Internet Searching Tips

— Finding useful, credible information is both an art and a science. Here are some searching tips.

OK, you just heard about something great, or need to start research on a paper or project. Knowing that the information you want is "out there" on the internet is just your first step. Finding useful, credible information is both an art and a science. You will want to spend some time learning how to search for the information you want and how to weed out the extraneous, useless information you don’t want.

If you remember looking up information rapidly disappearing physical library Card Catalog, using the internet will basically be an extension of the skills you already have:

  • Determining Keywords
  • Using Indexes
  • Following Through to find useful articles and information

If all of this is new to you, read on, though, you may first want to check out our Basic Internet Help:

Determining Keywords

Whether you are looking for college information, researching a paper or personal topic, it is helpful to first make a list of words and phrases that relate to your subject. Be creative. Let your mind wander, use an online thesaurus site for synonyms; put it down and come back later. Then, pick out a few of the most descriptive phrases to start with.

As an example, the following are a few terms I came up with when looking for adult college student information:

adult college student, adult learner, re-entry student, returning student, distance learning, continuing education, online degrees, college student, student orientation, campus counseling center, career change, study, student success, college funding, financial aid, grants, scholarships.

Once you start searching, your results will reveal other keywords that may help you hone in on your specific topic. The "search suggestions" option many sites offer —where a menu of choices are presented as you type — can be helpful too.

Using Indexes

After you’ve determined some keywords and phrases, visit one of the search engines below (or your own favorite). The first thing to try is to just type in your phrase and hit enter, or the "find" button they provide. See what you get. If the results seem to broad, not related or in a foreign language, either try using more terms to search on, or visit that site’s searching help or options page. (For more help on this, see Following Through below.)

NOTE: In addition to advanced searching options, most of the searching engines below use "Boolean" search construction, meaning that you can use a + to force a term inclusion, a to omit pages with a certain term or phrase, and "your phrase in here" within quote marks to force two or more words to be searched on as a phrase — such as a person’s name.

Each search engine and index runs a little differently. For multiple term searches, one engine might return better results if a + sign is used between terms rather than an &. Another one might have a different form altogether for an "advanced" search. Regardless, the individual sites’ help pages are the most reliable place to get information about using that site’s engine.

Some popular search engines and indexes are:

Following Through

OK, so you typed in a search term or two and got thousands or millions of results! How are you ever going to find that specific morsel of information you are after??? Here are some pointers (also check out our article on authenticating resources):

  • If your result is too broad and you get a bunch of irrelevant results, type in more key words. If you get zero results, type in fewer key words. Many search engines will allow you to use quotes (to search for a phrase) or a minus sign (to disallow certain words or phrases) to focus in on your subject. Additionally, look for an "Advanced Search" option.

    Special tips for objects or things: Often, if your search on a object to find out more information about it, you’ll end up getting a bunch of links showing you where to buy it. For example, if you are doing research on the meaning of Aboriginal art and start your search with "Aboriginal art" you’ll get all sorts of results from importers to art galleries. (Oh, plus a wikipedia entry, which can be a useful resource for references). Make sure to include a descriptive word or phrase, such as "meaning" and you’ll immediately get better results.

  • Narrow the search geographically. Add your city or state name as one of your searching terms if what your looking for is best found locally. Add just a state, country, or area if what your looking for is specific to a certain location. If you were doing research on polar bears in the wild, adding "North Pole" will get more relevant results than just "wild polar bears."

  • Read the title and description of the web site listed on the results page. Well constructed sites (which may or may not relate to information credibility) will have a concise, readable title and description of their site. Many search engines will highlight your search terms within context in the description. This can be very useful for quickly determining the relevance of the site to your search.

  • Be aware that some web sites pay for listing results. On the larger search sites, these are usually separated out, and noted as "Sponsored Links." On other sites, they will be highly designed so as to be indistinguishable from unpaid, or "organic" listings. While there is nothing inherently wrong with paying for link placement, most of these sites will be trying to sell you something. This is how they pay for their advertising.

