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The Research Process

Tips for Searching the Web

In looking for Web sites on your topic, consider using a list of recommended Web sites, sometimes called a subject directory. Some of them are listed to the right. Many library web sites also recommend Web sites in different categories, such as those listed in the STCC library's research guides.

If you choose to search the web on your own, remember to evaluate websites for accuracy and currency. Not all the information on the web is trustworthy.

Other ideas for finding reliable Web sites:

  • Consider which organization(s) ("stakeholders") would be interested in researching and publishing information on your topic. For example, if your topic is 'affordable healthcare', a government agency or insurance association might be interested in tracking the scope of the problem. Limit your Google search by site:gov or site:org (ex: healthcare site:gov). Site:edu is another great limiter. Other stakeholders for your topic may include consumer advocates, professionals, policy makers, and think tank organizations. If you can't find a group interested in your topic, read a few journal articles for ideas.
  • Look at the bibliographies (references) included within the text and at the end of the scholarly articles you find during the course of your research. What organizations are mentioned? What additional sources of info can you find?

Evaluating Web Sites

By now, you are aware that not all Web sites are created equal and that anyone with a computer can put up a Web page. For doing academic work, students must be sure that the Web site from which you are getting information is reliable. Use the following information* as a tool for evaluating your sites. Most sites won't have all of the following qualities, but the ones you actually use should contain answers to at least some of the following questions:

Who wrote the information?

  • does the article indicate who wrote it?
  • are the credentials of the author indicated?

Is there an "about us" or "mission statement" located on the main page?

  • is it easy to find?
  • does it match the content of the Web site?
  • is the sponsor of the site interested in making money or an organization wanting to win you over to a point of view?

Is the site current?

  • does the site state when it was copyrighted or written?
  • does it say when it was last updated?
  • does each article have a date when it was written?

Who funds the site?

  • is it easy to find that information?
  • do the sponsor and content match?
  • is there contact information available?

What type of site is it?

  • look at the domains, i.e. .gov, .edu, .com, .org.
  • make .edu and .gov your first choice when possible

*thanks for contributions made to this checklist by Kathleen Packard.

Wikipedia

Wikipedia is a popular Internet destination for many users. However, many teachers, professors, librarians and other education professionals view Wikipedia as a bad source of information. Why?

  • Authorship of Wikipedia pages is anonymous
    • This means the qualifications of the author is unknown
      • The author could be an eighth grader
      • a college student
      • researcher
  • A Wikipedia entry can be edited by anyone at anytime
    • This means incorrect information could be substituted for correct information
    • Some topics are victims of "edit wars"
    • Persons with an agenda or grudge can hijack or vandalize a Wikipedia entry
    • Information you found in an entry may not be there when you go back the next time or ever again
  • Many Wikipedia entries do not include proof of their assertions
    • Meaning you can not verify the accuracy of the information 

There are ways to track changes to Wikipedia entries. You can view any changes made to an entry by viewing the revision history of an entry by clicking on the history tab on each entry in Wikipedia. For an example of this information take a look at the revision history of the American Civil War Wikipeda article. You also take a look at the revision history to specific segments of the article.

Statistical Resources

Government Resources