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As the spreading of misinformation has become a common practice in our society, it’s important to consider how misinformation affects your research process and in turn, affects the quality of your work. The internet is a vast online space, and it can the number of options for researching can be overwhelming for someone who has little experience. Below you will find a guide to assist you in all of your researching needs, to ensure that all the information you gather is credible and accurate, and tips to help you find the perfect source.
Start, Don’t End, with Wikipedia
Wikipedia has a bad reputation that is centered around the information on the website being inaccurate, and not very credible. However, Wikipedia is a great place to get a general idea of the topic you are researching. I do not recommend citing Wikipedia as a source in your paper. But I do recommend utilizing Wikipedia to find other sources. Wikipedia has hyperlinks throughout many of its articles that will link out to another Wikipedia page to provide more information about a subtopic within your topic. Wikipedia also has a great reference section at the end of its articles that provides the reader with full access to anything that was cited within the article. Even though Wikipedia is a great starting point, it is important to remember that you must consider the information carefully, and keep in mind that you should not use Wikipedia as a fact-checker.
Search Engine Tips
The search engine you use will most likely depend on the requirements of your research. (If you’re allowed to use popular sources or only scholarly) Google Scholar is a great tool for scholarly research because the user can easily see important information before time is wasted delving into an article that can not be used for their research. Before opening an article, Google Scholar shows the name of an author, the date of publication, what database the publication comes from, and how many people cite the article to enhance their own work. The user also has the option to sort the articles by relevance to your search, or by date of publication. Regardless of the search engine you use, using quotation marks in your search will ensure that the entirety of the phrase you type in is considered. Without quotation marks, the search engine may only find information that is involved with one or two of the words in your phrase.
Consider the Websites You Use Carefully
In using a website as a source, it’s important to note that all websites are not created equally. A good rule of thumb is to try and stick with .edu or .gov websites when citing an online page. This is not to say that all .com or .org websites are bad, but they are considered an open domain. Meaning, anyone can register a .com or .org domain. A .edu, .gov, or .mil are considered closed domains. Meaning, people who try to register under these domains must meet specific requirements to do so. While a .org domain may seem safe, there are organizations to display clear bias, which is not acceptable for research purposes. If you know before you start your research what domain you would like to cite, you can add it into the phrase you use to search. For example, if I was doing a research report on World War 1 and I knew I wanted a source from a .edu, I would enter this phrase into my chosen search engine, “World War 1:edu”. Another thing to look for to ensure good information is a website’s “About Us” section. Reading about the viewpoint of the website, and its goals will help to will help you to distinguish bias. Another thing to be aware of is who a website receives its funding from. If a website receives funding from organizations or companies that have a conflict of interest with your research topic, it most likely will affect the information put forth by the website.
Break Your Filter Bubble/Fact Check
For those who don’t know, a filter bubble is when a website’s algorithm assumes what information the viewer would want to see based on their previous browsing history, search history, click behavior, and location. The problem with filter bubbles is that they often do not provide users with contradictory viewpoints, and they reinforce an individual’s views rather than allowing the individual to be challenged by new ideas. Filter bubbles show users what they think the user would want to see, which can lead to people getting varying information about a topic. Popular websites that actively participate in filtering are Google and Facebook. When using these it’s important to consider that what you are viewing is selectively picked for you, and outside perspective is often necessary. Seek information on your topic that covers both sides of an issue. An example is seen by researching anything to do with politics. In order to get a well-rounded, unbiased view, I would research both conservative, liberal, and non-partisan viewpoints on the topic. There are databases that can be utilized in research that do not consider your previous internet history. The best examples are UMGC Library OneSearch, USA.gov, and data.gov. Another helpful internet tool for research is a fact-checking website. A good fact-checking website will use neutral language and provide evidence from unbiased, credible sources. Some examples of trustworthy fact-checking websites include factcheck.org, snopes.com, and politifact.com.
What To Check For In Your Sources
A good rule for sources is to consider accuracy, authority, and timeliness. Accuracy implies that a source has verifiable information. Just because a source is using technical language or jargon of any kind does not mean that the information is correct. Verify the information with your own knowledge around the subject, and additional sources that you already know are trustworthy. Authority alludes to the information being produced by a reliable author and published in an accredited journal or online space. It is important to research your author’s credentials to see if they are informed on the subject or bias for any reason. It is also important to research other areas of a website or journal publisher besides the information you are seeking, to see what is typically posted, and get an idea of the stances that are held. The subject you are researching will impact how timeliness affects your sources. Timeliness refers to when your source was published. Your source should not be over 20 years old if you are researching a topic that evolves, changes, or has recently has a breakthrough of any kind. If you are doing historical research then research that was published a long time ago is acceptable. If you are mainly conducting research through scholarly journals, consider what is the purpose of your source is and if the source has the typical features. Typical features of an in-depth journal include; an abstract, documented research or data in the form of a literature review or conducted experiment, a reference list, and a length of longer than two pages.
Good researching requires a lot of planning and thought. As the internet gets larger by the day, it’s easier for people to put forth incompetent work, that’s passed off as quality content. Trust your intuition, if you have a feeling that a source you’re looking at is not accredited, your probably correct!
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