  • Look at the website address. If you are looking for a specific college, product, manufacturer, store, organization, etc., chances are, they probably have registered their own domain name and by becoming familiar with the anatomy of a web address (see the terms web address, directory, domain, subdomain in the glossary), you can fairly easily and reliably predict whether or not you’ve gotten a "score" on your search.

    Educational and Government sites often provide reliable, free, usable information. Look to sites with domain names that end in ".edu" or ".gov" as generally reliable sources. Next in line might be ".org" sites which for the most part are non-profit organizations, and depending on your slant, may or may not provide you with the information your are looking for. Do not rule out ".com" sources as not all of these sites are simply out to take your money. Many sites, like, wish mostly to get useful content online to help others learn, and have learned that "dot-com" is king in domain naming.

    Sometimes web sites with long addresses may be gone by the time you visit them, as they move or get redesigned when the host switches their website set-up. If they created a good title, and did some effective planning, you may be able to search on their specific web site or page title for an updated link. I’ve had good luck searching Google on specific phrases or sentences from a page (enclose them in quote marks), if you can remember something about the page.

  • Open the link in a new tab or window. This way, you can go back to the search results page at will, and only bookmark the most useful sites. To do this, right click or control click your mouse to bring up a menu of window options.

  • Bookmark your hottest prospects. By adding the site to your Favorites or Bookmark list, you can visit it later, and more importantly, return to it if you need to find bibliographical information. (Tip: make sure you learn how to edit your bookmarks or favorites, organize your useful links, and delete old or broken links. Otherwise you will get a long list of cryptic bookmarks).

Searching Tips

  • Use the "back" button on your browser, or alternately, the "History" or "Go" menus. The "back" button will take you to the last page you visited. This will come in handy if you performed a search on a search engine and want to get back to the list of returned sites with out having to type in the search again.

  • Use a multi-search engine to start:,, or similar are good ones to try. They will search a number of other search engines for their top matches. You may get duplicate listings, but you’ll get a feel for which engine is providing you with the best matches for your query. If you want more listings from any one search engine, you can then visit the ones that have the most relevant data.

  • Browse the search engine’s directory: Most search engines not only allow you to search the web for your term, but have already categorized listings of sites related to your question. Check the "Education" category on, for example.

  • Explore the sites you visit. If you find a single page article that has useful information on it, take the time to explore what else the site offers. Hit their Home Page link, or "back-step" as described below in "404 File Not Found."

  • Use the site’s built-in search engine. Many sites incorporate their own on-site search engine. These are very useful for finding the specific information you might be after. Use your browser’s "find" command to search for a term on the page you’re browsing. This is useful on a page with a lot of content.

  • Common web surfing errors
    • Server busy error: This usually indicates that the server (a computer "hosting" the file or site) you’re wanting is either temporarily not functioning, overloaded, or the pathway to the server is obstructed somehow. Try to access the site at a later time.

    • A Connection Failure Has Occurred: Similar to Server Busy Error. Try to access the site at a later time.

    • Unable to locate a server: This usually means that the server is no longer in service, that you made a typing error, or the address wasn’t quite right. Sometimes, though, the big routing servers go down and computers from a certain region may not be able to "find" the address you want to go to. Try again later or check whether the domain name (server name) is valid. Do this by visiting for a "who is" searching gateway. You can type in the domain name and it will return a screen that tells you if and to whom the domain name has been registered.

      If all else fails and you really want to see a abandoned website, try the "Way Back Machine." This site, officially known as the Internet Archive, maintains fairly complete records of websites as they existed in the past. It can be useful to find articles that have been removed from the "active" web. Be warned, there may be a reason the article or page was pulled from a current website — copyright issues or factual errors, or worse.

    • "404 File not found" error when trying to access a site means that the server is working, but that the specific file is no longer available. Sometimes the owner of the file has changed services or reconstructed the site. If the owner has moved, you will have to search the title of the file on a search engine. If the site has been reorganized, you may be able to find the file you want by back-stepping the cursor in the address line deleting the characters back to a "/" mark and hitting "enter" again. Keep doing this until you get to a spot where a real page is displayed and look for the file you want.

