34 Using the Internet for Research

April Ring

What you’ll learn to do: describe strategies for successful Internet research

A student sitting and working at a computer as a teacher watches from behind them.

The first step to an effective internet search is being familiar with the terms you are searching for. You search term should be as concise as possible, while still covering the area you would like to find.

—Eric Popkoff, professor

By the end of this section, you’ll be able to describe good practices for reading using technology and explain how to research using technology. You’ll also describe techniques for keeping your personal information safe in an online context and explore additional resources for learning online.

Online Reading Strategies

Learning Outcomes

  • Describe effective strategies for reading online

In an online educational environment, you’re probably going to do more reading than listening. You may do some of your reading in printed form—say, an assigned novel or textbook—but some of it might also be online in the form of a web page. Reading online isn’t the same as reading in print, so you should practice some strategies that will improve your online reading comprehension and speed. Some of the tactics you learn about here will help you with any kind of reading you might do, not just the stuff that’s online.

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Print vs. Online

So what do we mean when we say that reading print is different from reading online?

Evaluate the Source for Credibility

First, when you read something—let’s say, a book—that’s been printed by a reputable publishing house, you can assume that the work is authoritative. The author had to be vetted by a publishing house and multiple editors, right? But when you read something online, it might have been written or posted by anybody. This means that you have to seriously evaluate the authority of the information you’re reading. Pay attention to who was writing what you’re reading—can you identify the author? What are his or her credentials?

Online Reading is Interactive

Second, in the print world, texts may include pictures, graphics, or other visual elements to supplement the author’s writing. But in the digital realm, this supplementary material might also include hyperlinks, audio, and video as well. This material will fundamentally change the reading experience for you because online reading can be interactive in a way that a print book can’t be. An online environment allows you to work and play with content rather than passively absorbing it.

Reading Online Can Lead You to Unexpected Places

Finally, when you read in print, you generally read sequentially, from the first word to the last. Maybe you’ll flip to an index or refer to a footnote, but otherwise the way you read is fairly consistent and straightforward. Online, however, you can be led quickly into an entirely new area of reading by clicking on links or related content. Have you ever been studying for class and fallen down a Wikipedia rabbit hole while looking for unfamiliar terms? You might have started by investigating the French Revolution, but half an hour later you find yourself reading about the experimental jazz scene in 1970s New York. You can’t really do that with a book.

Reading Comprehension: Why, What, How?

Now that you’ve heard about how reading online differs from reading print, you should know that these differences have some really practical consequences for reading comprehension. Improving your online reading comprehension will save you time and frustration when you work on your assignments. You’ll be able to understand your course subject matter better, and your performance on your quizzes and exams will improve.

Consider the why, what, and how of reading comprehension:

  1. Why am I being asked to read this passage? In other words, what are the instructions my professor has given me?
  2. What am I supposed to get out of this passage? That is, what are the main concerns, questions, and points of the text? What do you need to remember for class?
  3. How will I remember what I just read? In most cases, this means taking notes and defining key terms.

When you keep the why, what and how of reading comprehension in the forefront of your mind while reading, your understanding of the material will improve drastically. It will only take a few minutes, but it will not only help you remember what you’ve read, but also structure any notes that you might want to take.

Explore a Web Page

Let’s put this information to use with a short exercise. Imagine that your instructor has asked you to create an argument either for or against the institution of the death penalty in California. She has pointed you to the website www.deathpenalty.org to get started. What terms or headlines stick out at you so you can begin crafting your argument? Consider the following headlines of articles from the website. Which articles seem like they might work best for helping you get started?

