The Web

"The Internet may be the world's greatest library, but let's face it  ̶  all of the books are scattered on the floor." 

                                                                  D.C. Denison

Picutre of computer connected to the earth The Web

The Internet is a powerful tool that students use every day to gather information.  The World Wide Web offers information from all over the world.  Because much of the information can appear to be fairly "anonymous," it is important to develop the skills to evaluate what you find. 

When you use a college library, the books, journals and other resources have already been evaluated by scholars, publishers and librarians.  In fact, every print resource you find has been evaluated in one way or another before you ever see it.  When using the World Wide Web, none of this applies.  There are no filters.

Anyone with an Internet account can create a web page and post it.  It does not have to pass any kind of scrutiny or editing process by the Internet Service Provider.  The issue is, how can we verify that the information online is accurate? 


 In this tutorial you will learn:

o  What a web address can tell you about a website's purpose.
o  Five criteria to evaluate information on the Internet.
o  Why Wikipedia is a great place to start, but a terrible place to end research.
o   How to increase your effectiveness with search engines through keyword searching, the use of     
     Boolean Operators, phrase searching, truncation and site limiter commands.



http://www     Dot What????

The web address, or Uniform Resource Locator (URL for short!) can tell you about a website's purpose.  The domain name is a name that is registered for a fee and allows the "owner" to use the name for a period of time (usually 2 years, at which time the domain name must be renewed).  Here is an example of a domain name:

The URL for is 
(and for those geeky folks, "http" stands for "hyper-text transfer protocol," and www is the name of the computer server on which Amazon locates its website)

Notice the three digits  .com

This stands for "commercial."  The purpose of the site is likely to sell you something. 

Here are some other domain name endings:

.net           network
.mil           military (United States)
.org           organization (not always a nonprofit)
.edu          educational institution (colleges & universities, not K-12)
.gov          United States Government

The Five Criteria of the CRAAP Test

We can put any website to the test by applying the CRAAP test, designed by CSU Chico librarians to see if the information merits use as a source in a research paper.

1.  Currency
2.  Relevance
3.  Authority
4.  Accuracy
5.  Purpose
Use the handout Evaluating Sources  to help you!

Wikipedia logo with various languages surrounding logo

Wikipedia:  What it does and does not do

Wikipedia is one of the most popular sites that students go to for their information.  There are lots of good aspects to Wikipedia, but also some things to be cautious about.  For this reason, Wikipedia is often a good place to get background information, so it can help you get an "overview" of a topic.  But, because the information on Wikipedia can be changed by anyone, you have to be careful to verify the information in at least three other sources.  Find out how Wikipedia is organized by watching this informative video from North Carolina State University librarians entitled Wikipedia:  Beneath the Surface

Wikipedia is not just an online encyclopedia, it is a knowledge community that unites anonymous readers all over the world who edit and correct grammar, style, interpretations, and facts.  It is a community devoted to a common good  ̶  the life of the intellect.

A concern that is voiced over and over about Wikipedia is that it is prone to error.  This is a legitimate concern because anyone can add to or edit information on Wikipedia.  The good news is that other readers can correct the information somewhat quickly.

If you happen to come upon a page that has erroneous information that has yet to be corrected, this can pose a problem if you use the information in your research. As a researcher, it is important to verify what you find on Wikipedia.

To give you a sense of the evolution of a Wikipedia page, go to Jon Udell's wonderful archeological screencast.  He beautifully demonstrates how a community negotiates knowledge construction when nobody is boss, anybody can edit, and there are no formal processes.  Udell takes an extremely specialized topic  ̶  the history and conventions of using umlauts in the names of heavy metal bands  ̶  and shows how entirely different editorial mechanisms can work effectively.

Becoming an Effective Searcher on the Web


Keywords are the words that describe your topic of research. These can be individual words or a phrase.  keywords can be chosen from the sentence you create to define your research topic. Once you choose the significant words, you can then come up with synonyms, or words with similar meanings. All of these can be keywords to use in forming your search.

Generally, when you submit a keyword search to a library catalog or periodical database, the title, subject, and abstract fields are the only parts of the record searched. These fields are called the Basic Index.


You've chosen the topic "alternative fuels" for a research paper. To help you focus this rather broad topic, you put it into the form of a question or sentence:

What are the types of alternative fuels being used or developed for automobiles?

Usually, the nouns and adjectives in your sentence or question will give you a good idea of what your keywords will be. In this case, the phrase "alternative fuels" and "automobiles" are the significant keywords.

