There is little doubt that the internet is an outstanding source of information, but it’s also full of junk. For every reliable website, there are numerous others peddling misinformation and outright untruths. Searching for information about a simple headache can result in dire predictions of a brain tumour or meningitis. Separating internet fiction from credible fact can be difficult.
Today we’ll look at the most common myths about finding reputable information online. Our tips will help you get useful and accurate results from your internet search every time.
Myth 1: I can rely on the information I find on the internet
Truth: Only sometimes. Anyone can make a website to push their interests. Find clues that a site is credible by:
- checking the end of the web address. If it ends in .gov or .edu, it’s more likely to be from a trustworthy government source or educational institution
- checking that the name in the web address reflects an established newspaper, journal, organisation, institution or agency
- observing whether a site zealously endorses a product, only says good things about itself, seems too good to be true or doesn’t allow feedback or comments – there’s a good chance that quality, unbiased information will not be provided
Myth 2: Everything on the internet is up to date
Truth: Not always. Don’t assume that you are looking at recent information. Many sites no longer provide an exact modified date or allow you to view update history. To further complicate the issue, individual pages on a website can be updated at different times. Look out for:
- old dates on information in an area that is known to change rapidly, like cancer treatments.
- one-sided perspectives that don’t acknowledge contemporary viewpoints
- a lack of clues about how often the organisation updates information – check recent publications, or dates on Twitter posts or media releases
- broken links suggest that the site may not be maintained and updated regularly
Myth 3: The information on the internet is reliable
Truth: While some websites were created to inform, teach or explain, others are set up to sell, persuade, entice or rant. Some red flags that can indicate a possibly dodgy site include:
- lack of contact information
- spelling and grammatical errors
- sources not cited or able to be verified elsewhere
- cluttered with advertising
Myth 4: Wikipedia is a trustworthy resource
Truth: Wikipedia and similar sites offer clear, concise introductory information that can answer simple queries, but if you’re conducting substantial research, you’ll need to look further. While Wikipedia is an excellent tool for beginning your research, it can also be biased and inaccurate. Authors are difficult to verify so you can’t be certain that the writer of a page doesn’t have an agenda or is just plain wrong. You can make your search for information easier by:
- checking the template at the top of the article. If it states that the article needs cleaning up, or that it doesn’t cite its sources, then it may not be reliable
- following the External Links and References at the bottom of the page, which can often point you in the direction of solid sources
- looking at the article’s Discussion page, which can highlight any contentious issues
- always doing further research
Myth 5: I can find anything I need with Google
Truth: Google is a great starting point for most research, but only a fraction of all information is available through a search engine. Rich results are often hidden behind paywalls or in databases, or in articles or papers buried deep in websites. Some sites or parts of sites are password protected. Search engines cannot analyse or think, and start to nose-dive when tasked with locating results that reflect deep thought or exploration of ideas or scientific evidence. They can’t make recommendations or interpret results.
- use an online database in the area you’re interested in
- use Google’s advanced search option to narrow down the results you receive
- learn some simple searching tips to increase your chances of finding the right information. For example, use quotes to search for an exact phrase *
- talk to a librarian or information expert for tips on refining your search strategies
The internet is great, but if you’re relying solely on Google or other browsers, you’re probably missing out on valuable information. In our next blog post, we’ll share our easy tips for making your internet searches more effective and show you how to search the internet like a pro.
* More about this in our next post