If you were to explain the Internet to someone from the 1950s, you would probably liken it to a massive library in which you can find any kind of information within a matter of seconds. Of course, the Internet is much more than just that, but let’s stick to that explanation in the context of online research. These days, you can really find all the information you need online on any kind of subject. In fact, it’s almost become a problem. Why? Well, because there is nearly too much of it, and a significant percentage of information you find online can be unverified or downright false. This is a huge problem, whether you are writing a paper or a newspaper article.
However, that shouldn’t discourage you from relying on the web in order to find facts and data, because over five billion Google searches are made every day. You just need to tweak your approach to online research. Let’s take a look at how you can research online facts in 2019.
1. Distinguish Fact from Fiction
To narrow down your research, come up with a list of sites where you will dig deeper into your topic and then start analyzing each one in order to see if the information they have published can be verified. Your safest bet when gathering the information for your academic writing are .gov. and .edu sites. You can rest assured that the facts on those have been thoroughly checked. Reputable online publications and news sites are also a good source, but you should also make sure to visit the source they are citing in order to check the information there.
If there isn’t enough data available on those, you can still use the use the .com and .org websites, but only if you make sure to verify their sources. For example, websites ending in .com can be biased because their owners are interested in making money from ads, so they might not be entirely objective. The same goes from .org website. Even though they are run by non-profit organizations, they can also be biased.
2. Learn to Use Wikipedia
Now, although most people in the academic circles will tell you that Wikipedia is not a reliable source of information, they would be wrong. Sure, there is plenty of information on there that is simply made up, since anyone can edit it, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t rely on Wikipedia altogether. You see, even though anyone can post to Wikipedia, there are still rules which need to be followed, such as accurately citing your sources. Wikipedia will even flag those pages which have failed to do so. But, before Wikipedia can pick up that, you can still use the article you are reading to comb through its sources, which are always shown at the bottom of the page.
And all those unchecked bits of information will get removed eventually, because Wikipedia has had 1 billion edits so far. As long as the authors of superior papers review their sources, Wikipedia will remain a valuable resource.
3. Ask a Research Librarian for Help
You are probably thinking that this has nothing to do with online research, but you would be wrong. Consulting a research librarian can help you perfect your research skills, save time, and ultimately, refine the quality of information you end up using. They not only know all the ins and outs of libraries, but they know their way around academic websites as well. The only downside is that not all schools or other academic institutions have them. However, that shouldn’t be a problem because you can reach out to research librarians by email, chat, video, or phone. For example, you can actually call the New York Public Library and they will answer any question for you and help you with your research.
4. Check the Date
When you use the information for your paper, article, or a blog post, you want it not just to be accurate, but up-to-date as well, because it may not be relevant otherwise. For example, if you are writing a medical research paper on HIV, you will have to look up more recent resources and not just those from the 70s, as there have been lots of breakthroughs and changes in the meantime. And if you are writing a tech-oriented piece for your website or blog, the time span of your resources should be measured in months, not years.
While there are other approaches you can adopt for your online research, these four tips should be the foundation of your research methodology. Check your facts against multiple sources, and always try to find the original author of the information you are going to use or cite. Also, making sure that your sources are not only reliable, but fresh as well, will enable you to make the most out of places Wikipedia, which aren’t know for absolute accuracy. And if none of this helps, you can always consult a professional, such as a research librarian, to help you with all of the above. Good luck!