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Using the Web for Research

The following information is designed to help you understand that all websites are NOT created equal.  Some websites are okay to use for research and others are NOT.  This section will give some pointers on how to tell the difference!

Part 1:  Web Addresses

You can tell a lot about a web site by understanding the different parts of an web address or URL.

There are different parts of a site:

Let's take the first part of the address:

This is the abbreviation for hypertext transfer protocol.  It is the standard beginning of all web addresses and will not help you determine anything about a site.


The "www" is the abbreviation for world wide web.  Back when the Internet first started, every site included a "www" at the beginning.  Now that there are so many web sites on the Internet, www is not always part of a url, so does not help you determine anything about the site.


This tells you on which computer the web site lives.  In this case the computer that houses this site is California State University Long Beach (csulb).

For example, personal web pages are often housed on the computers of commercial internet service providers (ISPs).  Some commercial ISPs give free space to their subscribers or sell space for profit so that anyone can have their own web page.

An example of this is:

Next, the most IMPORTANT PART of the address:

This part of the address tells you the Domain of the web site you are viewing.  This will tell you what kind of site you are looking at.  Each ending means something different.  Here are some possible endings, keep in mind, this is not a complete list, but a few of the more popular ones.


.edu is always affiliated with universities, colleges, and other educational sites. Keep in mind that many universities give their students free space to create websites so they are not always created by scholars or do they necessarily cover scholarly topics.


.org indicates that a site is run by a non-profit organization like Public Broadcast System (PBS) or the Red Cross.  Keep in mind that organizations like the Ku Klux Klan are also eligible to have .org ending in their URL.


.com is the most popular kind of site because companies want to advertise their products to internet consumers. Keep in mind that some .com sites that provide medical or "scholarly" information may just be trying to sell you their product.


.net is used by organizations involved in Internet infrastructure activities.


.gov is exclusively used for sites owned and operated by governments.  Only government agencies are authorized to use this ending so sites with .gov are reliable data and information providers.
.info .info is a new top level domain.  Any one can register .info domain names.
.biz .biz is a new domain dedicated to the business community.
.museum .museum is restricted to museums, museum organizations and individual members of the museum profession.


.us is a new domain which indicates "based in the U.S."

.uk   .fr   .ca

Country code or geography abbreviations,[e.g., .uk (England), .fr (France), .ca (Canada)] are frequently used and are only helpful in letting you know the "home" of the web site.

The last part of the address:

A slash mark after the Domain name (.edu, .org) means you are going to a sub-section of the original web site.  This means that the more slashes you have the further away you get from the original site.  The same is true of the ~ sign.  So be aware that sometimes the further away you get from the root, the less affiliated it becomes.  Keep in mind that many times, even an education based site (such as a college or university) gives space on their website for students, staff and faculty to keep personal webpages, for example:

This is a personal page of a UCLA student.  It does not contain any educational information even though it lives on a .edu site. 

Part 2:  Evaluating Web Sites

When you are out searching on the web, it can be hard to figure out if a specific website is "good" or not.  Here are a list of criteria that you can use to evaluate the site to make sure that it will meet your needs as a reliable and sound source.

Is it Current?

One of the great things about using the web for research is to find current and up-to-the-minute information.  Therefore, if you find a site that was created in 1996 and hasn't been updated since, this may not be the most current information on this topic. Not only will links have gone bad, but some, if not all, of the information might be out of date. A sign of a well maintained site is one that is monitored by its creator and the information modified or enhanced on a regular basis.


Is it Free?

A lot of sites offer you bits of free information but charge you for getting more details or lengthy articles. When you are doing research you should not have to pay for ANYTHING. Check with a Librarian first and see if we can provide you with the same information for free using our resources.


Is it Objective?

Some sites are designed specifically to influence you one way or another about a topic. This is especially true of sites that deal with controversial issues like abortion or gun control. When you are doing research you want to make sure that a site presents a balanced and fair representation of an issue and that they do not use misleading or false data to persuade you of their argument.


Who is the Author?

The author of a web site or web page is very important when you are deciding whether or not to use a web site when doing research. Most reputable sites will list key information about the site and its creators. If a site does not provide this information, examine it more closely for bias or untruth. Information about an author can sometimes be found by looking for links that say "about this site" or "about the author." Even then, be aware that there are some individuals who misrepresent themselves on the Internet--so always use caution when reading this information.


What are the Reviews?

Try to look for sites that are suggested by reputable organizations (CNN, Government, etc.) or individuals. Sites that are evaluated and compiled by a librarian (Subject Guides) or by your professor often meet all the criteria you are reading right now!


What is the Content?

Sometimes sites will provide you with entire reports or full newspaper articles--these are sites rich in content you can use for research. Other sites offer bits of information without telling you where they found it or who they are quoting. It is important to evaluate the level of content in a web site.  Data from the official government Census page will have more quality content than a site that John Doe created in his basement after school.

You are now done with Section 3!  Section 3 is the final section of the Tutorial!

We hope you found this helpful.  For further assistance, don't hesitate to ask a Librarian at the Reference Desk.

Return to the Library Web Site.