Searching and Evaluating Websites

Searching and Evaluating Websites

Author: Lindsey Dawson
  • Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
  • Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
  • Understand, analyze, evaluate, and use different types of print, digital, and multimodal media.
  • Critically analyze information found in electronic, print, and mass media and use a variety of these sources.
  • Gain an understanding of how to evaluate digital information based on four criteria: accuracy, authority, objectivity, and currency.

This lesson demonstrates the use of the Internet. Students will build skills of selecting key words and move towards building more scholarly searches. Students will also analyze the digital information by looking at the authority, accuracy, objectivity, and currency of websites.

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How Search Works

Matt Cutts explains how Google handles queries and ranks results.

Searching "Firm" and "Soft" Terms

Firm Search Terms: Are likely to be on most pages that discuss your topic, and/or are described in a limited number of ways.

Soft Search Terms: Are less likely to appear consistently on pages about your topic, and/or can be expressed in so many different ways that is too difficult to come up with a good term or set of terms that are likely to find what you need.


A student is searching for a specific book with a Native American protagonist that also includes gun-runners, witchcraft, and hippies. 

Native Americans is risky as a search term, because there are so many different ways to express that concept, depending on the author’s background, social context, and the time during which it was written. Possible related terms include Indian, Native Peoples, First Nations, tribe, and even a specific tribe name, like Navajo, which—besides being undefined by the asker, could have one of many spellings. So, Native Americans is here a soft search term, as likely derived from the asker’s context as from the words of the book’s author.

Firm terms: gun-runner AND witchcraft

Soft term: hippies



Crafting a Search

Searching Tips

  1. Looking for a specific phrase? Use QUOTATION MARKS.
    • For examples, instead of typing in Nobel Prize Winners 2012, typing in "Nobel Prize Winners 2012" narrows my search down to that EXACT phrase.
  2. Search within a specific site. site:URL "keyphrase"
    • For example, if I wanted to find my name on the school website, I would type site:saintjohnsprep.org "Lindsey Dawson". The results will only show pages within the school's website.
  3. Search a specific domain. site:.edu keyphrase
    • ​​​For example, if I wanted to search for information on the American Romanticism only found of educational websites, I would type site:.edu american romanticism. The results will only show pages within the school's website.
  4. Search using Boolean logic. AND, OR, NOT
    • For example, Lindsey AND Marqus searches for all pages containing both terms anywhere on the page. Lindsey OR Marqus searches  for all pages containing the term "Lindsey" and all pages containing the term "Marqus". Lindsey NOT Marqus searches for all pages containing the term "Lindsey" and excludes all pages that contain the term "Marqus."


Google Cheat Sheet: Here are some more Google Advanced Search shortcuts.

Complete: Choose a topic and complete searches using the four searching tips.

Scholarly Databases

Free Scholarly Databases

Google Scholar: All Subject Areas

JSTOR: English (Some free content, requires a login)

National Archives: History

Smithsonian Institution Libraries: History

Smithsonian Institution American Art Museum: Art

Scirus: Science


Complete: Using the same search terms from your previous search, complete a search in one of the free databases.

Evaluating Websites

View the following presentation to learn how to evaluate a website using four criteria: authority, accuracy, objectivity, and currency.

Choose one of the following websites to evaluate.

Use the form below to evaluate the credibility of the website of your choice.

World Economic Forum 

Shakespeare Online

Endangered Tree Octopus

Coal Cares


Mathematics History

Determining the Credibility of a Website

Complete the form to evaluate the website of your choice.

Source: Criteria based on several online education sources