When you’re going to school online, you’ll probably do a lot of your research online, too. But there is so much information on the Internet, and a lot of it is not reliable. You’ll need to learn how to start your search, find objective information, and narrow it down to what’s useful for your project.
We’ll walk you through good search skills so you can tackle your next paper or research project with confidence.
1. Start with Wikipedia
Yes, it’s okay to start research on Wikipedia, as long as you don’t stop there. Wikipedia articles often list references and external links at the end of articles, many of which will send you to high-quality sources of information. However, Wikipedia pages can be edited by anyone, so don’t take what they say at face value.
If you’re early in research for a paper and are still trying to figure out your topic, Wikipedia is a good place to get more background information. Just remember to look for documented facts.
2. Identify quality of information
The key to doing all online research is to decide if you can trust the information. Find out who wrote the content and what makes them qualified to write on the topic. If you know the author and their qualifications, you’re almost there. Also look for objective information over subjective–is the author presenting facts or trying to persuade you? The author may be an individual person or an entire organization. The same rules apply.
Sites ending in .edu and .gov are often more reliable and objective than sites ending in .org and .com. Look for additional resources on the topic in the form of footnotes, citations, or hyperlinks in the text. These resources will not only help you determine how credible the information is, but may also provide extra information for you to use in your assignment.
3. Ask specific questions
If you’re starting your research on Google, you will have an easier time of it the more specific you are. Rather than searching for “ethical issues in healthcare” ask a question like “What major ethical issues do nurses face?” The second phrase will give you more precise results so you can spend less time wading through Google pages.
Another way to refine your results is to use search operators. These symbols and words help you tailor your search terms and find info within specific sites. For instance, if you want to do the previous search without seeing results about resource management, you just add “-resource management” after your phrase. See Google’s advice for other ways to adjust your searches.
4. Use Google Scholar and Google Books
Google Scholar lets you search academic publications, including journals, books, and selective websites. Depending on your subject, it may be better to start here than in general Google search. Your results will include abstracts of journal articles, excerpts from books, and full texts of journal articles.
Google Books is another good way to look for academic writing on your subject. Results will include the full text for many books; for others, you’ll only see excerpts. But an excerpt may be all you need. If you find the information you’re looking for, you can cite the book.
5. Devote your time to the research
Most people prefer skimming rather than reading on the web. When you’re doing research, it’s important to take your time. Go several pages into your Google search results rather than just one or two. Read the entire Wikipedia page, even if it has many sections. You might find some gems after an hour of looking through Google Scholar and Google Books.
In some ways, doing online research is more efficient than going to the library. You can search for different types of resources, like books and journal articles, in one place. Citations and links lead you to additional material. But it still takes time to get it right.
Keep reading our blog to find out if online education is right for you or explore all of our degree programs online. Independence University offers a wide variety of fully online degree programs designed for some of today’s fastest-growing career fields. If you’re ready to speak with a representative, call 800-972-5149 to learn more.