How to do internet research

This page has ten rules on how to do good research on the internet.


The internet is a wonderful resource. It has all the information that students are likely to need about every topic they are studying. Internet research can be a very effective (and enjoyable) way of finding the information that you need.

However, @@@ it is also very easy to spend a lot of time searching on the web and still not find what you are looking for. ~~~ If you follow the 'rules' below, you can be sure to avoid wasting too much of your precious time.

Research 'rules'

Rule 1 - Be sure you know exactly what information you have to find.

@ The more exactly you know what you are looking for, the easier it will be to find it. ~

Rule 2 - Use multiple-word searches.

This is related to Rule 1. Let's say you have to find out about Shackleton's third journey to Antarctica. Do not just type in Shackleton. Type Shackleton third journey Antarctica. You will get fewer results, but you can be confident that these will be relevant to the information you need.

Rule 3 - Enclose phrases in quotation marks.

Suppose you had to find out which was the world's most dangerous animal. Typing the most dangerous animal in Google returns almost 100 million hits.

If you enclose the phrase in quotation marks in "the most dangerous animal", you get just over 600,000. This is still a huge number, but you can be more sure the results will be relevant.

Rule 4 - Use the minus sign to filter unwanted results.

Imagine you are searching for information about the Hilton hotel organization. If you just type in Hilton, you will get a huge number of pages with information about Paris Hilton , a famous Hollywood star. If, however, you type in Hilton -Paris (i.e. Hilton 'minus sign' Paris), the search results will not include any pages about the actor.

In Google, the Advanced Search will help you use this (Boolean) logic correctly. Google has a help page if you are still not sure. Or you could ask your teacher or librarian to show you.

Rule 5 - Learn how to skim the search hits for webpages worth opening.

If you have used good keywords/keyword groups and correct Boolean logic, you should have a not-too-long list of links that contain the information you are looking for. These links come with one or two lines of information about the webpage they lead to.

If you read this information with some care, you can avoid clicking on irrelevant pages. It is very time-wasting to wait a minute or so for a page to load, only to find that it is useless to your needs.

Rule 6 - Be sure to evaluate the reliability of the information you find.

@@ Anyone can put information on the internet. Not all of the information is correct or up-to-date. ~~ If you find a webpage that has unusual colours/fonts or contains many spelling mistakes, you should be very careful about trusting the information it contains. See if there are details about the author somewhere on the website, or ask your teacher/librarian to advise.

Rule 7 - Research in your own language.

Much of the information on the web that is in English will be very hard for ESL students. An excellent idea is to research in your own language. You can then read the corresponding information in English with a far better chance of understanding it.

Rule 8 - Remember: you don't always need to use the internet.

School libraries are full of books and other resources containing most of the information you need. If you use a library book, you can usually be sure of its reliability (although it may not be up-to-date). Libraries have access to excellent reference resources such as the Encyclopedia Britannica or ProQuest magazine database.

It is often best to start research in the library and to use a web search engine only if the library does not have what you are looking for.

Rule 9 - Filter your results according to their reading level.

You can ask Google to show you only the pages that are written at a basic or intermediate or advanced level of language difficulty (readability). [Note: This functionality was discontinued by Google, but may be available again when you read this.]

A good source of information written explicitly for English language learners is Simple English Wikipedia. Here is the advice Simple English Wikipedia gives to its content writers:

"Simple does not mean short. Writing in Simple English means that simple words are used. It does not mean readers want basic information. Articles do not have to be short to be simple; expand articles, add details, but use basic vocabulary."

Rule 10 - Remember: finding the right information is only the beginning.

Once you have found the information you are looking for, you will need to do something with it. Often you will make notes on it before putting it into a piece of writing of your own.

In this case, be sure to keep the URLs (web addresses) and titles of the web pages. [ More on taking notes .]


In conclusion, it is worth repeating Rule 1 for emphasis:

Be sure you know exactly what information you want to find ... and what you want to do with it once you have found it.

And if you are not sure what to look for and where to start looking, you should ask your teacher for recommendations.

Further reading

The three external sites below have more information and advice on this important topic.

Lots of useful suggestions for more effficient searching
Fact-Checking Your Writing
Evaluating resources