      For example, the file you want is at and it doesn’t come up. Delete the "filename.html" so that the "/" is the last character ( and hit enter again. You might get another 404 error, a "forbidden message," or if you’re lucky, you’ll get an index listing of what’s in that directory and you can see if the file you are after is there.

    • "No Such Device or Address" This error generally means there is something wrong with your connection. Maybe the phone line came unplugged, or someone in the house picked up the other handset for just second. Best way to solve is to disconnect and reconnect to the internet, or resetting your modem or router. This may involve a computer restart. Sometimes, the problem can be on the service provider’s end, but not too often.

by Kristin Pintarich, Editor-in-Chief, The Adult Student’s Guide to Survival and Success

Basic Internet Glossary

— A quick guide to common terms used on the internet. You likely know most of these already.

Attachment: a file sent "attached" to an e-mail message. May be a picture, text file, audio, video, or executable program. Multiple files may be "stuffed" or "zipped" in order to save space and protect the data from corruption. Make sure you check each attachment for viruses with virus detection software.

Browser: software program used to view Web pages, also may include e-mail and ftp functionality.

Chat: real-time discussions held using your keyboard, either at a web site or using stand-alone software.

Directory: a searchable internet site which catagorizes web sites and lists links, often with a review. is an example of a directory. Often directories will have search engine abilities as well.

Also, a directory is part of the filing structure used by computers to organize files. Example: this file, with its web address of:

has a filename of "internetglossary.html"
and is housed on the "" server,
found inside the directory "help",
and inside the directory named "other."
Another name for a directory such as "other" and "help," which are housed inside the main directory of adultstudent, is subdirectory.

Domain: in an internet address, the part of the naming convention that consists of a sequence of characters separated by dots. The five most common types of domains are: ".com" for company or commercial entity, ".org" for non-profit organization, ".gov" for government agency, ".net" for a network, and ".edu" for educational institution. An internet site’s full domain name would be "" or "" for example. Two sites with such similar names are registered as two separate sites and may or may not be operated by the same company.

E-mail: electronic mail sent over the internet or online service through a stand alone software program or integrated browser.

FTP (File Transfer Protocol): The series of rules that govern "uploading" and "downloading" files from a server. These files can not usually be viewed by the browser software, but will be saved to your hard drive to open or translate later. Current browsers integrate FTP into their software, or you may use a stand alone program.

HTML (HyperText Markup Language): the predominant programming language used to write web pages. Used as an extension, or suffix, for pages written in html.

Internet: global network of computers which allows people to share information via phone and digital data lines.

IP number: "Internet Protocol" number. This set of four digits separated by periods (such as is the base system for creating internet addresses. Most of the time web surfers will never see these numbers as they are "resolved" by online servers known as Domain Name Servers. If you get a “DNS server error” or some such and you know the IP number, you can circumvent the need for the Domain Name Server and go directly to the webstite. An IP number may or may not correlate directly to a specific computer, as some are assigned to one domain (static IP) and some are generated on the fly from a block of numbers as the need exists (dynamic IP). Large hosting companies may house hundreds of websites on one server all having the same IP number.

Link (also known as hyperlink): the text or picture you click on to jump from one page or site to another.

Newsgroups: (also previously known as USENET) the internet’s equivalent to the community bulletin board. oversees a web interface for searching, reading, and posting to newsgroups. Choose a category then select discussions. You can also use stand alone newsgroup reader software.

Page: one file as viewed through a browser window.

PDF: "portable document format" which is a file type that is readable on multiple-platforms (Windows AND Mac, Linux, Unix, etc.) with a free downloadable program called Adobe Acrobat Reader available from Adobe Systems.

Portal: a site that acts as an "entryway" to or gatherer of information on a specific subject. They generally include many links to other like sites.

Search Engine: a site on the Web which lets you search the internet using keywords or phrases.

Server: a computer with full-time access to the internet which is used to store files and web sites and "serve" them up as needed when accessed via a url. The server portion of a url is the "" The server can be either a real computer, or space rented on a hosting computer. This situation, where a domain name resides on someone else’s server is called a "virtual domain."

