When you’re cramming for a midterm or trying to knock out a final paper, it’s easy to turn to Wikipedia or other common Google search results for fast, readily available information. However, that information can also be unreliable. The easy way out is often not the best, as misinformation can dilute your research, if not poison it entirely. To ensure that you find reliable sources, as well as the necessary materials to develop high-quality work, here are several tips for compiling academic research:
1) Talk with the experts
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your professors are fantastic resources to tap into when you’re looking for trustworthy and up-to-date information. They’ll be able to direct you to the materials that meet the needs of each individual assignment. Another great resource is your local librarians. Libraries also usually have access to academic databases and materials that you won’t be able to access on your own.
2) Utilize Google Scholar
A typical Google search will bring up all results, some of which may be popular but inaccurate. Instead, by using scholar.google.com, i.e., Google Scholar, you’re only searching academic sources. Google Scholar tells you how often a publication has been cited as well, making it easy to identify the most accurate information. Likewise, you can use Google News to find newspaper articles and other media sources.
3) Check the domain name
Domain names are a good way to gauge the reliability of a website. The standard .com is usually used for commercial websites, whereas .gov and .edu are associated with government agencies and educational institutions, respectively. These latter domains are mostly rich sources of research and are held to a higher standard. However, it’s worth noting that occasionally less official organizations purchase these domains misleadingly.
4) Use Wikipedia as a jumping-off point, not a source
Though Wikipedia pages aren’t always reliable, most pages are sourced and include endnotes. The endnotes at the bottom of each page include links to trustworthy sources such as news clips, press releases, and studies, which can be used as more appropriate citations.
5) Dig deeper
Similarly, always reference the primary source whenever possible. News stories often contain links to studies, surveys and other original sources that were used to write the article. Much of the time, you’ll find sources cited directly in the article, with attribution given with phrases like “according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.” Referencing the primary source helps ensure the information is accurate and contributes to the integrity of your work.
6) Verify your findings
Remember, it never hurts to check your information against other sources. This can also help you prevent littering your work with citations, depending on the specifications laid out by your professor. Corroborated information – a fact that has been verified by two or more sources – not only is more accurate, but also doesn’t always require citation if it’s become common knowledge.