Conducting research online (2024)

How to research online

Knowing how to effectively search for and sort through information can make browsing the web safer and more productive. Teachers and parents can model to children and young people how to use search effectively and how to select trustworthy sources online. Find out more.

Text-based search

Text-based web searches are still the most popular way we find things online. We type keywords and phrases into a search bar, and the search engine provides a list of results based on those search terms.

Modern search engines use complex algorithms to rank the pages they show to you in terms of relevance, popularity and links to trustworthy sites.

With text-based searches you can:

  • search a range of websites simply, quickly and accurately in an intuitive way
  • control and refine your search results through advanced search.

Advanced search

Children and young people can struggle to find exactly the information they need when faced with the vast amount of content online. Teachers should show them how to use Google's advanced search terms to help them find exactly what they're looking for when using search engines.

Keyword tips

Follow these keyword search tips to help students find the right information:

  • Use specific search terms. Choose ancient Greek pottery rather than pottery when researching for an assignment on ancient Greece.
  • Add quote marks to search for exact phrases. For example, searching 2020 Olympic Games "high jump" results will restrict your search to pages where the words 'high jump' are found next to each other.
  • Use the minus symbol (-) to exclude a word from your search. Searching jaguar speed -car will bring the big cat to the top of search results, rather than the car.
  • Use the asterisk symbol (*) as a wildcard or when searching for different spelling variations. You could search tallest*in the world to see all results about the tallest objects in the world. You could also search for parliament* and the search results will show you all the variations on the word parliament (parliaments, parliamentary, parliamentarian, etc).
  • Refine your search even further by searching for information on a particular site. Consider site: news to find news that only comes from the ABC.

Combine different search types. Use the 5 must-have Google search tips for students for more help.

Image search

There are 2 ways you can search for pictures using a search engine like Google Images. You can use:

  • words – by typing keywords into the search bar
  • an image – by uploading a picture into the search bar, rather than text, called a reverse image search.

Using a reverse image search, you can find:

  • original and unmodified versions of the image
  • other versions in different sizes and file types
  • similar images, images with similar objects or websites with similar objects
  • sites where the image can be found
  • information about the image such as the location and the creator.

Reverse image search is a tool you can use to tell the difference between real and fake images.

Advice for teachers about the use of AI in schools

Learners and educators in our system need to be prepared for a future where artificial intelligence (AI) is part of everyday life.  

The NSW Department of Education led work across Australia to develop the Australian Framework for Generative AI in Schools. The framework seeks to guide the responsible and ethical use of generative AI tools in ways that benefit students, schools and society. To learn more, visit AI in education.

Read what a STEM expert says about AI in education in what teachers need to know about AI.

Finding trustworthy websites

Young people can make choices about the quality and trustworthiness of online information by asking questions about the sites on which they find it.

There are many strategies for evaluating sources of information.

You can use the following methods to find credible websites:

  • WWWDOT asks Who wrote it and what credentials do they have? Why was it written? When was it written or updated? Does it help meet my needs? Organisation of site and to-do list for the future
  • CARS considers credibility, accuracy, reasonableness and support
  • CRAAP tests currency, relevance, authority, accuracy and purpose.

Here are some concepts teachers can discuss with their students:

  • Many websites are not checked for accuracy, so you need to be a detective and think about what you’re reading.
  • Talk about reliable sources. Ask: Is it a well-known news source or information written by an expert?
  • Discuss what sites, people and organisations you think are trustworthy for you, and why.
  • Use comparison to check one website against another. If multiple trustworthy websites say the same thing, it's more likely the information is accurate. Wikipedia might be a good place to start, but is it possible to find another trustworthy site that backs up a Wikipedia page?
  • Check the domain name: a website that includes .gov should be associated with a government agency, and a website with .edu should be associated with an educational organisation.

Other domains such as .org and .net are no longer strongly regulated.

Conducting research online (2024)
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