Getting Started Searching: Identify What You Need
Because of the many different websites available for you to search through, finding the information you need can be a bit daunting. It is therefore important that you begin by identifying what type of information you actually need. What sort of information are you looking for?
Specific data or facts. If you’re looking for statistics, such as health-related information, for example, your best bet is to go straight to the official website. If you’re working on a project that requires military-related information, then go to the Department of Defense’s website. This way, you’ll get information directly from the right source.
Opinion. This will depend entirely on the sort of opinion you’re looking for. Reasoned arguments from well-known thinkers and pundits can be found on news websites and similar sources. If you’re looking to survey the opinions of ordinary people, you could look through a number of blogs and websites on the topic.
General information. If you don’t have a lot of data on a particular topic you’re interested in and are as yet unclear as to where to begin, Google is your friend. Wikipedia is also a very handy resource as it functions as a quick way to find information on a number of topics. However, information in Wikipedia may not be totally credible, since anyone can edit it.
Learn to Differentiate Between Various Types of Websites
As any frequent Internet user knows, there are many different types of websites, each with a function to fill. Here’s a quick way to understand their potential uses as reliable sources:
Official. As mentioned earlier, it’s a good idea to check out the official website maintained by the government office, professional organization, hospital, or university whose information you need. When writing academic research, some professors will require students to cite only websites that use either “.gov” or “.edu”.
News. Majority of newspapers, journals, and magazines now have online versions. News channels are often available online, as well. These are definitely reliable sources, though you may have to make sure to download or screenshot the page due to frequent updates or changes.
Self-help/guides. Though many of the DIY or informative sites online cannot be used for academic research, they can still provide significant assistance for other projects. For example, a website on wine selection or home repairs can be useful, even though citing these as resources for academic work won’t be a good idea.
Social Network. Social networking sites are rarely considered reliable sources, unless you seek to add a direct quote from a user. For example, many celebrities, politicians, and other personalities now use Twitter to share information and opinion. Make sure to screenshot, as well, as changes could lead to citation difficulties later.
Commercial. A commercial or business website is not really a reliable source of information, given the potential for bias. (They're trying to sell you something!)
Personal. As with social networking sites, personal sites and blogs should not be cited as “credible” resources unless you are explicitly seeking opinions and stating them as such. It is possible to use personal sites if you are conducting an informal survey of opinion.
Make the Most of Every Resource
One thing that students often don’t realize is that even “bad” sources can be useful. You can’t cite them, true, but it’s not a good idea to just chuck it all out. Here are some ways you can utilize even the “unreliable” sources.
- Look at the sources cited by the website. For example, a lot of professors won’t accept Wikipedia as a reliable source of information (with good reason). However, you can look at the sources cited on the Wikipedia page and follow the trail. These sources are often useful and might even be acceptable. There are Wikipedia entries that even cite peer-reviewed journal articles! If you find a citation for an academic journal article, try looking it up in GALILEO.
- Look for better keywords by reading through the search results. If the results turned up sites that you can’t use, don’t worry. Read them slowly and look for keywords that will help you narrow down your search. It’s a good way to find more information, especially on a topic you’re not very familiar with.
This well-written search advice was heavily adapted from the following source.