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Library Tutorials: Using the web effectively

Do You Know...

What is the Web? Web is the system we use to access the Internet, using hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP). This allows computers to talk to each other and transfer information between each other.

How many Pages are there? The Indexed Web contains at least 4.76 billion pages (Tuesday, 07 February, 2017).

How to identify these Pages? The pages are given a Unique Resource Locator (URL), commonly known as a web address, using the http. This also allows a search engine to locate and retrieve the pages.

How to locate these Pages? There are differences in the ways various search engines work, but they all perform three basic tasks:

-They search the Internet -- or select pieces of the Internet -- based on important words.

-They keep an index of the words they find, and where they find them.

-They allow users to look for words or combinations of words found in that index.

What is Google? Google is one of many search engines available that locates and identifies these pages based on your search terms.

Make Google work for You

What are Search Terms? If you are searching Google or any other search engine, it may be that you have a question in mind. Search terms are not keywords. Search engines translate your search terms into keywords and look for those words amongst the billions of pages on the web.

For example, you are searching for "skinny jeans", branded and also a women's size 8. Whatever way you search, the keywords here are skinny jeans and women's skinny jeans. The search engine will retrieve those pages with these keywords in them. Then you will have to sift through to find your size 8!

Search Tips:

" "  Exact phrase search. Type double quotes at the beginning and end of the phrase. e.g. "chemical engineering", "as you like it".

Include word(s) in the results. Type a plus sign before the word or the phrase to include. A space must be placed before the plus sign but not after it. Use this operator to include stop words in the results, e.g. earthquake +LA California, "exciton transfer" +temperature.

Exclude word(s) in the results. Type a minus sign before the word or the phrase to exclude. A space must be placed before the minus sign but not after it, e.g. football -soccer -rugby.

You need to look at the search results retrieved by the search engine to evaluate their relevance to your query. The example above is the search results for "rock" as in Geology.

Relevance: Is the information relevant to your query? The emphasis may be is on a different aspect to what you have been looking for; the geographic location could be different to the areas your interested in.

Timeline: When was it written? Is the information up to date?

Or it may be that your search terms were not specific enough to retrieve the relevant information. Look at our tutorial on "Searching" to find out how to search correctly.

When evaluating sites, it is important to look at the content as well as presentation, using the same criteria. Consider these points when evaluating web pages. For example, evaluate this web page on Global Warming for content using the criteria listed below:

Scope: What is the purpose of this site? Who are the intended audience? Is the information provided relevant to your query?

Authority: Who is the author/organisation? What are the credentials? Can you contact them?

Accuracy: Check for grammatical and construction mistakes.How accurate is the information provided? Is it verifiable? Is there a bibliography?

Objectivity: Is the information biased? Is a different viewpoint offered? Does the page contain advertising? Who is sponsoring it?

Currency: When was the page last updated? How old is the information?

Presentation: Is the text readable? Is the page easy to navigate? Is there an appropriate use of multimedia?

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Search smarter

Use more keywords: The more words you use, the better idea Google or any other search engine has of what you are looking for.

Search for Either Or: As you probably know, AND is automatically used in search words.So, if you use "respiratory problem" "asthma", the system will automatically look for pages where these two words are present. But if you use "respiratory problem" OR "asthma", then it will look for either of these two words and you will get more results!

Exclude irrelevant words: Do not use misleading or irrelevant words that may be relevant to your query. Confusing? Yes, it is. For example, if you just put in "bass", you will get lots of articles on fish whereas you are really looking for a musical instrument. Use the minus sign to eliminate these and to fine tune your query, e.g bass -fish -beer -footwear -male singer.

Search for similar words: Use ~ this sign, e.g. ~elderly. Then the system will look for words similar in meaning to elderly.

Search for similar pages: Use : this sign to retrieve pages with similar content, e.g. : This will retrieve web pages with information on wildlife.

Search for an exact phrase: You need to enclose the words in quotation marks " ". This tells the system to search for those words in exact order.

Use the Advanced Search page: Difficult to instruct how to locate this page. So at the end of this page I've put in a link directly to the page for you.

Search within your Search results: Scroll down to the bottom of the first search results page and click the Search within Results link. It will bring up a new search page with a new search box. Enter a new query and click the Search within Results button. The system will now search within the original search results to generate a more focused list of matching pages.

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Critical Analysis & Evaluation of Web resources

Once you have gathered the information, it is necessary to evaluate them for quality information. This is fundamental to developing a literature review that will act as a solid foundation of your scholarly research and assignments.

Information comes from a variety of sources (primary, secondary and tertiary) and in a wide (and growing) variety of formats, e.g. web sites, blogs, wikis, social networking sites, discussion lists, etc.

How can you decide if material is of sufficient quality i.e. if it is ‘scholarly’ enough for inclusion in your assignment?

Critical Appraisal:


1. What are the author's credentials--institutional affiliation, educational background, past writings, or experience? Is he an expert in this field?

2. Has your lecturer mentioned this author? Has the author been cited in other sources or bibliographies?

3. Is the author associated with a reputable institution or organization? What are the basic values or goals of the organization or institution?

Date of Publication

1. This date is often located on the face of the title page below the name of the publisher. If it is not there, look for the copyright date on the reverse of the title page. On Web pages, the date of the last revision is usually at the bottom of the home page, sometimes every page.

2. Is the source current or out-of-date for your topic? At the other extreme, some news sources on the Web now note the hour and minute that articles are posted on their site.

Edition or Revision

Is this a first edition of this publication or not? Further editions indicate a source has been revised and updated to reflect changes in knowledge. If you are using a Web source, do the pages indicate revision dates?


Note the publisher. If the source is published by a university press, it is likely to be scholarly. Although the fact that the publisher is reputable does not necessarily guarantee quality, it does show that the publisher may have high regard for the source being published.

Title of Journal

Is this a scholarly or a popular journal? This distinction is important because it indicates different levels of complexity in conveying ideas. If you need help in determining the type of journal, ask the librarian or your lecturer.

To critically evaluate information sources is an essential part of scholarly communication process. Use the PROMPT criteria described below; you also need to evaluate the merits of the information and how they shape and influence your argument.

Also try to locate critical reviews of the source in a reviewing source. Is the review positive? Is the information under review considered a valuable contribution to the field? Does the reviewer mention other books/articles that might be better? If so, locate these sources for more information on your topic.

Bibliometrics or Citation Analysis is one of the primary sources in establishing the credentials of any information source, be they on the web or in peer-reviewed journals. You would have seen in Google Scholar “times cited” count beside an article/ book chapter. In simple terms, a citation analysis is the number of times a paper or researcher is cited by other scholars in the field; assumes influential researchers/authors and important works cited more often. Citations can be used to develop metrics such as h-index, impact factor etc.

But, one can’t always rely on citation data for critical analysis.

Each researcher must make their own judgment about the ‘quality’ and suitability of any article or information source.

Depends a lot on the context i.e. how the research is to be used or referred to in your literature review. You may need to draw on material from newspapers, conferences, web material etc. with no peer review available. Evaluation is an art; there no perfect indicator of quality. You need to look for clues, and ultimately judge on the basis of usefulness for your research question.

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Information Literacy Tutorial by Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at

Content is courtesy of Cornell Uni Libguide with some alteration.

What is a Scholarly Source YouTube video is taken from Lloyd Sealy Library Libguide.

Scholarly vs. Popular Periodicals (final) YouTube video has been taken from Peabody Library Libguide.

PROMPT Criteria courtesy of Open University Library.

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