Digital Literacy Skills: Finding Information
The internet has provided us with a wealth of information at our fingertips. The problem with this is, we almost have too much information to choose from. It is sometimes difficult to sort between real information, misinformation, opinions, and bias. Most of us rely on search engines to do the sorting for us but this also isn’t enough. Students need to know how to search accurately and then to evaluate the information they find, our critical thinking guide will help you develop these skills.
When researching online independently many students rely on a quick Google or Wikipedia, followed by copy and paste! There is issues here with plagiarism but mainly, there is a lack of knowledge on how to conduct proper research online. It is important for students to learn how to search for information properly as this will become a valuable tool for them should they go on to further education or indeed for their future jobs. Developing this area of digital literacy means showing students the tools they can use to help them research better. These skills will also improve overall study skills. Here are our top ten tips for better online research.
Ten Steps to Better Web Research
Step 1: Think Before You Search!
“If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else.”
Rewrite every assignment in your own words before you begin your research. This will force you to understand it, and make it much more likely that you’ll be able to identify what is helpful when you see it. If you need help, ask your teacher, librarian, parent or classmate for help.
Then, brainstorm and make a list of key search terms, using mostly nouns, rather than verbs. Create a series of terms that you can search in combinations of two, three or more.
When you find a good search result, look at the most important words in it, and add them to your keyword list. Try a series of keyword combinations.
Also, keep track of the sources you review.
Step 2: Where to Start?
Don’t rely on search engines such as Google to do all the research for you.
The internet is not always the best place to start; databases may help you find credible information you need more quickly than any search engine will.
You must select and always be able to defend the sources you use before you start writing.
Step 3: Try Several Search Engines
There is more than one, we promise. If you want to stay with Google, you could try using Google Scholar to find academic resources.
Step 4: When Looking at Search Results, Dig Deep – Don’t Stop at the First Page!
Many websites rank high in search engines for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of their content.
Professionals and academics don’t optimise their content for search engines, so it usually does not appear at the top.
Step 5: Use Special Search Functions to Make the Search Engines Work for You
- Use combinations of several keywords.
- Learn the AROUND function.
- Search “Kennedy” AROUND(10) “moon” and the top results will be ones in which Kennedy appears within ten words of moon.
- NOTE: both search terms must be in quotes, AROUND must be capitalised, and the number must be in parenthesis.
You can find a particular type of file by adding in the file type into the search engine, for example, if you want to find a PowerPoint presentation you can add ‘PPT’ to the search engine, or if you would like to find worksheets/essays/articles add in ‘PDF’ after the search word in your search engine.
Step 6: Don’t Believe Everything You Read!
Searching for information on the Internet is like detective work.
- A healthy dose of scepticism is required.
- Information is only as good as its source
No one thing will tell you if a website can be trusted. You must examine every aspect of a site to see if the information is credible, authoritative, objective, accurate and up-to-date.
Always verify critical information with several sources. If you find a few unrelated, credible websites in agreement on an issue, your research may be done. This is not the case if you read something just once. Watch the following video:
This video was an Aprils Fools joke by the BBC. As it is a website that we usually associate with accurate information, it can take a few moments to realise it is Fake News. It is important that information is verified by a number of sources before it is believed. Read more about Fake News!
Step 7: Find Primary Sources
Think of primary sources such as newspaper and magazine accounts, letters, diaries, films, photographs and other documents written or recorded at the time of the event as “eye-witness accounts” which are generally more reliable than second-hand information.
Step 8: Who Created the Website and Writes its Article?
When you find an article on a website, visit the homepage and the ‘About Us’ page to determine what the site is really about. If the site doesn’t list the name of the publisher and its management team—and this is often the case—then leave and visit another site.
Also, look for information about the publisher or author by searching their names in a search engine. Any credible publisher or author should be mentioned on other reputable websites.
When you find content on Wikipedia, do you know who wrote it? No, you don’t. Wikipedia contributors are anonymous; you do not know anything about them or their credentials. It may be a place to do your “pre-research” to find keywords to search on
Step 9: Why Was the Article Written?
Always ask the following questions:
- Why did the writer write this?
- Is the site trying to sell you something?
- Is the website free of advertising?
- Does the site have any social or political bias?
Step 10: When Was the Information Written or Last Revised?
Check when an article was written or last updated. If you can’t tell when a source was written, then keep looking until you find a good source about the topic that does have a recent date, so you can see if anything has changed.