Information essentials

Aims and objectives

This module will:

  • introduce you to different kinds of information and where to find them
  • give advice on search strategies
  • help you to evaluate information.

After completing this module, you will be able to:

  • develop a search strategy to find the best information for your needs
  • find different kinds of information using different tools
  • evaluate information you find.

4. Searching the internet

On the internet it can be difficult to know where to look to find authoritative websites and articles. 

Search engines

A search engine, like Google or Bing, is a website that indexes the contents of the web so you can search for information that matches your keywords.

How do search engines work?

Search engines use internet robots (bots), sometimes known as 'web crawlers' or 'spiders', to index websites. The indexed and searchable web represents a minority of the overall content on the web.

The Internet: How Search Works (5m12s) explains how "spiders" scan the Internet to determine which search results show up first.

Site ranking

Complex algorithms are used by search engines to rank websites and determine what results to return to you. Different search engines use different algorithms, but some common methods used to rank websites include:

  • how often a page is linked to from other sources
  • how often the content is updated
  • the trustworthiness of the domain.

Read about how Google’s search algorithms analyse your search terms and the context to return webpage results that it determines are most relevant for you.

Issues around search algorithms

Search algorithms can:

In response to recent claims of bias, Google has stated that “While we take great care to present the most authoritative information, there are many cases where users can and will find information that’s not authoritative”. So it is important to evaluate the information you find (see the next section of this module).

Filter bubbles

Ever noticed how search engines will suggest search terms to you as you are typing in the search bar? The fact that you may see different suggestions than someone else typing the same letters is an example of a "filter bubble". Eli Pariser coined the phrase "filter bubble" in 2011 to illustrate how the internet can give you a biased perspective of the world based on search engine algorithms, your past internet searches and what hyperlinks you have clicked on.

Screenshot: Google. Auto-suggestion in Google. Retrieved March 13, 2020.

Search engines’ auto-suggestions are based on real searches that people have done and results retrieved can vary from country to country. Someone searching for “Passport applications” will be directed to a different website depending on whether they are searching from the UK or Australia, and on their previous search history.

Watch the video in which Eli explains what a ‘filter bubble’ is, how search engines tailor their search results based on your search history and can retrieve information that may not challenge or expand your perspective on the world.

 Beware online "filter bubbles" (TED Talk -, 8m58s)

Privacy and search engines


While search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo are good search engines to use when searching for information, they use cookies to track which websites you have visited.

You may have had a pop up when you have visited an internet page which tells you that cookies are being used to improve services.

We value your privacy We use cookies and other technologies to keep the site reliable and secure, tailor your experience, measure site performance and present relevant offers and advertisements, as described in our privacy policy, updated on December 18, 2019, and cookie policy.
Screenshot: Politico. Cookies pop up on website page. Retrieved March 13, 2020.  

Cookies are a small piece of data inserted by a web page into your browser. Cookies allow websites to remember you when you next visit the website. Learn more about privacy in the Digital wellbeing and privacy module.

Search engines that do not use cookies

Answer engines

Wolfram Alpha is an engine that allows you to ask questions in the search box. These are often science-based queries but can also be queries related to the arts and general knowledge.

Try searching for one of the following questions in Wolfram Alpha.

  • How many calories are contained in 10 peanut M&Ms?
  • Who won the best actor Academy Award (Oscar) in 1976?
  • Find words ending in “dog”
  • Orbital path of Hubble space telescope

The database will then compute the answers and provide visualisations, where necessary, to answer your query.

 Open access materials

The ability to find relevant and credible information is a skill valued by employers. Do you know how to find scholarly research when you no longer have access to Library resources?

Many of the databases that the Library subscribes to only allow access to current UQ staff and students. Alumni membership gives access to a limited number of Library databases. One solution is to use open access resources.

Open access (OA) refers to unrestricted online access to academic research. Open access publications available online include:

  • articles
  • books and book chapters
  • conference papers
  • theses
  • working papers
  • data and images.

If you are looking for scholarly journal articles after you graduate, or even whilst you are studying or working at UQ, there are a number of ways you can access them free of charge.

Open educational resources (OER)

Find open educational resources (OER) - eBooks and eTextbooks, open journals, images, audio, video and software.

Institutional repositories

An institutional repository is where university researchers deposit their academic work. UQ eSpace is UQ’s institutional repository, but you can find more open access repositories via OpenDoar.

Open access publishing

Not all articles are accessible as soon as they are uploaded by the authors. Some journal publishers may enforce an embargo, or a ban, on the articles being viewed by the public for 6 -12 months or longer. Open Access explains more about open access publishing.

Open access journals and books

Duration:   Approximately 30 minutes

Graduate attributes

Knowledge and skills you can gain to contribute to your Graduate attributes:

 Critical judgement

 Independence and creativity

Check your knowledge

Check what you know about this topic:

Take the quiz

Support at UQ

Access UQ services to assist you with personal or study-related issues.