Subdomain: first part of the internet naming construction which often describes the function of a site, or is used for organization. Common subdomains are: "www" for World Wide Web; "ftp" for file transfer protocol, "mail" for a mail server; etc. For example, is a web site, while would be an area for housing files available for download. See domain.

Larger sites often will divide activities into subdomains, such as "" "" or ""

URL or Web Address: the uniform resource locator, or web address is the location of a specific web site. Most often beginning with "http://www."

Virtual domain: a domain name hosted by a computer already having it’s own domain name. Example: is the virtual domain for the set of files located at the direct IP number for our host company’s server. The files are the exact same ones accessed either way. Total Choice Hosting is the hosting server, is one of many virtual domains hosted by the server.

Virus: a program that can attack a personal computer in a variety of usually destructive ways. Viruses are spread by opening infected disks or files. Purchase anti-virus software and run it regularly. Also, do not open e-mail messages from someone you don’t recognize. If you aren’t sure who someone is, send a message asking the sender to identify themselves.

Web site: a collection of pages (or files) from one entity that are linked together.

World Wide Web (www, Web): multi-media interlinked function of the internet. Text, pictures, sound and video can be transmitted via the World Wide Web.

Basic Internet Hints and Tips

— If you don’t have much experience online, getting aboard in a fast-paced world can seem a bit overwhelming. Here are some hints and terms to get you started.

If you don’t have much experience online, getting aboard in a fast-paced world can seem a bit overwhelming. Here are some hints and terms to get you started.

Internet Glossary
Internet Searching Tips

  • What’s "H-T-T-P-colon-slash-slash" (http://)? The internet works on an agreed upon computer standard, often called "protocol" that allows varying types of computers to access the same information. There are several different protocols in common use on the internet, the most popular by far, being Hyper Text Transfer Protocol, or HTTP. You know this more commonly as the World Wide Web, Web or even simply "the internet." Others you may have heard of include File Transfer Protocol (or FTP, to transfer data or application files) and Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP, for e-mail functions).

    HTTP is the protocol devised to transmit text files, most commonly written in some form of Hyper Text Mark-up Language (or HTML) which can incorporate pictures, sound, video and even computer applications. So, the HTTP of a web address indicates that you will be accessing a file that’s written in HTML or compatible language that can be read by your web browser.

    The colon, serves the purpose of any good punctuation by letting the computer know that something else is coming next, and the two slashes are part of internet protocol that indicates directories and subdirectories.

    Note: with many modern browsers (Firefox, Safari, Chrome, etc.) and mobile devices, often the address bar is hidden by default, so you may not even be bothered by this.

  • "To ‘www.’ or not to ‘www.’:" Why do some addresses you see start with a "www" and some others do not? It is a decision of the site designer or marketer, for the most part. Even though there is one protocol for naming web sites, there are several executions of it. Most often, leaving off the ‘www.’ will get you to the same place as including it. Sometimes it will take you to a less specific level of the site than what you are after. See subdomain in the glossary.
  • "To Slash or not to Slash:" Why do some addresses you see end with a "/" (forward slash) and some others do not? This is also a decision of the site designer or marketer, for the most part. generally uses trailing slashes in the links we provide.

    Huh? If you have the url of a specific page or file (something that ends with a period and a three or four letter "suffix", such as .html or .asp), most likely there will be no slash at the end. However, if you are accessing a site’s home page, such as, adding a final slash to the url making it, will allow you to access the site a fraction of a fraction of a second faster. Oh boy. Then you’ll probably be automatically redirected to some url that is long and contains "session" information about your visit to their site at that time.

    Why? Well, the slash mark is computer-ese for a subdirectory and if you include it on your initial accessing of the site, the computers involved will know on the first go-around that you are trying to access a default directory instead of a specific file and you’ll get "in" that much faster. You’re also reducing the overall load on the internet by one "hit” each time you use the trailing slash.

