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How to Use the Internet as a Reliable Research Tool

Online Research

(Photo Credit: Exponential Programs)

Postmodern college students have a research tool not available to students decades ago: the Internet. While the Internet is a boundless source of useful information, it is also littered with less than reliable sources. Another issue many college students face is figuring out how to do in-depth, college-level research, according to Project Information Literacy (PIL). PIL’s online survey of nearly 2,000 college and high school students found that Google was the research tool of choice for nearly 90% of students. While Google can be a beneficial tool, it shouldn’t be your only option for research at the college level. This piece offers some tips about how to use the Internet in more useful ways to conduct research.

Explore Databases

Your high school librarian might have shown you how to access a research database from a workstation in the library.  Once you get to college, the number of online databases available to you increases exponentially.  PIL’s study found that college students today have 19 times more databases available to them than their high school counterparts.  Locate higher education institutions near you along with online resources associated with those institutions.

It’s important to know what database to employ to obtain information that’s actually relevant to your project.  Temple University’s Research Guide recommends that instructors suggest specific databases to use, noting that a 2010 PIL survey revealed that only about 14% of college handouts recommend specific databases.  If your assignment fails to specify, it never hurts to ask your instructor.

Review Individual Sites

The Internet grows larger every minute.  Not only is more information available online every minute, college students can get home internet access for less money than in the past.  A 2012 infographic from Domo divulges that nearly 600 new websites pop up online every minute.  As a student doing research for a credible academic paper, it’s your job to sift through websites to find the ones that provide information that’s accurate.

Luckily, myriad websites give clues as to whether or not you can trust them to offer reliable information. One way to judge the reliability of a website is to look at its domain or URL.  If you’re tracking down health statistics from a government agency, for example, a site that ends in .gov, such as CDC.gov or FDA.gov is going to provide you with accurate information from the actual Centers for Disease Control or Food and Drug Administration.  A website such as CDC.com or FDA.com isn’t necessarily connected to the federal agencies.

You can also discover more about the person who penned the article on the site.  Typically, a credible author will be an expert in his or her field, such as a doctor or a professor.  The article should ideally cite sources and direct you to those sources so that you can verify the information or learn more.

Connect with Your School’s Library

Although the Internet is full of information, there are other resources.  Print books and journals are still excellent sources when writing a paper or working on a project.  You don’t have to trudge to your campus library to track down the books you’re looking for, though.

You can locate books that might be relevant using your school library’s online card catalog.  Some schools let you put the books on hold or check them out online, and then pick them up the next time you’re on campus.  You can also download e-books from the digital collections at some campus libraries, meaning you don’t even have to pick up the books in person.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Tips for Improved Blog Writing

Although blog writing allows one some flexibility from the standards of academic writing, one should never abandon the elements of effective writing. You can have fun with blogging and you don’t have to approach blogging like you do an academic paper. However, no matter what approach you employ as a blogger, you should not neglect the core principles of effective writing. From the beginning of this piece, I want it to be clear that I’m not trying to present myself as the world’s greatest writer. I’m far from the world’s greatest writer, but I’m a very accomplished writer. I’ve had many of my articles posted here at Revolutionary Paideia featured on many sites. I’m a university English Instructor and published scholar. I do, therefore, know a little something about effective writing. The fundamental purpose of this piece is to offer some writing advice to bloggers about how they can ameliorate the quality of the writing in their blog posts.

I’m not a blog expert. I have only been blogging for a little over one year. I’ve been reading blogs for a while now. One thing I have found to be problematic about many of the blogs I have read and/or stumbled upon is the writing does not reflect that the authors have fully given themselves an opportunity to be benefit from the complete writing process. As an English Instructor, one of my primary goals for my students is to have them to buy into the notion of writing as a process. While you can see that many bloggers have thought about what they want to write about, many of them are not engaging in the editing and proofreading stages of the writing process.

