Finding resources: Searching the Internet: Pros and Cons

The Internet is great for finding very specific pieces of information. For instance, the Internet would be a great place to look if you need:

  • Concise facts, statistics, and definitions
  • Information about programs and institutions
  • Full-text copies of guidelines and consensus statements

Such as:

  • The number of alcohol-induced deaths in the U.S. in a year
  • The eligibility requirements for Medicare
  • Guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics

How the Internet falls short

The Internet is not always the best place to look for professional-level information. While it can be easily searched and you get a lot of what you find in full-text, the quality of the health care information found can be questionable.


The Internet isn't authoritative. Anyone can publish anything. You may read something written by the leading researcher in the field, or you may read something published by a total quack. Do you have enough background knowledge to tell the difference?

The Internet isn't peer-reviewed. You know that good medical research uses elements like blinding, randomization, and control groups to make sure the results can be trusted. But, did you know that researchers also read and critique each other's research before it's published? This peer review process occurs before an article is even accepted for publication and is a very basic mark of merit in medical research. Much of the material published on the web does not undergo the peer review process.

The Internet isn't complete. Some materials on the Internet are not easily retrieved because they require passwords or are part of the deep web. No one search engine searches the entire Internet. The Internet has a relatively short history. Much important research and many key health policy decisions occurred prior to the advent of the web and can only be found in other information resources.

Don't avoid the internet! Learn to search it well!

We aren't saying to avoid the Internet. But you do need to learn to search it well and use it only in combination with peer-reviewed and professional sources.

  • Use different search engines regularly. Don't only use Google.
  • Apply quality criteria while reviewing search results.
  • Use professional terminology to retrieve professional material.
  • Use synonyms and rephrase questions to improve search results.


Websites are great for statistics, documents, and organizations, but you should look to trusted authorities such as the CDC, National Library of Medicine, and the NIH.

Other tutorials

Here are some more tutorials on finding high-quality web materials:

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