  1. “Federal Judge Says CA Death Penalty Unconstitutional”: Great! This article will have a legal argument from a federal judge—a fantastic place to get talking points for your own argument.
  2. “The Death Penalty Failure They’re Trying To Hide”: Good instincts—this article may give you a great point of counterattack if your argument is against the death penalty.
  3. “Infographic: The First Time We Ended the Death Penalty”: Yes! This will give you a historical precedent you can point to in your argument.
  4. “Polls Show Preference for Death Penalty Alternatives”: Well done—what’s more convincing than numbers, especially when it comes to the will of the American people?
  5. “Former Florida Warden Haunted By Botched Execution”: Yes—a great rhetorical tactic is to use an anecdote from the life of a person with experience with the issues you’re talking about, and this article sounds like it might be very moving. After all, it was convincing enough to change this man’s mind about the death penalty—maybe it would sway your audience as well.
  6. “DPF Appoints New Director of Community Outreach and Education”: Hmm, this article doesn’t seem to be the best option for your argument because it’s not directly related to your argument. Let’s skip or skim this one!
  7. “How to Stop a Heart”: This is another good testimony from someone affected by the death penalty, but it’s in the form of a blog post, so there’s probably better evidence out there. Maybe come back to it if you don’t have everything you need.
  8. “Michael Millman accepts ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’”: This article doesn’t really pertain to your assignment, so it doesn’t seem like the best possible choice. Keep looking!

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Tips for Reading Online

Reading online can be challenging, but here are a few tips to help:

Getting Distracted While Reading Online

When you read online, the hyperlinks, images, audio, and video interactivity embedded in the text can be a really tempting distraction. Try reading a passage straight through at least once without clicking on any of the hyperlinks or participating in any of the interactive opportunities. First, get a basic feel for the passage, then read it with the interactive components to augment your reading.

Reading Assignments on Your Phone

It’s best not to read your assignments from the small screen of a smartphone. It’s too easy to miss words and meanings when the reading process itself is challenging.

Increasing My Reading Speed

Reading quickly and efficiently will leave you more time to study, and improve your performance in your course.

To read more quickly and efficiently online, try most of all to avoid distractions like ads, pop-ups, or hyperlinks that will lead you away from your assignment. Another tactic you can try is to scan the page before actually reading, focusing on keywords and phrases rather than every single word. This is the same technique you just tried out in the death penalty exercise we went through. It will not only help you to read faster, it’ll also give you a sense of the text’s main ideas.

Research Using Technology

Learning Outcomes

  • Explain how to research using technology

Research Using the Internet

Two students laughing together during a research session with their laptops.

Using the Internet when researching for a class assignment is an essential skill for any successful student. The research process should not be frustrating or difficult when you follow the steps of the research process and evaluate your sources so you only use credible and reliable information. Before we discuss the process for researching using the Internet, it is important to think about what research is. This short video will provide you with a basic understanding of the research process.

Research Process

The research process includes a range of steps to ensure you are successful in finding the information you need using the Internet. The first step is to define your topic. While this statement seems straightforward, it is important to think about what you are actually researching for an assignment. A professor may give you a general topic as a starting point for your research. If you use the general topic when conducting research on the Internet, you could receive millions of results. Instead, think about what you really want to learn from your research and narrow the focus of your topic to something that is manageable.

If you find that you are having trouble understanding your topic or even narrowing the focus of your topic, find background information. This background information can be from a range of sources. Think about Wikipedia, which is ostensibly an encyclopedia. While for most topics, Wikipedia can provide you with the background you need to better understand your topic, it is always important to evaluate the information you find on the Internet for accuracy.

Once you define your topic and have a better understanding of the issues related to your topic based on your background research, you can develop a research question to guide your research using the Internet. Your research question should provide enough information that anyone can understand the purpose of your research. Once you have a research question, you can use your research question to develop a research strategy. Your research strategy will comprise the main concepts of your research question that can be used as your keywords and search terms.

Now that you have a research strategy, you will need to choose a proper search tool. This tool can be a search engine like Google or maybe a library database that is available to you through your institution. As you think about which search tool to select, it is important to think about what type of information you need. You can use a general search engine like Google to find a range of information, but may need to use a library database to find scholarly journal articles.

Finally, you will perform your search and evaluate your results. As you look at your search results, consider if the information you are finding answers your research question and is from a reliable source.

