Most of us know that we should take the information we find on the internet with a grain of salt, but often we want to believe what we find as fact. And while there are many wonderful sources on the internet and great materials can be found, many times the information found on the internet is false, misleading, or created to make you feel a strong emotion.
So what should you as a researcher do? Many would say that avoiding the internet is the only way to go, but unfortunately many materials live solely on the internet or cannot be easily accessed through other sources. At times, you will need to search the internet for resources, but there are things to do, to ensure the materials you gather from the internet are accurate, trustworthy, and of a high enough quality to include in your college-level research.
This guide will walk you through the challenges of researching on the internet, and will provide you with tips, tricks, and knowledge on how to effectively use the internet for great research.
All searches start somewhere. And where you start your search will have large implications to where you end at and what you find. Below are some of the most common search engines you may have heard of and possibly already use. It is important to remember that search engines are merely tools, with different features. The decision to use one search engine over another is often a personal preference, so try out multiple to see which search engine fits your needs and styles best. And remember, don't lock yourself into just one option, switch it up and see what else might be out there.
Google is synonymous with searching and finding knowledge these days. It's so omnipotent, it has even been verbed to literally mean "find the answer." Google is the go-to resource for many, and for good reason. However, there are drawbacks to using the same tool for all tasks, and Google is no exception. We encourage anyone doing a research project to start with Google, but never let it be your only search tool. Which is why you're using this guide in the first place!
Popular websites are popular for many reasons, including their content and views. These sites are easy to get to and are often the sites shown first in search engine searches. Popular doesn't mean correct. Remember to always be skeptical and use critical thinking skills when coming across and using any resource located on the internet.
Wikipedia is one of the top results listed on most searches. We are often told not to use Wikipedia because it is unreliable, but write off the site so quickly. Information within Wikipedia is changed and updated often, but it is also regularly policed for accuracy. If you are searching for older, established information and facts, similar to what you would find in a book, Wikipedia is a great place to begin your search. Identify base information and facts about your topic through Wikipedia. Wikipedia might be a great place to start your search process, but it should not be the end.
Google Books: is a great resource for finding print materials, especially older, harder to find books. Sometimes, sections of books are available on Google Books to read for free, but be careful about cherry picking books sections and missing context. If you need a full book, you can always get it through the library catalog.
Google Scholar: is often the "go to" tool for students when they need scholarly materials. The most common hang-up with using Google Scholar when searching, is finding great resources and articles, but running into paywalls that block the access to materials. Because of this, it is highly recommended to search using the Library's Databases.
Across the internet, there are several types of websites you will come across while conducting research. In theory, you can learn a lot about a website by looking at its domain name (.com/.org/.gov). Below, the most common domains are listed and explained.
These pages are the most common and easiest to come by. The original purpose for this domain was to be used by commercial organizations, but now has shifted and opened up to the general public. The .com domain is commonly used for website building sites such as Wix, Weebly, WordPress, Squarespace, etc.
Because .com domains are so common, you should be extra thorough when evaluating the academic integrity of these websites.
Traditionally, .org domains belonged to non-profit organizations. Even though these websites may be created by legitimate organizations, they need to be evaluated with scrutiny, as there is often a strong bias depending on the type of organization it is. It should be noted though, that many scholarly articles are published and printed by .orgs.
It is important, when evaluating these webpages and organizations to go outside of the organization's "About Page" and conduct your own research to learn more about the organization and their agenda.
This domain is used for educational institutions. Educational institutions from Kindergartens to Colleges and Universities have .edu domains, and Dakota Wesleyan is no different. If the material is from the administration or research branches of the university, it may be more trustworthy. General information on these pages can be uploaded by whomever has access. Student sites, which may share the .edu suffix, but are created and maintained by students, are often not monitored by the institution, which means you may find a student blog or project from an .edu domain that has not been vetted academically in any way.
These are reserved for State and Federal Government sites, and is considered to be a credible source. For example, the South Dakota State Library (library.sd.gov) and the Library of Congress (loc.gov) are both great resources to use for academic research. Also note that many government publications are located primarily online and are hard to find in hardcopies, so searching the internet for this information is required.
Below are tips to help you more effectively and efficiently search the internet.
Search with the answer in mind, not the question.
When typing in a search query (question) into a search engine, rephrase your search to get the answer instead of other people asking the same question (and hoping the answer is in the comments). Working backwards with the answer in mind will help get you the information you are looking from - and find the answers from better sources.
Start broad and narrow it later.
It is always easier to narrow your search area than to spread it out, so it is fine to start your search by throwing a very wide net and focusing your search inwards as you go. If you are interested in basic information, Wikipedia and Google are great places to start to gather your base knowledge. These searches can help provide names, dates, and scope.
Gather the same information from multiple sources.
If you are finding the same facts and information in more than one place, that is wonderful. But make sure you use and cite all of your sources in your research, not just one. This will strengthen the information and show that you gathered and pulled information from more than one source, and that is a great thing.
The Golden Resource might not exist.
That perfect piece of information that ties everything together may not exist from a reputable source. If you are looking for an item that explains your topic from your bias, the perfect, singular resource may not exist at all. You will have to pull information from several sources and make your case without relying on only one source.
Before using a source in your research, evaluate the material to determine if this source is reliable, accurate and is of high enough quality to include in your college-level research.
Who Wrote It?
Ask yourself the following questions. By determining these answers, you will be better able to determine if the information and source is reliable and high-quality.
When Was It Written/Published?
Depending on your topic and scope, you will need to decide whether the information you gather is the most current information available, or if it needs to come from well established, older sources and materials. Medicine and Technology, for example, may require information to be more current, whereas History may require more established, or older and verified information. This will all depend on your topic and its scope. And remember to be mindful of how old the information is and what that means for the quality and reliability of the information.
Is There Bias?
Bias can come both from the source of information as well as you as the researcher. Ask if you are bringing in your own biases, or in other words, are you coming at the research question from different angles, or are you searching only one search engine using only one set of keywords. Varying how you access information, gathering from different sites and using different search engines, can help provide wider perspective and keep you from locking in to one mindset as you search and write. Rethink keywords to ensure you are searching for the meaning or concept.
Before you start searching Google Scholar, take a moment to link McGovern Library. By doing this, Google Scholar will allow you to access more scholarly articles (those that are held behind paywalls) by searching the McGovern Library databases. If an article is held by McGovern Library, you will be redirected to the library's catalog record of the article, and asked to sign-in if accessing the material while off campus.
Step 1: Go to Google Scholar (scholar.google.com)
Step 2: Open up the menu button (the 3 lines located in the top left corner)
Step 3: Open up the "Settings" feature within the menu
Step 4: Click on Library Links and type in "Dakota Wesleyan University" in the search box
Step 5: Check the box "Dakota Wesleyan University, McGovern Library - McGovern Library Fulltext" and save
Step 6: You will be redirected to the Google Scholar homepage where you can begin searching
If an article is owned and held by McGovern library, a link entitled "McGovern Library Fulltext" will be provided by Google and located to the right of the article title and description. Click on the link to be redirected to the Library's Catalog where you can view the full text article.
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