From these keywords make a list of synonyms to use as alternatives. Since different writers will describe the same thing using different words, it's good to arm yourself with a variety of keywords so you don't miss important information.

alternative fuels


natural gas
hydrogen fuel cells

motor vehicle

You probably would need to do some background reading before coming up with some of the terms you see above.

Keyword searching means that the words you enter in the computer are searched regardless of word order.  The search may be performed on a combination of fields (such as the author and title fields) or sometimes on all the fields.  Keyword searching is especially useful when you are: 

  •      unsure about the order of words in a title or author
  •      unsure of a specific author, title or subject heading
  •      searching for terms from different parts of a record

Increasing Your Effectiveness with Search Engines

All search engines have rules that determine what is retrieved.  Learning a few techniques such as using Boolean operators, phrase searching, stop words, truncation, and site limiter commands can dramatically increase or decrease search results. 

Boolean Operators

Boolean operators or connectors, are used to logically include, exclude, or link search terms.  This enables you to broaden or narrow your search.  There are three frequently used Boolean operators:  AND, OR, NOT.  







Searches for records with all of the terms.  This focuses or narrows a search.


cats AND dogs



 elephants AND



Vikings AND Norsemen

elephants AND lions



Searches for records that contain any of the terms.  This expands or broadens a search.



cats OR dogs


elephants OR



Vikings OR Norsemen

elephants OR lions





Searches for records that contain the first term, but not the second term. You should use caution with the operator NOT.  You may unintentionally exclude records.



cats NOT dogs


elephants NOT lions


Vikings NOT Minnesota

elephants AND NOT lions

Why is it called Boolean?  It is called Boolean because it is a concept named after George Boole, an English mathematician.  Boole developed Boolean algebra, also known as Boolean logic.  Boolean operators are also known as logical operators.

More on Boolean Searching

And / Or / Not

This is an algebraic concept, but don't let that scare you away. Boolean operators are all about sets. Let's look more closely at the three little words that are used as Boolean connectors:




Think of each keyword as having a "set" of results that are connected with it. These sets can be combined to produce a different "set" of results. You can also exclude certain "sets" from your results by using a Boolean connector.

AND is a connector that requires both words to be present in each record in the results. Use AND to narrow your search.

Search Term



999 hits


876 hits

Television and violence

123 hits


The words 'television' and 'violence' will both be present in each record. 

OR is a connector that allows either word to be present in each record in the results. Use OR to expand your search.

Search Term



97 hits


75 hits

Adolescents or teenagers

172 hits

Either 'adolescents' or 'teenagers' (or both) will be present in each record.

NOT is a connector that requires the first word be present in each record in the results, but only if the record does not contain the second word.

Search Term


High school

423 hits


652 hits

High school not Elementary

275 hits

Each record contains the words 'high school', but not the word 'elementary.'

Phrase searching

Using quotation marks “    ” requires words to be searched as a phrase in the exact order you type them by a search engine.

 Examples include:  “working mothers”

                                “affirmative action”

                                “air pollution”

                                “big band era”


Truncation allows you to shorten a term by using a symbol at the point you want to shorten the word.  This allows you to search for singular or plural forms or different spellings of a word or name.  For example, searching for cloth* will result in matches with cloth, clothes, and clothing.

Some systems also allow a type of internal wildcard symbol for the substitution of letters.  For example, searching for wom?n will result in matches with woman and women.

Stop Words

Stop words are words that a search engine or database will not search.  Stop words are words that are so common it is usually not useful to include them in a search.  Some common stop words are:  a, an, from, in, of, on, the.  You should also avoid using words such as AND, OR, NOT, that have special usage as Boolean operators.

Search Strategy Builder

The University of Arizona Library has created a tool to teach you how to create a search string using Boolean logic.  Give the Search Strategy Builder a try!

Site limiter commands

You can limit your search to Web sites by certain groups using a site limiter command with the Google search engine.


Examples:                Limits results to just .edu


                          Limits results only to .gov


                          Limits results only to .org

Try it out

Put in your search term into Google, then limit the results as per the examples below:

                           athletics           search engine finds occurence of athletics at .edu sites only

                           immigration      search engine finds occurence of immigration at .gov sites only

                           public       search engine finds occurence of public speaking at .edu sites only


Scientific Information Literacy Modules
Unit 1:  What is Science?
Unit 2:  Scientific Information
copyright 2011 Napa Valley College

updated June 13, 2011, by Nancy McEnery, Reference Librarian-Instructor