Search Strategy

Now that you have an understanding of your topic, have defined what you will be researching, and have utilized background information to develop a research question, it is time to develop a search strategy. If your general topic is “social media privacy,” it is helpful to focus your research question. You can focus your search on something like, what action should social networking sites like Instagram and Facebook take to protect users’ personal information and privacy?

From the above research question, you can develop your research strategy by focusing on the main concepts in your research question.

  •  Social Networks
    • Twitter
    • Facebook
  • Users
  • Personal Information
  • Privacy

Using these key concepts from your research question, you can develop your search strategy.

Build a Strong Search Strategy

Learn how to build a strong search strategy through this video below.

Tips and Tricks for Internet Searching

In this search strategy, you see there are a number of different things happening: “social networks” AND user* AND “personal information” AND privacy.

You see that social networks and personal information are in quotes. These quotations are called phrase searching. By placing quotation marks around a phrase, you are telling the search tool to look for those words together. In this case, the search tool will look for the words social network together and the words personal information. This ensures more accurate results when you search.

You will also notice an asterisk after the search term user. This asterisk is called truncation and will tell the database to search for not only user but other terms that start with user like users.

You will notice the word AND capitalized between each search term/phrase. This capitalization is a Boolean operator and it tells the search tool to connect my search terms together and look for a source that includes all the terms. You can broaden your search by using the OR Boolean operator to search for Twitter or Facebook. And the NOT Boolean operator to search for Twitter NOT Facebook.

You can find additional tips for searching the Internet here.

Evaluating Information to Determine Credibility

Once you find information through your search strategy, it is important to evaluate the information you are using to determine if it is credible and reliable. You can do this by using the CRAAP test. CRAAP stands for

  • Currency,
  • Relevancy,
  • Authority,
  • Accuracy, and
  • Purpose.

You can learn more about the CRAAP test as a tool to evaluate Internet sources here.

SIFT Method

You can also evaluate information, particularly information found on social media, using the SIFT method. View the following video to learn more about SIFT.


Attributing Your Sources in Your Writing

When using information from a source such as a website, journal article, magazine article, newspaper article, or books and eBooks, it is important that you attribute these ideas in your academic writing. The Purdue Online Writing Lab (Purdue OWL) is a great source of information on how to cite your sources.

Safety and Personal Information on the Internet

Learning Outcomes

  • Describe techniques for keeping your personal information safe in an online context

More than ever before, it’s critical to keep your personal information safe on the Internet. It seems like every day there is another news story about a new database breach or identity theft scam. But in a world where we’re all connected almost constantly, how do you even know where to begin to protect your data and online identity?

College student standing outside a building holding a backpack and several booksIt’s important to consider both security and privacy. Ideally, you would like to have a great deal of both. Many people don’t understand the difference between security and privacy. And indeed, there is some overlap between them. Generally speaking, security has to do with protecting your data and online identity, and privacy has to do with how much control you have over who sees your data and online identity.

As an example, let’s look at Eliana, a freshman at Mountain Brush Community College. Eliana has a Chromebook that she uses both for her schoolwork as well as her personal Internet use. She also has a Google-branded smartphone, and on both of these devices she uses the apps that came with them, like Gmail, Google Docs, and Google Maps. Google keeps Eliana’s information very secure. However, she doesn’t have much privacy, at least when it comes to Google—they keep an astounding amount of information about Eliana. She has to decide whether she trusts Google to know so much about her or not.

Unfortunately, both security and privacy often come at the cost of some amount of convenience. It’s up to you to decide where the right balance is for you, but in order to make that decision, you need to understand the tradeoffs.


Interestingly, in today’s world, security is often easier to achieve than privacy. For one thing, we’re all used to some of the steps we have to take to keep our information secure, and it’s actually in the best interests of the big tech companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook to help us keep our information secure. The same is not true for privacy, as we’ll discuss later.