One the easiest ways for a blogger to give his or her readers a negative dominant impression about his or her blog and writing is to post pieces on his or her blog that have not been carefully edited and proofread. Some bloggers feel like they have to maintain a certain kind of schedule, and this leads them to feel like they have to just get the piece posted—with little to no editing and proofreading. Never let your self-created blog posting schedule interfere with you posting pieces that have been carefully edited and proofread. Bad writing is just as unattractive as a funky mouth. Why would you rush to post a piece that no one can understand?

Good writing is not boring writing. Don’t try to justify your bad writing with the trite excuse that you don’t write that well on your blog because you’re trying have fun and not bore your reader. I hate to tell you but bad writing is boring. It’s the kind of thing that will cause the reader to move on to the next blog.

One thing you can do to improve the quality of the writing on your blog is to have someone who you know who’s a good editor to review your work before you to publish it on your blog. Even for good writers or people who perceive themselves to be good writers, you can benefit from letting someone review a draft of your post before you promulgate it on your blog. The feedback you receive from a good editor can help to improve your public online image. With the power of Google, you don’t want a potential employer to perform a Google search on you and discover your poor writing.

The grammar error I see most often on blogs, even from many of the better written blogs I read, is noun-pronoun antecedent disagreement. The pronoun you use to refer back to the noun with has to agree in both number and case. Here’s an example of the error: “When a person does negative things in public, their public image will suffer greatly.” “Person” and “their” don’t agree. This error may seem obvious to you now that it is being highlighted, but it’s one of the main errors I see too often in the blogosphere and elsewhere.

The following is a list of more writing tips I recommend for bloggers:

1)      Eliminate unnecessary uses of “that” in your sentences. This is something you should check for during your editing process.

2)      Avoid repetition. When you’re editing your work, go back and look for repetitious words. Additionally, look for repetitious beginnings of sentences. Don’t have 4-5 sentences in a row that all begin with “I.”

3)      Don’t create your own words without informing your reader of the definition of your newly coined words.

4)      Use  apostrophes appropriately.

5)      Don’t write sentence fragments, save for when you’re intentionally and appropriately using them.

6)      Make sure your sentences are clear. If you know you’re not the strongest writer, just keep it simple.

In no way am I trying to denigrate any blogger, I just enjoy reading good writing and want many of my fellow Black bloggers to improve their writing.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Google is Making the Library a Thing of the Past

As a college instructor, I have had the unfortunate opportunity to see the waning of love for libraries. While there was once a time when students (and people in general) had a thirst and zeal for obtaining information in libraries, Google is becoming more and more the chief source for those seeking information. Google can be a valuable source of finding a significant amount of information—there’s no question about that. I am just afraid that this heavy reliance on Google is making us lose some of our hunger for being researchers.

I am sure that we are much more efficient retrievers of information because of the ease of obtaining information Google provides for us. I love to use Google too. I do not, however, over rely on Google when conducting academic research. I still use libraries as primary sources of academic scholarship, and have found electronic databases to be my invaluable friends. The library is a place where I can get away and just enjoy my passion for books and learning with other members of the learning community.

When conducting scholarly research, I would encourage people to use Google as a tool, but it should not be your primary source of locating material to include in your papers. I can always tell when my students have fundamentally relied on Google and other internet sites to aid them in the development of their papers, because the papers always seem to have so few quality references. Google can give you numerous references, but Google is not a better judge of the quality of the references than the assistance you can receive in the library with finding help to assess the quality of your references. The library, especially a college or university library, is going to have less frivolous stuff than you can find on Google. This means you will have less time devoted to resolving whether you have junk or quality material.

While I would never encourage you to do a paper at the last minute, I would have to say that Google can be quite useful when you face this type of situation. You may not have time to go to a library or a library may not be open. In this type of situation, please use Google to help you to find the material you need to complete your paper. For those completing academic papers, “Google Scholar” can be employed to help you to find peer-reviewed publications to include in your work.

Please do not interpret this article as being in opposition to Google for looking for information and for use when composing academic papers. I am just saying that you should not lose faith in the value of a library when seeking information and when composing your papers.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison