Thursday, December 9, 2010

Online Research: What do you want to know? Part 1: Search Engines and Online Resources

When embarking on writing a research paper, writers can be stymied by the vast online marketplace of information. Let’s say a writer at least has designed an argument, where is the writer going to find the appropriate information to support this argument? The following is a breakdown of websites that one may choose to start from.

The Roosevelt Library Search Engines: The Roosevelt Library Homepage should be a student writer’s first place to start researching a topic for three main reasons:
1.      The library has multiple search engines including for students to use which are often specialized for academic topics and current news sources (For example: Search RU Catalog for University book holdings; Academic Search Premier and LexisNexis Academic Universe for academic journals and news sources)
2.      The homepage offers “Research Guides by Subject” in a pull down menu right under “Search RU Catalog.” These research guides are compiled and organized by librarians and professors in an effort to help students more quickly find the information they’re looking for.
3.      Two vast interlibrary loan systems: ILLiad and I-Share. I-Share gives students access to over seventy university and college libraries across the state. ILLiad extends that reach to the World Catalog, so if a resource can’t be found locally, ILLiad will find it globally.

Above all, tuition dollars go towards securing these resources for students. Don’t let the money be wasted by avoiding use of these great sources of information.

Google: Google is a wonderful place to start but the main homepage often provides an overwhelming amount of search results. Try clicking on one of the hyperlinks at the top of the page such as “News” or “more.” The “more” hyperlink offers options such as Google Books and Google Scholar, both of which can lead to more academic/peer reviewed information on the subject searched.

Wikipedia: Many professors decry the use of Wikipedia. Most of this criticism stems around the idea that the information on Wikipedia is unreliable. However, this feeling turns out to be often unfounded. A 2005 study published in the academic journal Nature found that Wikipedia was no more or less reliable than the Encyclopedia Britannica when it came to scientific information. Additionally, many of the academic subject areas (science, history, etc.) are reviewed by people who are experts in these particular subjects. This being said, many articles (including those managed by experts) are not peer reviewed in the strictest sense. Furthermore, Wikipedia is an encyclopedia and as such is a popular source of information rather than the academic source that professors are often looking for. It can be a good place to start in order to understand the basics of a topic (and a writer can then use the hyperlinked articles in the “References” or “External Links” sections to read further on the topic), but in most cases it should not be a primary source of information. If you are still not sure about use or want to include the material found in a Wikipedia article, then clarify concerns of use with your professor before citing as a source.

Determining qualified websites can be tricky. Be advised that not all websites contain pertinent or accurate information that one may use in an academic paper. Use the below suffix list as a general rule of thumb.
            Often qualify as useable websites for sources:
      .edu (Universities, schools)
      .gov (Governmental agencies)
      Sometimes .net (Usually networks or networked organizations, but not always)
      Sometimes .org (Usually refers to not-for-profit organizations, but not always)
      Very infrequently .com (Companies, commercial websites)
Often do not qualify as useable websites for sources:
·         .biz
·         Usually .com
·         Sometimes .org
·         Sometimes .net 

Bernard M. Cox


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