from
Student Success Center Handouts
“Gather and Evaluate Information” — Contains information on developing a research strategy for your research paper.
“Find and Evaluate Periodicals” — Describes how to find and evaluate different kinds of periodicals, including journals.
“APA Quick Reference Guide” — Provides information about citing references in APA style.
“MLA Quick Reference Guide” — Provides information about citing references in MLA style.