  • Where Am I??? It’s easy to get "lost" on the internet. Links on any given page may link to the same page, the same domain, or any other internet page in the world. How do you know where you are and where you might go? Make sure you have the "location" bar visible in the control portion of the browser window. This will show you the current page. Look at the first part of the url, the server portion, and that will give you a good indication of where you are.
  • Is this site the official site? See our tips on authenticating resources
  • If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Undoubtedly you will get an error or two when trying to access sites. Links may be out of date, servers may no longer be in service, or possibly it’s just a temporary condition. The error No such device or address and Unable to access (url)… are often temporary issues, the most common cause being that you or the device on the other end lost an internet connection. Sometimes you try to access a site just as web maintenance is taking place and files are temporarily down. Keep trying. If it’s an important site, follow the "2-rule," try again in 2 seconds, 2 minutes, 2 hours, 2 days, 2 weeks, 2 months – then email!
  • Be patient, but not too patient. If a page seems to take forever to load, see if you can determine why. The best designed pages will load all their text first then add the graphics. The worst will have huge graphics on the first page you try to access. Often in the link bar at the bottom of your browser window, you can see load progress information. If it’s a big file and depending on your connection speed, some pages will just take time. If the page is one you know usually loads fast and this time "hangs" the hit the stop button and then the refresh button. Often "recharging" the connection is all the page needs to load into your browser quickly.
  • For more information on how to find articles, visit a tutorial page from University of California, Berekley: How to find articles and databases.
by Kristin Pintarich, Editor-in-Chief, The Adult Student’s Guide to Survival and Success

Emoticons, Emojis, Chat Abbreviations and Avatars

— (Page 46). Hey, what do all those symbols and abbreviations mean??

As the web has grown as a form of communication, it’s funny to think that we are actually returning back to our written communication roots! But, oh how different communicating by "keyboard" in the 21st century is from the type or hand written communications of the past.

Since written communications can be interpreted in many ways, and feeling can sometimes get lost, people have come up with creative ways to express emotion in their work. USING ALL CAPS HAS THE EFFECT OF SHOUTING. using all lower case letters even for proper names, the pronoun i, and sentence capitals can convey either very casual communications or lack of effort. b aware of what image you may be portraying.

Punctuation becomes of utmost importance too. It is always good to read your note, letter, or request out loud before you send it. One brief example of a misunderstanding due to punctuation and emphasis is:

Let’s eat, mommy.
Let’s eat mommy.

The longer the sentence is, the more ripe for misinterpretation due to inaccurate punctuation.

AFK or BRB???

If you are bewildered by the amount of chat abbreviations people use while communicating on the internet, (and almost everywhere else) you are not alone! In an effort to cut down on text-message charges, time, and to befuddle those who do not know, people of all ages have really grabbed on to the abbreviations.

A few of the most common are:

  • AFK – away from keyboard
  • BRB – be right back
  • BTW – by the way
  • FYI – for your information
  • F2F – face to face
  • HAND – have a nice day
  • HB – hurry back
  • IDK – I don’t know
  • IMHO – in my humble opinion
  • LOL – laugh out loud (or sometimes, lots of love)
  • NP – no problem
  • RL – real life
  • ROFL / ROTFL – rolling on the floor, laughing
  • TIA – thanks in advance
  • TMI – too much information
  • WRK – work
  • WTG – way to go
  • YW – you’re welcome

Here’s a comprehensive listing:

Have a Happy Day! :)
happy face emoticon
on the phone emoticon
big grin emoticon
roll on the floor laughing emoticon

According to wikipedia (see emoticon article link below), the predecessor of the modern "emoticon" (the cute little smiley faces and such) was first documented in 1857 when Morse code operators purportedly used the number 73 to mean love and kisses…. In 1982, professor Scott Fahlman at Carnegie Mellon University suggested using :-) to indicate jokes and :-( to indicate things that weren’t jokes… and we haven’t looked back since!

Emoticons have evolved into more than just smiley faces. There are bugs, cowboys, four-leafed clovers, flowers, animals and more. No longer are they always a small 16×16 pixel size. While some people now refer to any sort of fun graphic embedded into an email as an emoticon, most still only consider the ones that convey some actual emotion an emoticon. These usually have some reference to the human body, such as a nose, eye, hand, or an action of emotion like crying, giving flowers, wishing good luck, etc. But… like most everything else on the internet, there are no hard and fast rules.

