Getting Started with Online Research

When looking online, how do you find reliable information? The Plano Public Library is here to help.

Whether you’re learning virtually this year or just needs sources for your latest project, you’ve probably done some internet searching. Here are some tips to get started with online research.

Know the type of website you’re working with

There are many different websites out there. How can you tell what each one is? One easy way is to start by decoding the internet address, or URL. The most common domains are:

  • Commerical websites (.com): Generally hosted by businesses and commercial organizations; may promote specific products.
  • Educational institutions (.edu): Ranging from elementary schools to higher education; may include both departments/research centers and personal websites for class projects.
  • Government organizations (.gov): Federal government information, including statistics, hearings, and official documents.
  • Special interests (.org): Includes most nonprofits; may include organizations with a particular agenda or point of view.
  • Military (.mil): Information from the branches of the United States Armed Forces.
  • Network (.net): Includes networks, internet service providers, and others that don’t fit into other categories.

Start with your ABCs

Credibility means that your source has reliable information that everyon can believe to be true. What person or organization is most likely to have the education, training, and experience to help you? You can look at:

  • Authority and Accuracy: This looks at who provides the information. Can you find the author’s credentials or contact information? You’ll also look at the specific information. Is there support, like citations or links to other resources? Is the content well-written and professional?
  • Bias: This looks at how the content is presented. Does the website have objective arguments, or does it favor one side over another? Some websites inform, while others market, persuade, or entertain. Not every website will have the information you need. Even if the content is good, it could be too basic or too technical for your project.
  • Currency and Coverage: This looks at how up-to-date and thorough the information is. Can you easily tell when it was last updated? Do links to other websites and sources still work? Some websites only cover part of a topic. Do you have to go somewhere else to verify the information or get more details?

Use a checklist

A checklist a great way to quickly evaluate at website. The Cooperativei Extension of Suffolk County recommends Seven R’s to find reliable information:

  • Research-based: Does the website include relevant evidence or data?
  • Reputable: Do you recognize the author or organization as someone who consistenly provides accurate, up-to-date information?
  • Reliable: Does the website avoid an obvious bias or slant?
  • Reasonable: Does the website include thoughtful and thorough information?
  • Relevant: Is the information current and up-to-date?
  • Resonates: Does the information meet your needs and expectations?
  • Red-flag free: Does the website avoide extreme positions or championing specific views?

Check out Bery College’s website evaluation checklist for more tips on what to look for. Or, use this checklist to score each website as you look at it.


Try searching databases, too

The Plano Public Library offers several databases that can help you research! Your library card gives you access to full text articles, journals, newspapers, e-books, and more. If you’re just getting started with databases, check out our Virtual Learning Made Easy series. These webinars highlight some of our most popular academic databases.


Ask for more help if you need it

Sometimes you get stuck and need more help. Did you know Plano Public Library staff are available for one-on-one appointments for personalized help? You can ask a short reference question by email or request a 30-minute session with one of our librarians.

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