When doing research for school or learning about personal interests, the internet is often the first place we go to find information, but there is a lot of misleading or wrong information online. How can you tell what information you can trust? Here are some steps you can take to help you decide.
Investigate the Source
Whether it’s a website, video, podcast or social media post, here are a few questions to ask about where a piece of information came from:
- Who wrote it? The writer might be an individual or an organization (like NASA or National Geographic). Are they an expert in the topic? Do they say where they found their information?
- Why did they make it? There are many reasons someone might put information online: to educate, to share an opinion, to try to sell something and more. This will affect the information they choose to include or leave out.
- When was it written? For some topics (especially current events), it’s important to find recent information. For blog posts or news articles, look for a date close to the title. Web pages may have a “last updated” or “published” date, and websites may have copyright dates that show if the whole site is still being updated.
Information on the site itself—like "About" sections of websites or social media bios—can help you answer some of these questions, but it’s also helpful to look outside of your source. Try doing a search on the person or organization. Do they have a reputation for being trustworthy, or do they have a history of posting misleading information? Look for more information about what makes them an expert (or not) on the topic.
When searching online, it’s important to check the information you find in several sources. Do other websites give the same information, or do you find contradictory information?
If your source tells you where they found their information, can you go back to the original source? Information often changes as it passes from person to person. Getting back to the original source (or as close as you can) gives you the chance to catch inaccurate information that has crept in, get extra details that may have been left out, and form your own opinions.
Learn More about Online Research Skills
Sharpen your online research skills this these tools:
- How to Do Research in World Book Student: Log in with your library card, then go to the menu in the top right to find the How to Do Research section.
- "Studying & Research" booklist
- Navigating Digital Information (Crash Course YouTube series)
- Presentations for school classes: The library offers presentations for kindergarten to grade 6 and grade 7 to 12 classes about research skills and evaluating online information.