These days, most every instant messaging and chat service and even email software has their own depiction of the common emoticons. Below are a few directories. The basic typography is similar among them, but the graphical image can vary. See the traditional smiley face for comparison.

To use emoticons:

  1. If you have a newer version of an email program like Outlook or Eudora, you should be able to access the emoticons from your formatting menu. (See your software’s help and search on "emoticon.") Third-party additions are also available for Windows computers, see the specific software for installation information.
  2. If you have a chat service like Yahoo Messenger, MSN, iChat, or AOL Instant Messenger, you can usually access a menu with many of the emoticons programmed in already. If one you want is not there, try typing in the typographical equivalent — you’ll have to know what it is first by checking the Yahoo, MSN and Wikipedia links below.
  3. Search on and visit a site for "free smilies" or "free emoticons." Some will have applications you can download with bonus smilies for your chat application.
  4. Other free emoticon sites will just have pages of fun (and some disturbing!) images. If you find one you like, right-click (or command-click on a Mac) and "save image to disk" or the like and remember where you saved it. You should be able then to drag and drop the graphic into your email, or if that doesn’t work, open it (with Picture Viewer or Preview, copy it, and paste it back into your email.

Who do I want to be today???

Many online environments allow users to create their own cartoon-like image known as an "avatar" to represent themselves. AOL Instant Messenger was one of the first to do so, and now even product support forums (such as this sample one for WordPress, an open source blogging software) allow users to upload or create their own online persona. Some even allow for uploading of real-life photos, or both. A major element of the online community Second Life is avatar customization… but beware, this can take precious time away from your studies!

In addition, many distance learning software modules allow students and instructors to upload a photo or avatar. While it is usually a completely optional activity, it can be a good way to help connect with your classmates.


Authenticating Resources on the Internet

— (Pages 46, 82). Help in determining what is reliable and what is not when it comes to using resources found on the net.

OK, so you’ve read our Internet Searching Tips, been to Google, Duck Duck Go, Bing or the like, and learned you have several—if not hundreds of—thousands of matches for your search.

Some you can toss out right away just by the completely irrelevant title or description of the site. You scan through the list and find a few good prospects to try. Now, how do you determine whether the information at the other end of the link is the best available—or at the least, correct?

First, check the spelling of the domain of each file you’d like to view. You may have heard of the problem with deceptive web sites. Believe it. Many web sites are set up to either sound or be spelled like some well-known organization in order to capitalize on the legitimate organization’s name recognition and community respect. It’s a time-honored advertising practice used by legitimate and illegitimate organizations alike, but in the days of the internet, software and sophisticated programmers, persons who are out to deceive the casual web surfer can easily do just that.

Verifying the Source:

There are several questions to ask and levels of authentication you can perform. From the most simple to the most complex and thorough, they are:

1. Does the site name “seem” to be legitimate?

Dissect the website address to find the “top level” domain (.gov, .com, .net, .org, .edu, .uk, etc.) and the domain name itself (“Yahoo” from for example). Take these two together to see if they seem to correspond. Most large companies have the web site address you’d expect, such as for Nike, for Adidas, for United Parcel Service. Here is a short listing of the most common top-level domain designations:

.biz Newer, less used version of .com. Open to anyone.
.com A “commercial” site in registered in the United States, but not necessarily by a US citizen. The first and most widely used public domain. Registration is open to any entity or individual.
.edu The domain named used exclusively for educational institutions, mostly colleges and universities. (Educause is the overseeing body)
.gov Domain level reserved for official US government sites. Managed by the US Gen. Svcs. Admin. at
.info Another newer less used top-level domain open to anyone.
.net An open registration domain meant for providers of electronic networks, but used by anyone.
.org An open domain once intended for organizations with domains that did not fit in other categories. Widely used by non-profits, but not always!
.us A two letter Country-Code Top Level domain (ccTLD) indicating the United States. Mostly used for local governmental sites, such as a county or school district (, but recently opened to anyone with significant ties (as in a resident) to the United States. See below for more on Country Codes.
.ca Canadian sites, not necessarily governmental. Sometimes you’ll see “” The governing body, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority is found at: Currently, a whois is available in the upper right of the page.