Passwords and Password Managers

The first step to achieving better online security is the one that we’re all familiar with—maintaining good, separate passwords for all of our online accounts. While it’s much easier to use a few simple, easy-to-type passwords for most of your accounts (and many people still do!), this is a great example of sacrificing security for convenience. The risk is that if someone obtains your email address and password for one account (for example, through a data breach at a company you do business with), they have your login credentials for many of your accounts and can start doing real damage.

Fortunately, password managers are a great tool for maintaining quite a bit of convenience in this scenario while achieving high levels of security. A password manager is an app that runs on all of your devices (computer, phone, tablet, etc.) and stores your passwords for all your online accounts. You only have to remember a single password: the one that unlocks your password manager. This app makes it easy to create super-secure unique passwords for your online accounts because you never have to remember them! Some popular password managers are 1Password, LastPass, and Bitwarden.

Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is an extra layer of security on top of your existing password. To gain access to a site, you must enter your password and then provide a second piece of information—often a code that is texted to your phone number. This increases the likelihood that you are who you say you are, and helps to prevent unauthorized access to your account. Unfortunately, this comes at the cost of convenience—it can be annoying to have to enter two pieces of information every time you log on to a site! A good compromise is to use 2FA on your most important accounts, where the most damage could be done if someone gains access to them—for example, bank accounts, your school account, and your email account.

That last one, your email account, is more important than you might think at first. If someone gains access to your email account, they can immediately change your password to lock you out, and then begin to go through all your online accounts, resetting your passwords to gain access to all those accounts. So protecting your email account should benext to protecting your bank accounts in terms of priority.

Security Updates

As hackers find exploits in software and operating systems that run on our phones and computers, security updates on our devices try to block these exploits. However, it’s up to you to make sure that you keep the software on your phone and computer up to date so that you get the latest security patches. The easiest way to do this is to set your devices to download and install security updates automatically.


Another effective way to block unauthorized access of your personal data is to run antivirus/anti-malware software on your computer. Bitdefender, Malwarebytes, and McAfee Total Protection are some common software programs you can check out.

Ad Blockers

An ad blocker is an extension you run in your web browser that not only keeps you from being inundated with ads, but can help prevent your computer from becoming infected by malware. Some browsers now block ads without you having to install anything (e.g., Brave). For other browsers, common ad blocker extensions are AdBlock Plus and uBlock Origin.


Finally, you should take steps to protect your data from yourself! We don’t mean, of course, that you are likely to steal your own data. Rather, data loss is a common occurrence that, while not nefarious in nature, can still be very problematic. We tend to rely on cloud backups for more and more of our data these days, but it’s worth giving some thought to what happens to your data if your account is closed, or the company goes away, or even if you just exceed your storage limits and don’t realize it before your data starts being deleted. For pictures and documents that we store in the cloud and on our computers and phones, it’s good to have a backup stored somewhere safe—for example, on an external hard drive.


Remember Eliana from our discussion above? She was the freshman who uses a Chromebook and a Google-branded smartphone, and on both of these devices she uses the apps that came with them, like Gmail, Google Docs, and Google Maps. While Google keeps Eliana’s information very secure, we noted that she doesn’t have much privacy, at least when it comes to Google. Google knows her name, email address, home address, birthday, gender, and phone number. They know what she looks like, what she sounds like, who her friends are, how much she talks to them, and what she talks about with them. They know what her interests are, what she searches for online, what she buys online, where she goes, what stores and restaurants she likes to visit, how much time she spends there, and how fast she drives. If Eliana wears a Fitbit to track her steps, Google also knows her weight, height, age, fitness goals, and how many calories she burns in a day.

To look through some of the data Google has stored about you specifically, you can visit https://takeout.google.com. Check all of the boxes that you’re interested in, and then click the button to export your data. It can take hours or days for Google to assemble the download for you, but they will email you when it’s ready, and you can poke through all your personal information that Google has stored. To limit the amount of data that Google collects on you, and to delete saved data, you can visit https://myaccount.google.com/activitycontrols.

