How to Validate Results from a Google Web Search

Part of the Building Research Tools with Google For Dummies Cheat Sheet

When you validate research results from a Google web search, your goal is to determine the credibility of the information you've discovered. Evaluating the credibility of a web page, like any complex skill, is part art and part science. The most important thing you can do when assessing credibility of information is to start with a skeptical frame of mind.

Asking the following questions will help you decide if information you've found is, indeed, credible:

  • Is the information published by a reputable source?

  • Does the publisher of the page have a vested interest (particularly an undisclosed vested interest) in the subject of the information? For example, pollution statistics from a website called People For the Abolition of Automobiles might be skewed, just as pollution results presented by the MGGA (Manufacturers of Gas Guzzlers Association) may also be biased.

    Just because a source of information appears to have a bias doesn't mean that the information is useless. You just need to be aware of the bias as you compile search results so that you don't accept opinions as if they are facts.

  • Is the web page (and its parent site) internally consistent and put together carefully? Sites that are sloppy and contain broken links and misspellings are probably not good research sources. Ditto if the source contradicts itself or uses faulty logic.

  • Does the page contain strident pop-up ads or adult material? This is not a good sign.

  • Are purported "facts" on a page — particularly if they are seemingly unlikely — given attribution (via a hyperlink, or perhaps by referring to a book)?

  • If the page contains information about when it was updated, is it fresh or stale?

Just because something appears in writing, or on a web page, doesn't mean it's true. Use the questions in this article as a starting place toward evaluating the information on a web page. Always evaluate credibility carefully before giving any weight to the information on a web page.

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