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Using the Internet

What is in this guide?

This guide provides basic information on the use of the internet. It has the following sections:

  1. What is the Internet?
  2. What do you use internet for?
  3. How to do a search
  4. How to treat information and sources

This guide is based on information supplied by the Department of Education and Training in the State of Victoria, Australia.

  1. What is the Internet?

The internet is made up of millions of computers linked together around the world in such a way that information can be sent from any computer to any other 24 hours a day. These computers can be in homes, schools, universities, government departments, or businesses small and large. They can be any type of computer and be single personal computers or workstations on a school or a company network. The internet is often described as 'a network of networks' because all the smaller networks of organisations are linked together into the one giant network called the internet. All computers are pretty much equal once connected to the internet; the only difference will be the speed of the connection which is dependent on your Internet Service Provider and your own modem.

  1. What do you use Internet for?

There are so many things you can do and participate in once connected to the internet. They include using a range of services to communicate and share information and things quickly and inexpensively with tens of millions of people, both young and old and from diverse cultures around the world. For example:

And as well as using the Internet for receiving things you will be able to publish information about your development work experiences, community, school, hobbies or interests.

  1. How to do a search?

Finding resources on the Internet can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. There are millions of documents on the Internet, published by specialists, scientists, teachers and students. Some of them will be useful for your research project; the trick is in finding them!

One of the easiest and safest methods of researching for relevant resources is by using Directories that have already been evaluated by other organisations. Directories are collections of resources organised into categories. Sometimes the directory will focus on one subject area, others may collect and organise resources in a number of areas.

Internet is not like your school library, with its shelves of well organised books. Simply browsing the internet is unlikely to find you the information you need, so in order to find the resources you want for your research project, you will need, at some point, to use a search engine - a tool used to search for information on the internet.

Search engines compile databases of web pages which allow users to search the internet for specific resources, by doing what is termed a keyword search. When a user types in a search request such as "Egypt", the search engine already knows where all the pages that include the word "Egypt" are located.

Planning a search

When you are using a search engine it's important to clearly define your keywords. You need to be specific rather than general, because there is so much information out there; a general search may return you hundreds of thousands of hits. In order to avoid being overloaded with information, think carefully about what you are searching for. For example, a search for the word "cat" returned 500,000 hits! But a search for "cat health" returned only 200 hits, still a large number, but much more useful.

Before you start your search think about what you are looking for and do some groundwork with a pen and paper. Think of all the possible terms you might use for your subject. Think of any differences there may be in terminology from country to country. For example, in South Africa we talk about primary schools, in the US the term is elementary school. So a search for "primary school" might not find you information about American schools. Of course this might be an advantage if you were only looking for information about South Africa.

  1. How to treat information and sources

Finding the information you want on the Internet is only the first step. There is a lot of material available, but not all of it is equally reliable and useful. If you are doing research, a large part of your job is not simply to find information, but to make judgements about its merit. Before you use any material you have found, you need to spend some time evaluating it for accuracy and importance. Use the following questions as a guide, but also use your own experience and skills to make a decision.

Who put this information here?

The source of the material might give you a clue to its reliability. A site maintained by a university or government organisation might be more reliable than one maintained by a private citizen.

How old is the material?

Sometimes the age of information matters. If you need current statistics then check the age of the material you have found. As a rule,  in most fields anything more than five years old is probably out-dated. But a site which deals with historical information may not need up-dating as frequently as one which is all about the latest political events. Just because information isn't regularly changed doesn't mean you shouldn't use it, but you need to be aware that your information is not necessarily the most recent.

Who wrote the information? Who is responsible for this information being here?

The status of the writer is often of considerable importance in deciding the reliability of information. You can probably assume that material written or otherwise provided by a known expert in the field is likely to be reliable. Resources provided under the auspices of a recognised institution might be considered reliable as well. But what about student pages on a university server? Just because you have never heard of the author of the page doesn't mean that the information is inaccurate or unreliable, but it does mean that you can't take it at face value. You might have to do some cross-checking, either elsewhere on the net, or with books or articles.

Why is this material here?

Who put the material on the Internet and why? Think about whether they might have some reason other than pure helpfulness for posting information. Many special interest groups have web pages, and while this doesn't necessarily mean the material is biased it is something you need to think about. All sorts of groups now have web pages on the Internet, and obviously all of them have a message they are trying to get across. Think about what is being said, and why the material is there.

Can I do a cross check?

Think about ways you might cross check the information you have found. You might have a look at another site with similar material, ask somebody who knows something about the topic, and have a look at book on the subject. Use your own experience as well. If you have already done some research in the area you will already have some knowledge of the subject. How does this material fit in with what you already know?

What is Referencing?

Referencing (also called citing) simply means that you indicate which material is not your own and show where you got it from. Even if you have not used someone's exact words, but have rephrased their ideas you need to give your sources. The idea is that someone else reading your work should be able to recognise the difference between your work and someone else's. You need to provide them with enough information about your sources that they could find the source for themselves.

There are several different referencing systems, each subject area tends to use it's own system of citations, but whatever style you choose it is important to be consistent, complete and accurate. This is matters not only for books and articles, but electronic sources as well.

Why reference?

Plagiarism is theft. If someone broke into your house and stole your television you would be understandably upset. That was your television and now you can't watch In exactly the same way, using someone else's ideas without acknowledging where they came from is stealing.

That is what referencing is all about, making sure that you if you use someone else's words or ideas, you let your readers know where the information came from. It is okay to quote from a book, or use the ideas from someone's work in your own work, but it does mean that you need to be careful to make sure that you acknowledge where the information came from, and make it quite clear that it is not your own original ideas. The way you do that is to make sure you reference any material you use which is not your own.

Referencing resources from the Internet

You need to include:

This guide was copied from a source on the internet, with a few changes to adapt it to South Africa.


Author: State of Victoria (Department of Education & Training) – Initiative of  DE&T
Title of work:   “Using the Internet”
Date published: March 4, 2002
Date visited: November 16, 2005


Using the Internet

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