The internet is crowded! It’s brimming with all kinds of information and resources. With so many choices online, it can be tricky to narrow down what you’re looking for.
But, with the right tips and tricks, you’ll learn how to responsibly navigate the internet and give credit to your sources when doing research.
Read through our student internet research guide below for ways to search smart, check for credible sources and cite your sources.
Let’s get started!
Where do you start?
Before you embark on your research, you should:
• Ask lots of questions.
• Brainstorm and think out of the box!
• Make a list of what kinds of sites would work best for your topic.
• Break down your research assignment into small parts to tackle it easier.
What types of resources will you come across in your research?
• Opinion: Based on personal feelings, thought, belief or anything that can’t be proven. Often contain stories and experiences.
• Fact-Based: Can be proven and observed. Often based on reports and studies. Use fact-based sources to guide your research!
Don’t forget to use your school network! It’s likely that your teacher or a librarian can give you access to paid subscriptions or journals that aren’t available in a regular internet search.
Lastly, be patient and stay focused. Search engines turn up millions of results, so it’s easy to get distracted.
Tips to stay focused:
• Log off of your email or social networks before you start.
• Mark your place and take 5 to 10 minutes to refresh and stretch if you need a break.
How to search smart:
Start your research with a well-known search engine, like Google or Bing. Always check your spelling and be clear when typing in the search bar.
Narrow down your search by using unique and specific words. Specific searches can make a huge difference in finding what you need!
Example: If you’re researching the history of mobile cell phones, typing in “cell phone” is too broad. This will bring up cell phone companies or products to buy. Narrow it down by typing in “When did cell phones become popular?” Try putting quotation marks around “your search” to limit the results.
Although the search engine may list your results in a certain way, this doesn’t mean the ones at the top are the most relevant for your topic. Sort through your results!
Activity: Fill in the blank
When you’re researching online:
1. Go _____ the surface.
2. Each fact you find should have several _______ to validate it.
3. Be cautious! Don’t assume that the first sources you find in a search will be ____
4. Ask your _____ if you aren’t sure about a source.
5. Create a ____ for favorite sites that you can return to stay ____ and save time.
sources bookmark beyond organized teacher trustworthy
Is your source credible?
You are in the middle of research and come across a new source you’ve never seen before! How do you know if it’s credible?
Follow this checklist:
Type of website
A college or university website that ends in .edu or a government website that ends in .gov are typically safe choices. Government websites are good for statistics and reports!
Sites that end in .org are run by a nonprofit organization. These can be good resources but may have a strong bias or opinion. Check with your teacher if it’s a good site for your project.
A business or commercial site that ends in .com is in most cases created to help sell a product. Blogs, personal sites and social media platforms that end in .com are likely to give you an opinion, not facts. Be wary of these sites when doing online research!
Established news sites are often safe to use, but always check that it’s an original source. If the article cites another source, go directly to that source for the information.
Subjective vs. objective
Remember earlier in the guide when we talked about opinion vs. fact-based sources?
A subjective source is opinion-based. You may come across Wikipedia.org in your search. This is a very popular site, but the info can be edited by anyone, no matter what the topic is! It’s best not to rely on Wikipedia. Treat it like any other site, double-check the sources that the article cites.
An objective source is fact-driven. It’s unbiased, meaning it is not swayed by a person’s opinion. Examples of objective sources are research studies and government statistics.
Let’s test what you have learned so far!
1. Which of the following sections of an online news site are factual? (select all that apply)
1. Restaurant reviews
2. Weather report
3. Advice column
4. Sports scores
2. Your next research project is on the history of Grand Canyon National Park. Which of these search terms would give you the best results to start your research? (select the best answer)
1. Grand Canyon
3. Who founded the Grand Canyon National Park?
4. national parks
3. You are researching climate change for your science class. From the list of sites below, which of the following are likely a reliable source to find information? (select all that apply)
4. Which of the following are ways to search smart? (select all that apply)
1. Type specific and unique words in the search bar
2. Have your social media platforms up
3. Use bookmarks to save your favorite sites
4. Rely on the first results that appear in your search
5. Which of these resources is objective? (select all that apply)
1. Facebook message board
2. Yale academic research study
3. Opinion article from Wikipedia
4. A government report on health statistics
Our checklist continues:
Is your source credible? (Cont.)
◦ Is there a publish date listed? If an article or study was written 10 or more years ago, it may not be the most reliable. Dig deeper to see if your topic has newer, fresher information. If not, it may be that the topic doesn’t change frequently.
◦ Is the name of the author on the page? Look for the author’s occupation, years of experience, job position or education. With what organization or institution are they with? Is the author qualified to write on this topic and why? Ask these questions to verify.
• Cited Sources
◦ If you find a list of references for your resource, this is a good sign! People can write anything they want online, so it’s a good idea to check the info against other sources to make sure it’s reliable.
◦ If the site looks very poorly made, has misspellings or security warnings pop up, it’s best to steer clear! But be careful, just because a site may look good, it doesn’t mean it’s always reliable.
When you research online, it can be easy to copy and paste text, then forget to go back later and cite it. However, this is considered plagiarism!
Plagiarism is when you take someone else’s words or ideas and pass them off as your own. There are tools your teacher can use to quickly check your work for plagiarism. This can have serious consequences, so it’s best to stay on the safe side and always give credit to your source!
If you don’t think you can express an idea better in your own words, you can directly quote the source. It’s helpful to cite as you go and keep track of what you quote from a source each time.
There are many different formats to cite your source. Read on to the next slide for common citation styles!
The two most common formats are MLA and APA. If you aren’t sure what format to use for your project, check with your teacher!
MLA – This format is commonly used by the Humanities.
The core elements of this citation include: Author. Title. Title of the container. Other contributors, Version, Number, Publisher’s name, Date of publication, Location
APA – This format is commonly used by Education, Psychology and Sciences.
The core elements of this citation include: Contributors. (Date). Title. Publication Information.
Be sure to check the MLA and APA websites for additional details. There are also online citation generators that can help you cite your source. Always remember to give credit to other people’s work!
Test your skills! (Multiple choice quiz)
1. You come across a new website during your research but notice the following. Which of these tells you that your source is most likely NOT credible? (select all that apply)
1. It has several cited sources
2. A security warning pops up
3. The article was published in July 2016
4. There is no author name listed
2. What does it mean to plagiarize someone else’s work? (select the best answer)
1. To paraphrase someone’s idea in my own words and cite them
2. To copy and paste someone’s words to my paper without citing
3. To put quotes around an idea from someone else and cite them
4. All of the above
3. You are writing a paper for your English class and found an academic article you need to cite. Which elements do NOT need to be included in the citation? (select all that apply)
3. Author’s job title
4. Word count
5. Title of article
4. What is a good way to keep track of your sources during online research? (select all that apply)
1. Keep open tabs in your browser
2. Make a list
3. Use a citation generator
4. Cite your sources throughout your research
5. You’re using your checklist to check if the source you found is credible. Which of the following should you look for? (select all that apply)
1. Date of article
2. Font size
3. Type of website
4. Color of website
Read through our student internet research guide for ways to search smart, check for credible sources and cite your sources.