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Research @ Reynolds Libraries

5 a. Introduction

What are the Internet and the Web?

The Internet is a worldwide network of computers. The World Wide Web (also called WWW, "the Net" or "the Web") is an information system that links Internet documents and allows users to navigate through the Web, moving quickly and seamlessly from one source to another via Web links. Documents available on the Web can include text, sound, video, and images.

One prevailing misconception is that everything is available on the Internet!  As a matter of fact, only a small fraction of the world of information is available on the Internet. Think of the Web as an iceberg. Anyone can see and access roughly one-third of the information available on the open Web for free, using popular search engines like Google. Wikipedia articles, for example, are open Web resources that are available online to anyone who searches for them. In the illustration below, the area above the line represents the open Web, where anyone has easy access to free information.

The other two-thirds of the information available on the Web is hidden from view and is known as the "deep Web." The deep Web is where information is not free and is not included in popular search engine results. Library databases, for example, are deep Web subscription resources that are available online, but only to authorized users such as students enrolled Reynolds. Books, journals, magazines, and other publications that are commercially available are usually not available for open access on the Internet.  Thus, some of the most reliable information in existence must still be obtained from licensed library databases or traditional print sources. In the illustration below, the area underneath the line represents the deep Web, where it costs money to gain access to higher-quality, reliable information.

Open web vs. deep web


(Original graphic created by Kevin Simons from Northern Virginia Community College, Annandale Campus and adapted by Virginia Community College System librarians for the statewide Connect for Success information literacy tutorial.)

The Internet is a great source for finding current news stories, government documents, statistics, working papers, conference proceedings, reports, etc. However, since there is no quality control on the Internet, you need to  make sure you check the reliability of sources you find through search engines such as Google.  Review the Evaluate Sources section of this guide for criteria guidelines for evaluating resources.   

Where can I find reliable information on the Web?

The Web contains a wealth of information published by governments, educational institutions, professional organizations, non-profit groups, commercial enterprises, and private individuals all over the world. Since there are no standards for information quality on the Web, not everything you find will be accurate or appropriate to use as research. Generally speaking, you can locate reliable information on authoritative Web sites, such as:

  • Federal government agencies and departments
    • Government sites are identified by the .gov domain suffix
    • Example: National Institutes of Health
  • Colleges and universities
    • These sites are identified by the .edu domain suffix
    • Example: Harvard University
    • Excludes student or faculty pages hosted by the educational institution.
  • Professional societies and non-profit organizations
    • These sites are identified by the .org domain suffix
    • Example of a professional society: American Psychological Association
    • Example of a non-profit organization: American Red Cross

Beware, not all .org sites are unbiased. There are organizations with Web sites in this category that exist to promote a specific point of view, for example, Planned ParenthoodNational Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or the National Rifle Association.

If it is not obvious the information comes from an authoritative group, look for links such as "About Us," "Who We Are," or "Our Mission" to evaluate the source.

Although the Web provides a vast amount of information, it does not include everything! Books, periodicals, databases, and other publications that are commercially available are not usually available for open (free) access on the Web. Thus, some of the most reliable information in existence must still be obtained from traditional print sources or electronic sources, such as research databases, available only by subscription.

Taken from the VCCS Connect for Success Information Literacy Tutorial.