Biology of Toxins (FLC: ARSC 198 / ENGL 1110)

A guide to using the web for research and critically evaluating resources you find

Website to Evaluate

Together as a class, we will evaluate the following website:

Internet Searching

Sometimes it is appropriate to use Google or other general internet search engines as a part of your research. There are many reliable sites with good information - the trick is to find them. This page will give you some suggestions on how you can best use a search engine to bring you the highest quality results. 

Consider: What are you searching?

Search engines (Google, Bing, Duck Duck Go, etc.) only search part of the information on the internet - the "surface web". 

  • Not every site is indexed - excluded are password protected sites, sites that choose not to be indexed, sites without links, and the contents of databases -- including subscription-based library database content.
  • Not every word is indexed - each database has common stop words that it does not index and some engines only search a certain number of words on a page.
  • Not every page on a site is indexed - some engines limit their searches to the top two or three levels or exclude personal sites piggybacked onto another site.

Powerful Searching - using advanced search to optimize your results

Most Web search tools offer a simple search interface – the results are determined by an algorithm. If you want to exert more influence over the algorithm, it is necessary to take advantage of advanced search techniques.  Other techniques will help you refine your search. Please note that different search tools will use different symbols for truncation, phrase, and proximity searching – if they offer them at all – always check search help pages to see what is available.

If at first you don't find what you need:

  • Look beyond the first screen of search results.
  • Try the advanced search features offered by most search tools, like Google Advanced Search.
  • Find the help screens provided by the search engine producers for advanced search tips and operators to use for custom searches by file type, domain/site, language, and more -- Google Search Operators
  • Try more than one search engine.
  • Test your search skills by searching for more advanced tips! Not every search trick is clearly indexed and made available in a simple way by search engine providers.

Evaluating Information You Find on the Internet

Anyone can publish information on the internet. Websites rarely go through the exacting review process demanded by editors of published books and journal articles. It is therefore even more important to critically evaluate information you find on the web in terms of authority, purpose, scope & currency, accuracy, and usability.

After considering each of the questions listed below on the authority, purpose, scope & currency, accuracy, and usability of the website, ask yourself: Is it appropriate to use this web resource as evidence in support of my research

If the answer is an unequivocal yes, great! If not, but you still feel the page has value, note your reservations.


  • Who created the site?
  • What is the creator's "authority"?
    • ​Expertise or experience with the topic?
    • What are their credentials, institutional affiliation?
  • Does the site list organizational information for creators?
  • What does the URL indicate? Is this a personal or official site? Ex: Educational institution (.edu), non-profit organization (.org), a commercial site (.com), the U.S. government (.gov), the U.S. military (.mil), another country (.ca, .uk, .mx, etc), or other? Is there a tilda ~ in the URL (often indicates a personal page on an institutional website)?
  • Is the site stable? Has it been there for a while and does it look like it's going to stay? Check for the site's history on the Internet Archive.


  • What is the basic purpose of the website? Is the purpose stated?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the website designed to inform, explain, persuade, sell, entertain? i.e. is it Objective or Subjective?
    • ​Are the purpose and scope stated?
    • Is the information presented clearly as fact or opinion?
  • Is the topic covered comprehensively or selectively?
  • Does the site disclose sponsorship, underwriting, or other affiliation to another organization or individual?

Scope & Currency

  • Is coverage regional, national, or international?
  • Is coverage recent or historical?
  • Is coverage up-to-date?

Objectivity & Accuracy

  • Is the information presented factual? Have you noticed any errors?
  • Is the information supported with evidence? Are facts documented or cited from original sources?
  • Does the author use objective reasoning?
  • Does the site link out to other sites? If so, are those sites of good quality?


  • Is the site well designed and up to date with current web standards?
  • Is the organization of site content logical and easy to navigate?
  • Is the writing level of the content appropriate for the intended audience?
  • Does the site follow general rules of spelling, grammar, and punctuation?
  • Is the information supported with evidence? Are facts documented or cited from original sources?
  • Does the author use objective reasoning?