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How to use the Web for research

Evaluating and citing Web sites

There are many approaches to searching the Web. The route you take and the search tools you choose will depend on the kind of information you are looking for.

Keep in mind that not all types of information are available on the Web, and especially not for free. In addition, unlike traditional published sources, Web documents have not necessarily been evaluated; you need to assess the quality of the documents you find.

Information on the Web can originate from many different sources including individuals, organizations, governments, academic institutions and companies. It is therefore important to quickly assess the reliability of the sources you find.

Here are a few criteria you can apply when evaluating a Web site:

  • Currency
    • What is the creation and revision date of the site?
  • Authority
    • What are the author's credentials (education, employment)?
    • Who is responsible for the site (an organization, an interest group, a corporation, a government agency, etc.)?
    • Is there an "About Us" or "Contact Us" section?
    • What can you learn from the URL? Web addresses can inform you about the nature of a website. To learn more, visit:
  • Purpose
    • Who is the intended audience?
    • Is the purpose to entertain, inform or sell?
    • What type of information is being conveyed?
  • Point of view
    • Is the information factual or an interpretation of facts?
    • Are there any stereotypes, assumptions, opinions, etc.?
    • Do advertisements influence the content?
    • Are various points of view, theories and opinions represented equally?

Web pages, as with journal articles, books, encyclopedias and other material you consult when researching an assignment, need to be properly cited in a bibliography, a reference list or a list of works cited. Citation & Style Guides provide more information on how to cite Web resources.

Online guides and tutorials on evaluating Web sites

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Search Engines

Search engines:

  • are easy to use
  • index millions of Web pages
  • are good for finding narrowly-defined information
  • give the best results when keywords are precise and focused
  • provide increasingly powerful search features
  • may retrieve an overwhelming amount of results


  • lists related searches


  • Bielefeld Academic Search Engine is a multi-disciplinary search engine for academically relevant web resources which was created and developed by Bielefeld University Library.


  • Microsoft's search engine lists related searches
  • indexes the largest collection of Web pages
  • results are, in many cases, highly relevant and useful
Google Scholar
Microsoft Academic Search
  • An academic search engine developed by Microsoft Research. It also offers ways to visualized journal articles, authors, conferences, and journals.

Yahoo! Search

  • originally a Web directory, it now features a reliable search engine
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Metasearch engines

Metasearch engines:

  • allow you to query various search engines simultaneously providing a single list of results
  • can avoid duplication and provide additional ideas
  • results obtained may not be as precise as search engine results

Clusty (Vivisimo)

  • results are "clustered" into easily identifiable categories


  • searches selected search engines including Google, Yahoo!, Bing and Ask


  • searches selected search engines including AlltheWeb, Digg,
    Ask, Wikipedia, Bing, Gigablast, Yahoo, Open Directory and others


  • unique and original tool that displays results graphically


  • searches selected search engines including Google, Yahoo!, Bing and Ask


  • searches selected search engines including Google, Yahoo, Bing, Ask, AlltheWeb, AltaVista and others
  • user can filter search results by search engine.

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Subject Directories

Subject directories:

  • allow you to browse Web pages by category
  • are best used when you need to find a list of "general" Web sites pertaining to a topic
  • are often compiled by human editors
  • provide annotated links pointing to reliable Web sites

Google Directory

  • uses the Open Directory's index of sites but ranks results according to relevancy

Open Directory

  • one of the largest, most comprehensive human-edited directories


  • a directory of academic open access repositories. Maintained by the University of Nottingham, this site lists institutional and subject-based repositories, while also providing a service to search the contents of these repositories.

Yahoo! Directory

  • maintains an exhaustive directory that can, at times, be overwhelming
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Subject-specific search engines

Subject-specific search engines:

  • tend to focus solely on a topic
  • allow you to narrow your results and ensure that these are relevant

Many subject specific resources can be found listed by department in the Library Research Guides.
The following tools represent only a sampling:

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page last updated on: Wednesday 26 August 2015
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