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Research 101

Hot Tips for Internet Research

How do excellent researchers conduct online research?

Expert researchers investigate every source they use, and think about each source critically.

You'll have to gather information and use your judgment to decide whether or not you'll trust a website. Some professors will not accept any non-library website for their research assignments, while others will - but those who will accept websites will probably want you to be ready to explain why you believe the websites you've used are credible (believable, trustworthy).

Thinking Critically About Online Research

Questions to ask about every website you find:

  • Who wrote this?
    • Was it a single person or a group of people?
  • What qualifies the author(s) to write about this subject?
    • If they have experience or advanced degrees, are those degrees and that experience relevant to the thing they are writing about?
  • Where did they get their information?
    • Their information might be from:
      • Original scientific research
      • Interviews of experts (who are those experts, and what are their qualifications?)
      • Published books and reports, and/or personal experience, and/or social media, and/or somewhere else.
    • They may not tell you directly where the information is from. You have to use your critical reading skills to figure it out.
  • What is their point of view?  
    • There is more than one valid point of view on any complicated subject. What do they believe is important? 
  • Why are they telling us this?
    • As you know, writing takes time and effort! No one builds a website without having a reason.
  • What do other people say about this person or group? 
    • Why not google them, and find out?
      • If you find people who praise and trust them, who are those people, and what do you think of them?
      • If you find people who dislike and distrust them, who are those people, and what do you think of them?
  • Why might you tend to trust this? Why might you tend to doubt this?
    • Be able to explain your reasons.

Notice that using Google is not a shortcut. To do strong research, you have to do more work, to vet and assess each source to see if you should take it seriously.

There is a lot of good information available on the open web, but every website must be critically considered. This is especially important if you're new to a subject as you'll have to take the time to investigate the authors behind each site to weigh its trustworthiness.

Filtering Words

Excluding Certain Words

You can exclude results by putting a minus sign in front of words you don't want to be included in your search. This is especially useful when:

  • You are finding too many web pages that include something that is very common but not relevant to your search; or
  • Your searches have been guided by Google's assumptions about who you are/where you are, and you want results that do not include those assumptions.

Situation 01: You want to find out about city councils generally, and don't want your results limited to the NYC city council.

Remember, Google will return results about NYC city councils when you are using Google from the New York City area. 

  1. Type city council into Google's search bar.
    City Council Google Search

    Image 01: Screenshot of Google Search bar with city council typed in.

  2. After city council, type -"new york city" Your search will now exclude results about New York city.
    Google city council minus NYC
    Image 02: Screenshot of Google Search bar with city council, type -"new york city" typed in

Searching for Exact Words

Google now automatically searches not only for your keywords, but also any other words that it thinks are reasonable synonyms or related terms.

Sometimes, however, you may want to search just for your exact words. This is especially important if you see an important difference in meaning between your word and a synonym that Google has inserted into your results.

  1. Select tools beneath the Google search bar.
    Google click on tools
    Image 01: Screenshot of Google Search with Tools encircled below the search bar.
  2. Select All Results
    google all results
    Image 02: Screenshot of Google Search with All Results encircled below the search bar.
  3. Select Verbatim
    google verbatim
    Image 03: Screenshot of Google Search with All Results dropdown menu opened and Verbatim encircled below the search bar.

Limiting by Date of Publication or Availability

Limiting by Date

Google does not automatically put the newest results first. Some reasons you may want to limit dates:

  • Find very recent information about a news event that is changing quickly; for instance, if there has been an ongoing crisis for the last week, but you want to see what has been posted in the last hour or last 24 hours.
  • Find out the most recent information about an older event that was heavily written about when it happened--so there are many existing older web pages about your subject--but you want to find out recent developments.
  • Find the most up-to-date information about something that by its nature changes often - for instance, software and other technology; for instance, if you need help with a Microsoft Word problem, limiting your search to the past year will eliminate websites that give advice for old versions of Word.
  • Select a specific date range to find out what was written about something or someone during a particular period.

Why do a custom range search?

Possible uses for a custom range of dates could include:

  • Finding out what news sources said on the day of a particular event, or
  • Searching for what was said about your topic before a particular time.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. After you've entered your keywords and returned your results, select Tools.
    google click on tools
    Image 01: Screenshot of the Google search bar with Tools encircled.
  2. New options will appear underneath the search box. Select Any Time to see your choices including Custom range.
    google click on "any time" for drop-down menu
    Image 02: Screenshot of the Google search bar with Any Time encircled.
  3. Select custom range to limit your search to a certain period of time. 
    "any time" menu with custom range circled
    Image 03: Screenshot of the Google search bar with Custom range encircled. A note reads, "Note: What Google may put as top results may not always be the best sources."

Searching Within a Particular Website

Many websites, even good ones, have less-than-excellent ways to search within their webpages. Google tends to do a better job searching within websites than other services.

To search within a particular website, type site:[site URL] without spaces then add a single space before typing in your keywords.

For example:

site: weather

screenshot of search for transgender portrayals television
Image 01: Screenshot of the Google search bar with " transgender protrayals television" entered.

Lateral Reading

This video from a group associated with Stanford University explains the important strategy of lateral reading when you're evaluating a source you find on the web.