Separating the Good Online Research Sources from the Bad

One thing you’ll do a lot of throughout your distance learning education is online research. With millions of web sites floating about in cyberspace, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the choices, and worse, misled. Here are some tips to help you find the best sources of information to use when preparing your next term paper.

Use a reliable search engine

Chances are you’re already familiar with Google, Yahoo and other search engines. But do you know about Google Scholar, a member of the Google search family that facilitates your search for scholarly literature and research prepared and presented by professional societies, universities, and others in academia? What about the Google Book Search service that maintains an ever-growing digital database of book pages you can search and view online and that contains information on how to access the full version of the book? Both are worth checking out.

The search term is key

Always be specific about what you’re searching for. The more specific your search term or phrase, the more you can narrow your options. To narrow your choices even further, surround your search term with quotations. That way, all results will contain only (and exactly) the information typed within the quotation marks. Play around a bit and see what you can find using different terms and phrases, and how the quotes work.

Take advantage of online databases

A great way is by visiting ProQuest, a powerful web site that is dedicated to bringing together people and information. The site claims to have access to “billions of pages of global content that includes historical newspapers, dissertations, and other uniquely relevant resources.” EBSCOhost is another useful site for finding reliable research resources. Your distance learning school’s librarian can help you gain access to these and other online databases that can assist with all your research needs.

Ask the pros

Your professors and librarians, that is. These people are there to help. They’ll have a good idea which sites are credible and which sites are not. And they probably know what resources are available offline as well. So don’t be afraid to request their assistance. Helping students is what they do best.

Investigate the site

When it comes to web sites, many look official, but not all are. If you poke around a bit, you might be able to distinguish the ones that are credible, like those that are the online versions of government agencies and universities, from the ones that are just there to make money on advertising, or that publish questionable information. Believe it or not, many instructors won’t allow students to use information found on Wikipedia because it is often unreliable. Spelling and grammar mistakes on a site are another indication the site may not be a good choice. Just remember when it comes to resources, more is usually better, as long as they’re credible.

Don’t forget citations

When writing academic papers, it’s very important to acknowledge the resources you’ve used. This is accomplished with footnotes at the bottom of a page and citations within a page. Plus you’ll need to create a bibliography at the end of the paper. In lieu of a bibliography your instructor may allow you to create a “works cited” or “resources” page. Whatever you do, always make sure your resources are properly cited and formatted. You’ll find plenty of online resources, style guides, and automatic formatting sites that can show you how. In an academic environment, failure to properly cite resources may result in a lower grade, or worse.