Improving your digital literacy skills10-step guide to web researchingTrying to find out an accurate number for how many indexed webpages there are online is verydifficult. Some websites believe there are 3,700,000,000 while others suggest it is closer to8,300,000,000. Every year millions of new websites are created, which can make the job of findinggood, reliable information much more difficult.Many people assume that students know how to search. Type in a word and voilà, all the answersyou wanted are there in front of you but it doesn’t really work like that. Too often the results sendus to sites that bear no relation to what we want. And other sites lack authenticity, with dodgyinformation that claims to be real. It can be a minefield.To do searching well it is a skill to be learnt. Once you’ve learnt the basics it can aid you indeveloping critical thinking and information literacy skills.Stage One: Deciding where to search1. The internet is not always the best place to startDon’t expect a search engine to do all the work for you. Some schools offer access to databases,which are often a good place to start a search. They can be a bit difficult to use but they will giveyou information which is more credible than most search engines.The best researchers often rely on websites that they use again and again. When seen in a websearch they will navigate to them straight away. Develop your own list of favourite sites by:a.b.c.d.ActivityAsking your teacher or librarian to recommend websitesStick to a small number of credible websites for your topicUse the search box on those sites, or do a site search using a search engineAs you learn the names for the best sites bookmark them, or save them using tools suchas Diigo, Delicious or SymbalooStudents are given a list of ten sites. They must then select and defend their sourcesbefore they start writing2. When using search engines, always use more than oneMajor search engines like Google or Bing often return different results. This is because they workslightly differently. If you are using the same one all the time, you are not learning what is needed
to become a web researcher. Even with Google itself, you should know when to use Google News,Books, Scholar, and its many other features.ActivityFor two weeks don’t use your favourite search engine. Force yourself to use otherresearch methods available to youTry a meta-search engine like Zuula. It searches several search engines at the same time.Speciality search engines often search specific types of websites, or use different ways to search theweb. For some categories or topics these will generate better and more targeted results.Example: Wolfram Alpha is a ‘computational knowledge engine’ and a good resource for Maths andScience. You can ask it about these topics.Here is a list of search engines you can use,listed by type with brief descriptions for eachone3. The best results are often not on pageOneSome websites are very good at making theircontent rank highly in the search results forreasons that have nothing to do with thequality of their content. Websites that providethe best information are often found severalpages deep so make the effort and browseeach results page carefully.Yolink is a free tool which upgrades theControl F search function when searchingwebpages. It browses search results to findthe information you need quickly.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v LOu05Ue91vA
Stage Two: Planning your research4. Think before you searchMany students start to research before they understand what it is they are supposed to do. Insteadof reading and analysing the task, it is quite common to lift the question direct from an assignmentand put it in a search engine. This doesn’t often generate good results.How to analyse a task?Analysing your task is very important. If you haven’t got a clear picture in your mind of where youwant to go, planning your assignment isgoing to be difficult. So, here are someWhatinformationquestions you should ask yourself:do you needWritiequestions tohelp focuson the topic1. Brainstorm the topicDo youunderstandwhat isneeded?Analysingthe taskWhat keypoints orissues needaddressing?One common method for analysing tasksis to brainstorm a topic using the mindmapping technique. This has a three-stepprocess:to collect?What is theaim of theassignment2. Organising the informationWhat doyou knowalready?What is thequestion?3. Complete the mind mapOne method used for planning presentations is mind mapping. This has a three-step process:Source: RMITOnce you have finished brainstorming make a list of key search terms. When you find a good result,write down the most important words in it and add them to your keyword list.
You can keep track of your sources by using web-based bookmarking tools, such as Diigo, Deliciousor Symbaloo. Keeping track of sources helps you to avoid repeatedly visiting bad websites andmakes it much easier to cite the sources in your work (cite/citation/referencing is very important inuniversity).Activity: 2 2 2 Spend 2 minutes writing everything you know about the assignmenttopicSpend another 2 minutes noting down questions you want to askabout the topic.Extract keywords from those questions and pair them together tocreate web searchesThe aim of this activity is to get you thinking about the task and to create keywords for an onlinesearch, which helps in your research. Your goal is also to find relevant and authoritative sources thatyou can go back to again and again.5. Use special search functions to make the search engine work for youIf you are asked to write about fruit and you search using the word ‘apple’, you’ll find a lot ofinformation about technology and computers. Using a single word in a search engine does notgenerate the best results. Good researchers use a combination of words to find what they arelooking for.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v 7tm-sDKCnO4Here are a few search techniques that will help you conduct better, more accurate searches:Quotation Marks:Use quotes to search for an exact word or set of words. This is useful when you want something likequotes, song lyrics or text from an exact historical time period. Example: “The Great Fire of London”Dashes (or minus sign):Use this symbol directly before a word to help exclude unwanted information from your search Example: The Great Fire of London –secondUsing an asterisk (*)To help widen the scope of a search try adding an asterisk (*) Example: politic* will bring up references to politics, politician, political etcYou can also use an asterisk to cover different spelling Example: To cover ‘systemize’ and ‘systemise’, type ‘systemi*e, which returns results onboth spellings
