The Internet provides a range of information which may or may not be credible. This is certainly the case when it comes to substance abuse–related information. To use the Internet for research on substance abuse, students need to learn two things: first, how to conduct an effective online search; and second, how to critically evaluate the information they find.

Searching For Substance Abuse Information Online

Generally, government or university health and addiction websites are the best sites. They contain balanced (e.g., legal as well as illegal substances as drugs of abuse), accurate information, and they are not trying to sell you anything. There are several very good Canadian sites of this sort.
Appendix E, p. 206-212 lists several reputable websites. If students are looking for Canadian survey results and fact sheets, they can go straight to one of these sites and find what they are looking for:

If students need to do a broader search, here are some tips in using a search engine, such as Google.

  • Use nouns as query keywords. Don’t use articles (“a,” “the”), pronouns (“he,” “it”), conjunctions (“and,” “or”), or prepositions (“to,” “from”) in your queries.
  • Use six to eight keywords per query.
  • Combine keywords into phrases using quotation marks, as in “solar system”—this will produce only references that include these words in that order.
  • Spell carefully, and consider alternative spellings.
  • Check the Help function of the particular search engine you’re using, since they all have their own quirks and preferences.

Evaluating Online Information

When a student thinks they have found what they are looking for, the next step will be for the student to evaluate the information. How can they determine if the source is legitimate? There are several questions that can be asked. For instance: What is the purpose of the website—has it been created to provide information, or promote its own products? The information found on a pharmaceutical company site concerning a particular product, for example, may differ from that offered by a government health agency. Some questions students can ask include, Where am I? Who is the source? What am I getting? When was it created or last updated?

Here are a couple of other ways to develop an opinion on the credibility of a site:

  • Use the “Link” Command: Sometimes, seeing who links to—or talks or writes about—a particular web page can offer insights into its quality. students can find out which sites link to a specific web page by going to a search engine and entering a “link:” command in the search box, followed by the web page’s address (URL). Meta search engines that integrate several different search engines will offer best results.

    For example, a search using the URL for the Media Awareness Network in Ottawa ( brings up over 3,000 sites in the results. The fact that most of these sites are education or government resource pages supports the network’s claim that it is a non-profit, educational organization.

  • Do an Author Search: It’s also possible to measure the quality of a website by conducting a background check on the author of a web page. Simply conduct a search for the author’s name, in quotation marks. Results may include other articles written by the author, articles written about the author, or websites that use the author’s work as examples.


Some of the above information has been adapted with permission from two Media Awareness Network articles:"Fact or Folly: Authenticating Online Information," (Accessed September 2005), and

"How to Search the Internet Effectively", (Accessed September 2005).