While the Internet is magic in that it brings the world to your fingertips, it is also a big problem if you don’t follow some basic rules. There is a lot of junk and misinformation out there and you can get into a lot of trouble if you are not careful and discerning.
- Be skeptical and demand verification
Don’t easily trust a website without doing some important reading.
Reputable websites will clearly state whether or not the content is sponsored, and if so, by whom. This is helpful, but you can’t expect every website to be so honest. Try to stick to sources with reputations for quality, and remember that if something seems fishy, it probably is. Research the author, if possible. If you can’t verify the truth of something to your satisfaction, throw the source out. Above all else, remember: social media is a hive for misinformation and should be approached with caution.
- Use academic databases
In addition to the first tip, a way to be sure your information is accurate is to use academic databases. In contrast to tip #1, there are plenty of options for controlling your online research experience and making sure you are getting good, useful information. If you want to engage in quality research, the bulk of your time should be spent here.
- Consult bibliographies for leads
As you gather information, another option to expand your search is to use the bibliographies of sites you have already consulted. As these are trusty sites, the bibliographies will be trusted as well.
- Learn to use WorldCat
One super useful resource for online research is WorldCat. The “world catalog” can, at its most basic functionality, give you bibliographical information for over two billion items. Because WorldCat is connected to library catalogs all over the world, it can tell you where a specific item (such as a book, journal, article, video, or audio recording) is held.
- Learn to use Wikipedia correctly
Wikipedia is much maligned, but can have some valuable information if you know how to use it correctly. Again, we go back to the bibliography for sources. Wikipedia is free, open, and can be edited by anybody, but also makes it susceptible to foul play and misinformation. However, it can be useful for research.
- Blend primary and secondary sources
There are two types of sources: primary sources and secondary sources. Primary sources are what you find yourself, such as interviews or your own research. While secondary sources are research someone else has done on your topic, such as articles by academics and other articles such as the newspaper. You may require some of both. In either case, one without the other does not make for an appetizing meal.
- Be open to unexpected results
Try and stay open to whatever you find. It’s dangerous to go into a project trying to prove a point. That is not objective research and can get you in trouble. What if you find that there just isn’t anything pertaining to your research question? Or what if you do find relevant information, but it contradicts what you expect? You need to be open to encountering the unexpected. You have a question you are trying to answer and that answer may be very different that what you thought? Good for you. However, if you are not fully satisfied with what you are finding, then you need to look further and further.
Experiment with keywords and filters
If you are using common search engines, an important tool is how you phrase your search? Using search strings allows you to very your search in many ways. You can also phrase your question in multiple ways to see what comes up. A popular way to phrase your question is the Boolean method. The definition of a Boolean search string is:
Boolean search is a structured search process that allows the user to insert words or phrases such as AND, OR, NOT to limit, broaden and define the search results. Boolean search allows the combination of five different elements to conduct a search and utilizes a search engine to its fullest potential.
AND. AND will narrow your search results to include only relevant results that contain your required keywords. …
Quotation Marks “ “ …
Parentheses ( ) …
- Organize your findings
Create a way to organize your findings. One option is to create a bibliography; organized by topic, type of source, usefulness, or any other criteria that may help you.
- Consult a research librarian
This is one of my favorites. Not everything is online. We still need libraries. Some documents or books have not been digitized. This is every bit as important as everything in this article.