AND, OR, NOT:Narrowing your search by using AND: Example: ‘cities AND planning’ so you don’t get thousands of results for each word, but onlyresults for bothAvoid enormous sets of useless results by using NOT: Example: ‘phrases and utterances, NOT speech’Use OR for widening a search, by putting search terms in brackets Example: ‘(dreams OR trances)’Related sitesThis search can be used for finding similar sites Example: related:www.youtube.comTwo dates:Use this to help you find information between those two numbers. For example you might want totry: Example: The Great Fire of London September 2.52007)(you can also use years e.g. 2002-CapitalisationMost search engines do not distinguish between uppercase and lowercase, even within quotationmarks. The following are all equivalent:technology Technology TECHNOLOGY "technology" "Technology"Site Search:For a look through the British Library site only Examples: The Great Fire of London site:www.bl.ukUsing the AROUND functionIf you search "Obama" AROUND(10) "Australia" then all results will be within ten words of eachother.NOTE: for this to work both search terms must be in quotes, AROUND must be capitalised, and thenumber must be in brackets.Use Country Codes to Look Up NewsStories:When gathering information it is alwaysgood to look at an issue from differentperspectives. This will help provide a fuller
picture and increase your understanding of a topic. One way to do this is by using different countrycodes.For example, if you wanted to get to Google Korea all you would have to do is search using thecountry code of Kr for Korea.Try it yourself first by going to Google Korea – www.google.co.kr.Below are a few of the country codes. You can click on the link to get a complete list.Search engines have advanced features that help narrow search results. Below are links to three ofthe most popular advanced searches and a short tutorial from the Open University.OU advanced searchtutorialGoogleYahooAskSometimes, you want to find an image that is copyright free. This video tutorial demonstrates howto do this: Advanced search for Google images (slow enough that even your teacher can understand)
6. Don’t believe everything you read (or see) on the internetSearching online is like being a detective. You have to be sceptical. You want to find the bestinformation you can, not the first thing that looks good or sounds good.The good and bad thing about the internet is that anyone can publishanything they want on it. Your job as a researcher is to decide if thatwebsite can be trusted and if its information is credible,authoritative, objective, accurate and up-to-date.A good detective always verifies critical information by confirming itwith more than one source. If you find a few unrelated, crediblesites in agreement on an issue, your research might be done. This isnot the case for something you read once.Stage Three: Evaluating your search results7. Finding primary sourcesThe best research sources you can find online will be primary sources, such as newspaper andmagazine accounts, letters, diaries, films, photographs and other documents written or recorded atthe time of the event. A detective would think of them as "eyewitness accounts".Listening to the authentic voice of people who witnessed the event brings a story to life and helpsfuel empathy. Primary sources have strong educational value and are easily accessible via theinternet. Below is a link to a one minute video on ‘How to use Google news to easily find primarysources’.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v zfn-Zan2YTY&feature player embedded#t 0The finding Dulcinea website has some good tips for finding primary source material.Not all of your material will come from primary sources, so use these tips to find out if you arelooking at the original publisher or a copycat.8. Who published the article?A good web researcher does not use information without considering who the author and publisherare first, so why would you trust a website without the same information?
When you find information you want to use, visit the home page and check the ‘About Us’ pagebefore you decide if the information is good or bad. Generally speaking, sites that end with .edu,.ac.uk, or .gov.uk are considered credible, but this is not always true so always check first.One giveaway is if the website name describes a product or service. These sites tend to be used forselling products and do not provide reliable information. Another sign of a bad site is if you seewords such as free, discount, best, your, 4 you, web* in its domain name.Question:Should you always trust Wikipedia?Answer:No! Before you trust what a page says ask yourself who wrote the information.Wikipedia is good for an overview but its contributors are anonymous so theircredentials cannot be trusted.Can you trust this information? The reliability of Wikipedia9. Why did they write this?As any detective will tell you once you have worked out who did it, you need to know why they didit. What was their motive? Is it trying to sell you something or is it biased politically or socially?These factors will impact on the type of information, providing a clue to whether it is biased or awell-rounded overview.At some point you have probably been taught that when doing an assignment, be it a presentationor a report, you should always have the audience in mind. Online, you should also have the authorin mind.Always ask yourself:Who created this website? and Who is the author?Also ask why. Why does this website exist? E.g. The UK Downing Street website promotes andcelebrates the work of the Prime Minister and the current government. It is useful as an overviewbut it does not critically examine their work.Activity – TheGood, the Bad andthe UglyThe tutorial looksat the criticalthinking requiredwhen using theinternet forresearchThe InternetDetective is a freeonline tutorial,designed to helpyou develop yourresearch ex.html
10. When was the information written or last revised?Old information is not always good information. Things change - sometimes very quickly. What iswritten about a scientific discovery or a person, a current event, or a new technology can quicklybecome out-of-date or untrue.Always check the dates of your sources. If you cannot find out when a source was written besceptical and do not trust it. Look for something else with a recent date. As we have said before, usea news search engine or do a web search including the current year as one of the search terms, anduse the advanced search to find recent results.If you are looking for something older, where possible use a primary source document, such as anewspaper, interview or magazine article, that was written close to the time of the event.E.g. Rosa Parks is famous for her stance on civil rights in the 1960’s. There are many websites thattalk about her, but there are other sites with actual footage of the events leading up to when sherefused to give up her seat, and interviews she gave explaining why she did it. These are much morepowerful than third-hand accounts.FinallyWhen searching online keep asking the same basic questions:
If it isn’t obvious what information you need to gather, look at what information you might