Most countries do not add a .com (or .co) before their country code, so that in the US is in Canada, but some countries do, such as in the UK:

Several years back, many country codes have “opened” up registration to anyone, trying to capitalize on their catchy abbreviations. Have you seen any of these?

Belize .bz (Business)
British Indian Ocean Territory .io (Input/Output)
Western Samoa .ws (Web Site)
Cocos Keeling Islands
(an Australian territory)
.cc (community college, credit card, chat club, etc.
–according to their website.)
Montserrat .ms (microsoft)
Tuvalu .tv (Television)

A few years after those country domains opened up, ICANN opened up a slew of new domains available for many interests, such as .art, .movie, .name. A pretty good listing of ccTLDs and their restrictions is available at the Wikipedia article of top level domains

Much more information on, domain names can be found at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) site, Acronyms and Terms page:

The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) is responsible for international sites, and the country codes can be found:

If it’s a US government site, the domain name should be “.gov,” however, more and more governmental entities are setting up “.com” sites as well, take for example the State of Oregon’s official traffic information site:

2. Were you redirected?

When you type in “,”(Apple Computer—Canada) for example, your browser is redirected to “” You’ll need to have the “address” line visible in your browser to check this. Most times forwarding is just a housekeeping function of the company as it has grown and reorganized its web site and knows that references to an old address are widespread.

However, if a hacker or someone with less than honorable intentions has gotten to the site, you may be redirected to a different site having nothing to do with what you thought you were after (or what the person who posted the link intended). Redirection will also commonly occur if you have reached a site no longer in operation, but most times, these are generally forwarded to a site asking you if you want to buy that domain name, now that it’s available again, and offer some sort of search option, topic directory, or “link farm”.

3. Does the site look and feel the way you might expect it to?

If you are trying to visit and get a blank page with few words and no pictures, or explicit photos, something is probably wrong. You may have made a typo, chosen the wrong link, or it could be a temporary “takeover” by a hacker. In any case, you’ll need to double check your work! As a very broad rule of thumb, if you go to a large national corporation’s web site, expect it to “look” more professional than, say, a university’s research department, or a local county emergency information page. Marketing is what corporations do.

Don’t necessarily be put off by the lack of design or sophistication of any given site. While a well built, easily navigated “pretty” site is inviting to use, some of the most informative and useful sites are very simple, without headers or graphics, and often, just straight text on a blank background. On the other hand, some of the fanciest sites are missing real content and clear navigation, and once you wait forever for the page to load, you discover you need to download some mysterious software version you thought you already had before they’ll even let you in. (Hint: sometimes, you can hit “Cancel” in your browser while the page is loading and just the text will load.)

Here is an interesting site from Stanford University titled Stanford Web Credibility Research. It describes how the majority of web users assign credibility largely based on how the site looks vs. what content the site contains.

4. Does the site contain contact information?

At the very least, the page you are visiting should have some sort of reference on it, or a link to a home page, contact page, information page, etc. Look for the author’s name, affiliation, organization, SOMETHING! If you can’t find some sort of attribution for something you’d like to cite, the best practice is to not use it at all. Most legitimate organizations will have a page (or area on the home page) that gives such information as street address, city, state, country, phone number, email address, contact personnel, etc. If you’d like, take this information and plug it into your search engine to see if you can validate it.

5. Have other sites linked to the site you are researching?

Just like in real life, word of mouth advertising on the net works wonders. Just think of all those web-videos you’ve gotten in your email. Anyway, if you have found a reference on a web site that seems slightly obscure, you can go to Google or Bing and perform a link search (type “link: ” in the search field: “”) to see what other web sites have linked to the site or page in question. Click on one or two of the results to see what others are saying about the site you are researching. If there is a pattern of comments (good or bad), you might be on to something. (Note, currently the search engines aren’t recognizing this type of search. We’re looking for a workaround!)

