Top tips for finding and using online resources

When searching for legal information online, it is important to be discerning about the information you find. Some web resources are accurate and reliable, while others may be inaccurate and misleading.
Middle aged man. Photo by Walter Scott

The following are some questions and tips you should consider when searching for legal information online.

What kind of website is it? What's its purpose? Does the information appear to be objective and not simply someone’s opinion? What kind of URL does the website have?

Specific legal advice websites, such as advicenow.org.uk and citizensadvice.org.uk will provide reliable information.

Reputable charities and non-governmental organisations can be very good at making sure the legal information they produce is designed for particular users in mind; for example, Shelter or Age UK. They may also be independent and impartial.

Government websites (“.gov.uk”) will have reliable legal information. Websites which have “.org.uk” may deal with a problem in a more detailed way.

Other sources, such as newspapers, Wikipedia and discussion forums can be less reliable and more likely to contain biased or misleading information.

Who has written or provided the information on the website? Are they a reliable and reputable source on this subject?

When looking for information online, you should consider who has authored it. If it is a legal advice website, you can be relatively sure that it is accurate. Where you cannot identify the person or organisation that has written the website, it is best to look for a more transparent source. You can also check the “About” section of the website to find out the purpose of the organisation or website.

Consider whether they are independent or impartial; they may have a particular motivation which is worth considering.

Is the information provided up to date?

Reliable websites will usually, but not always, indicate the date on which the information was last updated. If a website does not provide this, it may be reason to question the authority of the information.

Is the information well-written? Are there mistakes or errors?

Presentation can tell you a lot about the reliability of a website. If you notice a lot of grammatical and spelling errors, it is a good indication that the information is not reliable.

Is the Information suitable, bearing in mind the need to cater for different audiences?

This means that as well as being user-friendly and written in plain English it should help someone to manage the practical and emotional aspects of a problem by:

  • Including an overview
  • Explaining key legal points and procedures and processes
  • Dealing with recognising when and how to get help
  • Acknowledging emotional aspects
  • Offering step-by-step guides, route maps and standard letters
  • Incorporating guidance on the skills needed to manage a problem or deal with an issue.

Is the information specific to a particular jurisdiction?

Always be sure to check if the information is for a particular country, region or borough. General searches can bring up results from all over the world. If you are looking for information for a particular jurisdiction, it is best to include the name of the place in your initial search. On occasions it’s important to remember that the law varies even within the UK, with differences in the law between England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Are there links to other resources? Is the information provided supported by these links? Can you find the same information on other websites?

If you are unsure about the reliability of the legal information you have found, search again to see if you can find the same information somewhere else. Finding the same information in multiple places can be a good indication that it is accurate. In addition, if a website indicates where the information has come from, you can check the sources yourself to ensure accuracy.

December 2017
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