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Tips on how to do effective internet research

There is a wealth of information online, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that it is all good or reliable. When you try to do effective internet research, there are a few basic points to remember.

 

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  • You need to be analytical and critical. Don’t blindly accept that what you read is true. Of course, sites don’t deliberately try to mislead people, but sometimes this happens for a number of reasons. First of all, if a post has been translated into English, the translation might be wrong. This could be because English has many words that have very different meanings. A wrong translation could be disastrous when you are doing research for an academic essay or other type of writing. If your writing is to be assessed, you need to meticulously check your sources.
  • Don’t use Google translations (or those of any other search engine). They often don’t make sense to an English native speaker.
  • Understand how to recognise whether a site is reliable. If it has ‘ac.uk’ in its URL address, then you can be certain that the site is reliable. Other sites with ‘.edu’ should also be reliable. Typically, they are department sites. They could also be the web address of an academic research centre. However, some may be students’ sites, possibly their blogs, and these are not so reliable. The university’s server is used by all who have access to it.
  • Don’t use sites that are commercial for your research project. These are generally.com sites and are set up for the purpose of internet marketing on the whole.
  • Beware of bias in articles. You need to read balanced ones or read obviously biased ones that put forward differing points of view.
  • Remember to check the date when the article was published. You need the most up-to-date information, and you won’t find it in an article that is a few years old.
  • Check the links in the articles you read. If the article only links to blogs and not quality sites, the information it contains will probably not be reliable. Reputable sites ink to each other.

Many academic institutions don’t allow students to cite from Wikipedia. That’s because a lot of the information contained in it is unreliable. Check with your educational establishment to find out if quotes and references from Wikipedia are allowed. You will find that it is stated on Wikipedia, that it isn’t a reliable source for students doing academic writing. The site is so vast that editors can’t check all the information presented in it.

Wikipedia does have its uses when doing internet research, however. At the end of each article there is a list of sources, some with links. You can copy paste others with no links into your search engine box to find the source material used. This means that some of the work you need to do has been done for you; so there’s no point in re-inventing the wheel.

A quick point to make here, is that other wiki sites also sometimes contain somewhat dubious information, so it is best to steer well clear of these too.

The problem with all these sites is that users can change the information contained in posts. The people who give the information, or change what was originally written, may not be reliable because they aren’t experts. When you write an academic paper make sure you only quote experts, not run-of-the-mill amateur bloggers.

It isn’t a good idea to simply rely on one source when you are doing internet research. The great thing about the internet is that it has scholarly articles and journals as well as quality news articles. There are materials to download that can assist you in your research. However, exercise your critical thinking to decide if the materials are good or bad. Also, you should only use sources that are useful for your immediate writing project.

When looking at newspaper articles, avoid the tabloid press. For example, a quote from Britain’s daily newspaper ‘The Sun’ would not be suitable for inclusion in an academic piece of writing. Instead quote from the Times and the Guardian which often give different opinions and slants on world news.

Visit a library to find magazines that you would need to take out a subscription to if you wanted to read them online. Internet research is valuable, but don’t totally ignore printed sources of information.

You can find sources at the end of academic articles (and other reputable ones), which will help you widen your research.

  • Don’t just look at the first three pages on Google’s search results to find information. Sometimes a lot of the first page which comes up in your search contains advertisements. Go through the pages, at least until page 7, until you find what you are looking for.
  • If you can’t find the information you need on the Search Engine Optimization pages, try Google Books.
  • If you need help, remember that there are community groups on the internet who can, and will help you if you have a specific question relevant to the group’s area of interest. You can utilise their message boards to contact member of the group.
  • Google Scholar is a useful resource for students. You can search it for all research papers and articles, old and recent. You’ll find peer reviewed publications there and sometimes it’s better, and quicker to use this resource, than trying to find something in the search engine pages. This site will notify you if there is a new publication on your research topic, if you ask. It can be set to do this on a weekly or daily basis.
  • Change the wording in the search box if you don’t find the information you are looking for or add a clarifying phrase. Think about the keywords you are used for your search and then play around with them until you get the desired results.
  • For example, the title of this article incorporates the adjective effective.’ To find more results, you could change this word to ‘best,’ ‘constructive’ ‘efficient’ and so on. Use a thesaurus to help you find appropriate synonyms.

No one can be expected to get superb results every time., and beginners need to hone their internet research skills until they become more proficient.

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