Search tips - finding and evaluating information

The internet is a vast store of information and finding relevant information can be frustrating and time consuming. Here are a few tips to help you search more effectively, choose trustworthy information and avoid fake stories - and they apply whether you are looking for information for an assignment, personal research or booking a holiday.

A keyword is a word or term that gives the meaning of a topic and can be used as search terms in an online search.
Before starting to research a topic, it is worth taking time to think about the main points of the topic and what it is you want to find out. Pick out the key words or phrases and these will form your keywords.

How to narrow or widen a search:

The use of AND, OR and NOT with your keywords will limit or expand your search. This is called Boolean logic and the terms are known as Boolean operators.

AND narrows a search as it only returns results that have both those keywords for example, autumn AND fruit and will ignore any that mentions only one of them.

OR widens a search as it will return results that have one or other of the keywords or both. For example, rabbit OR hare will return results that mention rabbit but not hare, hare but not rabbit, and those that include both hare and rabbit.

NOT is another way of narrowing a search as it will ignore the keyword that follows ‘not’. For example, a search for social media NOT twitter will produce results that include the keyword social media but not the keyword twitter. 

Inverted commas (“ “) around a phrase will produce results with the words appearing together in that form. For example, a search for: “zebra crossing” will produce pages that include the phrase zebra crossing and will not include pages that only contain one of the words in the phrase.

Truncation symbol (*)
If you use the truncation or asterisk symbol after the stem (first part) of a word, the search will look for words that start with the same set of letters.

For example, a search for: child* will produce pages that include the keywords childcare, childhood, children and children’s.

Putting a symbol in a word instead of a letter in a search will bring up different spellings of a word.
For example, colo?r will find colour and color; wom!n will find woman and women

Once you have your search results you then need to evaluate them, so you select the most relevant and reliable sources. There are 5 criteria you need to consider, known as the 'CRAAP test':

Currency: The timeliness of the information.
• When was the information published or posted?
• Has it been revised or updated?
• Do you need current information, or will older sources work as well?
• Are the links working?

Relevance: The importance of the information for your needs.
• Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
• Who was it written for, e.g. the general public, students or people in the industry?
• Is the information at the right level, i.e.., not too simple or advanced for your needs?
• Does this add anything to the information you have from other sources?
• Are they an expert on the subject?
• Is there contact information, such as a publisher or email address?

Authority: The source of the information
• Who is the author/creator/ publisher and/or source?
• Are the author's credentials or organisational affiliations given?
• What are the author's qualifications to write on the topic?
• Is there contact information, such as a publisher or e-mail address?

Accuracy: The reliability, truthfulness and correctness of the content
• Where does the information come from?
• Is there a reference list of sources and evidence?
• Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
• Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion?
• Are there spelling, grammar or typographical errors?

Purpose: The reason the information exists.
• Is the intention of the information to entertain, inform, educate or perhaps sell an idea or product?
• Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
• Is the information fact, opinion or propaganda?
• Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional or personal biases? 

A domain name is the name of a website and it consists of letters and numbers which allows the site to be found on the internet. Parts of the address help to identify the type of organisation behind the website. In Britain the most common are: - an educational institution like a college or university or .com - a business or commercial organisation (.com is usually a company from the USA) - a UK government department - Scottish government - non-profit organisations - personal websites, e.g. blogs

Access the titles below for information on spotting fake news:

How to spot fake news
Fake news generator BBC video
The news evaluator 

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