The following image is from Google Takeout, and shows all the different categories of data that Google collects about you:

Google Takeout menu listing all of the categories of data Google collects: Android Device Configuration Service, Arts & Culture, Assistant Notes and Lists, Calendar, Chrome, Classic Sites, Classroom, Cloud Print, Contacts, Crisis User Reports, Data Shared for Research, Drive, Fit, Google Account, Google Cloud Search, Google Fi, Google Help Communities, Google My Business, Google Pay, Google Photos, Google Play Books, Google Play Games Services, Google Play Movies & TV, Google Play Store, Google Shopping, Google Store, Google Translator Toolkit, Google Workspace Marketplace, Groups, Hangouts, Home App, Keep, Location History, Mail, Maps, Maps (your places), My Activity, My Maps, News, Pinpoint, Posts on Google, Profile, Purchases & Reservations, Question Hub, Reminders, Saved, Search Contributions, Shopping Lists, Stadia, Street View, Tasks, Voice, and YouTube and YouTube Music.
Google Takeout menu

What if Eliana was in the Apple ecosystem as opposed to Google’s—would she be better off in terms of privacy? The answer depends in part on whether or not she’s using all of the same Google apps—Gmail, Google Maps, Google Search, etc.—on her Apple devices that she was on her Google devices. If she is using Google apps, then her situation is very similar. If she has opted to avoid all Google apps, then her level of privacy has improved as Apple is not sharing her data with advertisers. Remember that a key part of Google’s business model is creating a profile of you—all your interests, online purchases, web searches, etc., and using that data to deliver targeted ads to you. Apple’s business model is different. Apple charges you higher prices for their products and services rather than delivering ads to you. Because of this difference in business models, a study in 2021 found that Google collects around twenty times more handset data than Apple[1].

However, it’s worth noting that Apple is still tracking Eliana in many of the same ways that Google does and storing her information on their servers for their own uses. So in the end, she would still need to decide to what extent she is willing to trust a large tech company with all of her personal information.

What can you do to improve your privacy? After all, almost all of us use computers and smartphones on a daily basis, and some amount of data capturing and tracking is all but unavoidable in order to use the services that we need in everyday life. However, there are some steps you can take to begin to improve your privacy without losing too much in terms of convenience.

Text Messaging

Signal and Telegram are two good privacy-focused messaging services you can use instead of the apps that come with your smartphone, and both of them are free. On an Android phone, you can even set Signal to be your default text messaging app, and it will let you communicate with your non-Signal-using friends in addition to other Signal users (unfortunately, this isn’t possible on Apple devices due to limitations in the iOS).

Web Searching

Google is the undisputed king of web searching. However, privacy-focused alternatives are starting to appear. One of the best is DuckDuckGo. Unlike Google, it doesn’t collect or share any kind of identifiable personal information. DuckDuckGo can be used in a web browser on your computer, and is also available as an app for your smartphone.

Internet Browsing

While Google Chrome has the highest market share of all browsers, other privacy-focused alternatives exist that are arguably just as good. Two popular ones are Brave and Firefox. Brave is actually built on the underlying, open-source code that Chrome is built from, which means that the browser plug-ins you use with Chrome will also work with Brave. Firefox is not built on the same technology, but has a wide range of plug-ins available as well.


Aside from privacy concerns, Gmail is a great email service—it’s easy to use, it works on almost any device, and it’s free. But again, it’s only free because Google’s business model is to sell ads rather than charging their customers. If you’re interested in improving your privacy, there are a number of email providers that you can choose from that offer private email, but the tradeoff is that they cost a few dollars per month. Popular ones include ProtonMail, FastMail, and Tutanota.

Using the Internet for Lifelong Learning

Learning Outcomes

  • Explore additional resources for learning using the Internet

Lifelong Learning Using the Internet

Brain shaped word cloud: Lifelong Learning, education, expand, self-taught, self-initiated, interests, outside the box.

