Research 101: The Internet
Finding Internet Sources
Wikipedia is one of the most widely used websites, and contains pages on almost any topic. Many students will be tempted to start their research here, but resist the urge! Wikipedia may be fine for your own personal research or to get a feel for a topic, but when it comes to schoolwork, it isn't reliable enough to be used. Because anyone can edit entries with no oversight, you may read information that is outdated, wrong, biased, or malicious. Even Wikipedia acknowledges its weaknesses (see Criticism of Wikipedia and Reliability of Wikipedia). The bottom line is that Wikipedia should not be used as a source of information for any school research paper or assignment.
Google is an incredible tool for finding websites. But just like with Wikipedia, many of the websites that you find may not be reliable or authoritative.
When searching Google, you can limit your search to a certain domain. Government sites (official sites published by the U.S. government) end with .gov and educational sites (sites from educational institutions like universities and colleges) end with .edu. These are the two most reliable domains, and by limiting your search to sites with those domains, you can usually retrieve reliable websites.
There are two ways to do this:
- The first way is to type site:gov or site:edu at the end of your search in Google.
Note that there are no spaces in this. Typing in site: gov (with a space after the colon) will not work.
- The second way is to click Google's Advanced Search and type in gov or edu in the Search Within a Site or Domain box.
Note that Google will not allow you to find journal articles, especially peer-reviewed articles. To find these types of sources, you will need to use the library's resources. For information on using library databases to find articles, view the Finding Articles page.
Once you find a website, how do you know if it's reliable or not? There are five criteria you should use when trying to decide whether a website is acceptable for use in a college paper:
To find out more about these criteria, along with questions to ask, consult our guide to evaluating websites.
If you want to use websites that have already been reviewed and evaluated, the Santa Fe librarians have compiled a list of them. These Suggested Websites are divided by subject to allow you to browse for sites related to your topic. You may also wish to consult the library's Research Guides; many of these guides have information on sites that are best for a certain subject.