At some point you will probably have the need to do some high quality, presentation worthy research. Whether it’s for a college paper or a work presentation, you’ll need solid data and facts to back up your opinions. But before you go scouring the internet for troves of information, beware: not everything on the web is reliable. Wikipedia, although useful for a cursory overview of a topic, is not the best site to source when writing a research paper. Anyone can change the information on Wikipedia, so it’s not reliable. What you need is an action plan for how to find the most reliable and vetted information on the web. So with a little guidance, you can learn how to put the web to work for you.
Search engines are the place to start when youire looking for information. But before you pull up your trusty Google or Bing, note that a general search might not actually be the best way to start looking for information. One of the better places to start is actually Google Scholar, which only searches academic and scholarly work. This is always my number one place to start general research or learning what has already been written about a topic.
If you want to still use a general search engine, try using some operators to narrow your results.
- Using quotes (” “) around any of your search terms will search for that exact phrase.
- Use ~ next to a term to search for related words
- Use a minus sign (-) next to a word to exclude that key word
- To search for results in a specific time period, enter your date range separated by … (ex. 2008…2010)
- To search particular websites use the keyword as follows site:siteToSearch.com
One other handy trick: if you want the quick definition of a word, type in define:word in your search bar!
Sometimes a web search, even a refined one, won’t point you to the right academic material. This is when it’s probably best to search a database of scholarly works, such as academic journals and papers. There are databases for all subjects or just particular areas of study. Some databases require subscriptions, but there are free ones as well. If you’re still in school, your place of study may have a subscription to major databases. Some of the most popular databases include JSTOR (free), EBSCO and ProQuest (subscription), which are general databases. If you’re looking for more specific databases, try starting at http://searchworks.stanford.edu/databases , where you might be able to find specific databases for your area of study.
The last, and one of the most important parts of research, is citations. If you took the time to find all this great information, make sure you give the authors proper credit where it’s due. If you don’t have the latest version of MLA style citations memorized, there are some really handy websites that generate citations for you. Citationmachine.net has been a longstanding favorite of mine, ever since my 6th grade teacher introduced it to us for a social studies project. Another popular site is easybib.com, which has a wider selection of formats to generate citations for. Between these two websites, as well as looking for built in citations from the original source website (some databases provide citations for you!), you should be covered.
So that’s a quick guide to some quality internet research. I hope you feel more secure in your searching abilities; go take some time now to learn about something you’re curious about! You know your source information will be valid. 🙂