A Pew Research Center (2016) survey found that “73% of adults consider themselves lifelong learners.” This study also found that “74% of adults are what we call personal learners—that is, they have participated in at least one of a number of possible activities in the past 12 months to advance their knowledge about something that personally interests them” (Pew Research Center, 2016). This same study found that “63% of those who are working (or 36% of all adults) are what we call professional learners—that is, they have taken a course or gotten additional training in the past 12 months to improve their job skills or expertise connected to career advancement.”[2]

Whether for personal or professional development, it is now essential for everyone to continue learning throughout their life to stay on top of technological changes and innovations in society. While the Internet has been a gamechanger for how information is shared, it also provides those interested in lifelong learning with a number of options to stay on top of any topic.

As a lifelong learner, it is important to set your personal and professional objectives for learning, determine the best platform for learning, and evaluate your lifelong learning to ensure you are meeting your objectives. Like any process, you will likely need to refine your objectives as you advance personally and professionally.

Basic Lifelong Learning on the Internet

As you think about your own lifelong learning and how the Internet can facilitate the process, it is important to consider the range of platforms that are available to you and consider them for the content they provide.

For anyone who has a problem around the home, say a leaky faucet, YouTube is an excellent source of informative videos through this platform provider. The videos are often associated with user-created content from a range of sources, but it is important to know that companies and organizations often host how-to videos on this platform to reach a wide audience. These videos offer a quick and focused opportunity for lifelong learning.

In addition to YouTube videos, there are other platforms that offer skills-based lifelong learning. These platforms include WikiHow, which provides how-to guides on a range of topics.

MOOC Platforms

The range of available platforms for lifelong learning on the Internet continues to grow, but includes options based on your personal and professional interests and needs. Here is a list of massive open online course (MOOC) providers that can meet lifelong learning needs. While the courses offered as MOOCs should be open and freely available, some providers do charge fees for transcripts or certificates to indicate you have completed a course or program. Of course, this list will change but it offers an excellent starting point for anyone interested in learning a new skill or expanding their knowledge.

Lifelong Learning through Synchronous Events

Whether for personal or professional growth, synchronous webinars hosted by professional organizations and other associations offer an excellent option for lifelong learning. In the professional space, webinars are often hosted by professional organizations and associations focused on providing professionals in a field with training to meet the current needs of their members. For example, the American Nurses Association serves as a professional association for registered nurses. This association, like those in other industries, offers professional development opportunities to their members. You can see on the American Nurses Association website that they offer a range of workshops, webinars, and continuing education courses.

While professional organizations and associations offer a range of lifelong learning opportunities, there are also opportunities for lifelong learning for personal growth. Just as the American Nurses Association offers a range of workshops, webinars, and continuing education courses, you can find lifelong learning opportunities from a range of organizations. For example, the Smithsonian Institution offers a range of online events and has expanded their offerings through their Smithsonian Associates Streaming platform that includes lectures and tours. For those interested in continuing their personal education, it is a matter of finding the right organization or institution.

Regardless of your lifelong learning goals, the Internet will continue to expand access to information, making it easier for anyone to grow personally and professionally.


Boolean operator: terms such as AND, OR, and NOT that can be inserted to categorically focus an online search

interactive: the unique quality of online texts that allows a reader to move in a non-linear fashion to hyperlinked material and mixed-media resources

phrase searching: the online research technique that involves placing quotations around a phrase, which tells a search tool to look for those words together

privacy: the degree of control we have over who sees our online data and identity

security: the degree to which we protect our online data and identity

truncation: the online research technique that places an asterisk after a term to find terms that include and extend from the original term

vetted: a term describing an authoritative text that has been carefully reviewed, edited, and most likely peer-reviewed by qualified scholars

  1. Leith, Douglas J. "Mobile Handset Privacy: Measuring The Data iOS and Android Send to Apple And Google." Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, 25 March 2021, https://www.scss.tcd.ie/doug.leith/apple_google.pdf
  2. Horrigan, John B. "Lifelong Learning and Technology." Pew Research Center, 2016, http://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2016/03/22/lifelong-learning-and-technology/.


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Using the Internet for Research Copyright © 2023 by April Ring is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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