6. How does the site “earn its living”?

Again, just like in the “non-cyber” world, entities generally don’t exist in a vacuum. Most .com sites you visit are offering something for sale. It may be a book (like, advertising, a service, or some other product. Many .org sites sell products, too, but many do not, and many are non-profit. As mentioned above in item #1, allocating domain names is a largely a self-policing exercise, so that if a person wanted to deceive, it’s just a matter of finding the right .org domain name to exploit.

Try to figure out the motivation behind the site, is it up for purely marketing purposes, or does it offer something for everyone to leave with? While the answer to this question is enlightening, be warned that some of the best information is found on fee-based subscription services (such as Consumer Reports or Lexis-Nexis).

7. Have you performed a “Who Is” check?

Whenever someone wants to register a new .com, .net., .org or one of several other open registered top-level domain names, the transaction is recorded by an agency called Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Private companies contract with ICANN to sell domain names to client companies and individuals. A huge database of all the domain name owners is part of the public record of the internet and available for anyone to search freely. Use this search to help verify that a company is who it says it is.

In the US: sponsored by
Or, from Domain Tools.

Your results may or may not be complete the first time you try. VeriSign/Network Solutions will give you a full record for its own clients, but will refer you to the assigning web site for domains that it did not register. Follow the links and perform a second search if necessary on the assigning site. Eventually you should get a record that looks something like this:

   Practical Psychology Press
   PO BOX 535
   PORTLAND, Oregon 97207-0535
   United States

   Registered through: Wild West Domains
      Created on: 16-Aug-99
      Expires on: 16-Aug-17
      Last Updated on: 15-Apr-15

   Administrative Contact:
      Practical Psychology Press (email removed for this demo)
      PO BOX 535
      PORTLAND, Oregon 97207-0535
      United States
      5032893295      Fax -- 

   Technical Contact:
      Practical Psychology Press (email removed for this demo)
      PO Box 535
      Portland, Oregon 97207
      United States
      5032893295      Fax -- 

   Domain servers in listed order:

8. Does the content make sense?

Once you feel that you are on a valid site, the content STILL may be a fabrication or contain plenty of unusable information. University sites often have free pages for their students, so the beginning of the web site address may be something respected, like Massachusetts Institute of Technology (, but students and professors can have their own pages posted such as  (no longer active, 2022), which may or may not contain useful information.

Verifying Content

So there you have it, eight simple steps to deciphering the validity of a web site. Once you feel like you’re at the site you expected, the decision of determining the validity of the content is up to you! A few simple steps, much like traditional research validation, are to:

  1. See if you can find at LEAST one independent web site, book, journal, report, etc., that has the same information, or reference to it. Sometimes relationships between media entities are not as clear as they should be. You need to be careful especially with large national magazines, broadcast/cable networks, and the like. Just a few companies own most of these media, and their bias really does come from the executives and their advertisers.It is best to corroborate information between primary sources, such as government documents, scientific journals and lab test results, first hand interviews, bibliographical searches, etc. Even these sources may be biased (see below).
  2. Check the date. Is the research current? Is the research “classic?” It is all relative. An older magazine, for instance, may have more detail about an event that occurred near its publication date than would a current magazine that briefly mentions the event. Find facts and data that best fit your assignment, whatever that may be.
  3. Beware of inherent bias. The same factual dietary information on a Beef Council web site may be presented quite differently than if it were on a Vegetarian Commission site. Be alert for what message the web site is trying to present and look for who they cite as references. Check message boards on a site to see what bias visitors to the site may have. Like-minded people tend to congregate together…. and protestors often are more verbal than the rest of the population.
  4. Note the author’s accreditation. Is the author a whacko in the outfield or a respected member of the research community? Look for a page or section “about the author” or some such that lists educational and professional training. Take time to verify references if you are unsure.
  5. Note the author’s intent. Is the author trying to sell something? Presenting a dissenting view of a popular subject? This is similar to the bias angle, but may be less obvious.
  6. For more information on evaluating web resources, visit:
    Lesley University’s “Find Sources for my Research” page or, Virtual Salt’s “Evaluating Internet Research Sources” (note heavy ads, but good content.)
by Kristin Pintarich, Editor-in-Chief, The Adult Student’s Guide to Survival and Success

(updated October, 2022)