Skip to Main Content

“The mission of Ranger College is to transform lives and give students the skills to be a positive influence in their communities.”

Information Literacy

Understanding what you find in the internet

Internet Sources

Finding Useful Information in the General Internet

It is not easy to find useful information in the general internet.  You have to be very wary of garbage.  These sites are presented by people with a lot of different motivations.

Many people who are interested in a subject write good blogs or make good podcasts.  After you review them very carefully and examine their sources they may be worth using.  Most professors will require that any general internet source be approved by them before you use it.

Most are not worth using.  Bad webpages fall into many categories.  Some who create this type of work are interested only in spreading one particular point of view.  A notorious example of this is the Institute for Historical Review.  It produces a very legitimate looking web page and writes articles with blurbs that start out sounding like they are historical pieces about Nazi Germany.  Soon enough it becomes apparent it is a neo-Nazi, holocaust denial page.

If you have a statistic or fact, you should be able to verify it through another source.  If not, and it doesn’t seem right, you may be facing something like this.  You can always check with your professor or a librarian.  You do not have to just take information as it is given to you.

Not all web pages are bad on purpose.  Some are just not competent.  Consider the people who answer those Quora questions.  While ignorance may not be malicious, it is not helpful to you. 

Some are for children and are written in a simplistic or safe way that changes the facts.  There is a lot of wickedness in the world and people tend to tone that down for some web pages.  They also tend to use small words.  In the grown-up world, we talk and write like adults.  Similarly, some are created for school projects and are at low level or are inaccurate.  Work created by a seventh grader for his class project is not going to contain enough or accurate enough information to fulfill your goals.  Mrs. Jones’ Big Civil War Board is not the right web page for you.

Some are incomplete.  There are millions of false start web pages out there.  You may have had a go at starting a blog and never got beyond your third post or completed the editing process.  You need a fully vetted, peer-reviewed document.  Half-finished work means that someone hasn’t taken out the wrong information yet. 

And, finally, some are just wrong because the person did not do the work properly.  Bad information exists everywhere.  As in the case above, it may be because someone didn’t finish editing, so it says 30 million instead of 40 million.  It may be because they didn’t do appropriate research.  It may be because the page is more opinion than research. 

With a .com you can never really be sure the facts are correct but a tightly edited page is one way to be as sure as possible.  Any webpage that has typos should be rejected for this reason.  The author has to care enough to edit it.  Good websites also support their work with accurate footnotes.

The media is a special type of .com source.  Old newspapers are often our only source of information.  More and more frequently they are available online. is a subscription source with thousands of newspapers available.  The Library of Congress maintains an excellent collection at Chronicling America ( that is easy to use.  Another source that is less easy to use but provides different papers is Google News (  For Texas only papers try  There is a lot there in addition to newspapers, so after you see what is available click into the newspaper section.  Try Pathé ( for film clips.

Now for the warning about media.  The news is about drama.  They are not always interested in reporting the truth.  They are always interested in selling papers, even 100 or 200 years ago.  This is not a modern phenomenon.  It did not arrive with the internet and the advent of “anybody with a couple of bucks can start a news service.”  They report whatever rumors happen to be flying through the air.  Look up a few headlines on the Wall Street bombing of 1920.  In the end, there was no evidence of who did it and no one was ever arrested.  The headlines told a dozen different stories, none of which were true.  “No new information” does not make a good headline.

Many media also have a specific agenda.  Their goal is to shape public opinion so they turn statistics and facts to a specific direction or leave out the parts that do not reflect their agenda.  Some are not above blatant falsification of data and images to promote a point of view.  You have to be aware of when something doesn’t make sense.  Consider this photograph presented as evidence of the abuses the children in the illegal immigrant detention facilities were suffering.

image of a pile of children's shoes

It fails a logic test in many ways.  First, the shoes are outside the gates of an unidentified facility (so it could be the local jail).  Since the shoes are outside, they were never on children inside.  At least three pair are identical, unlikely on children in the wild.  Most importantly, if you zoom in to them, the shoes all still have their tags and little plastic strings holding them together.  They are brand new.  This staged photo is meant to draw sympathy and anger by a media with an agenda.  Of course, there was no citation.

Do not fall for bad media, whether it is from yesterday or 100 years ago.  The media is often our only tool to reach the past and much of it is very good.  Be careful.

You can search any site to find out whether or not it is a real organization by looking at or reading reviews from a different source (although you do have to be wary of plant reviews).  It really shouldn’t be that hard, though, to tell sketchy from legit when you look at one of these.  Pages like American Cancer Society or The MoMA stand out.  Illegitimate webpages are often going to look like .com stuff.

This article has some excellent information on the topic.  While it is phrased toward science, the information applies to all fields:

May all your internet research be productive.

Please contact us at 254-647-1414 or