Article 28: Research Methods

How many times have you heard people say "Google it." ? It has become a new verb in our language, and a rather effective way to say, I don’t know, go look it up. When you absolutely have to know how many inches are in a mile, then you are all set. However, more than one-word answers require more than one search. While the Internet has revolutionized how we digest and receive information, there is a lot of misinformation out there too. Not all of it is intentional, or malicious, but websites can be created by anyone for any purpose. More than likely they are trying to sell you something. When you need reliable information to research a topic, write a paper, or learn something new, it helps to know where to go. Lets look at how we can verify out sources and be sure we know what we are talking about on this week’s Modern Nerd.


Wikipedia



Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia editable by anyone. This notion immediately freaks out teachers and academics because of the possibility and in cases, probability that people are wrong. However, it’s not quite that simple. Wikipedia is also moderated by a devoted online community that fact checks edits makes sure sources are good. It’s not a perfect system, but does pretty well on the large scale.



For this reason, I consider Wikipedia an excellent starting place for you research. It will give you a great direction but should not be used exclusively. Articles come with an extensive list of sources with links for you to go read on your own. Look around the page and make sure that Wikipedia has not flagged the information as old, unverified, or uncited. These articles on Wikipedia should be avoided.



.com’s and the Like



Companies are registered under .com domains, sometimes .co, or .tv. They generally are for profit, so be wary of any information they offer as unbiased or scholarly unless it is well cited. By contrast, companies with .gov or .org are more reliable, in the broad sense. While this is no hard and fast rule, looking at the extension of a site gives you a clue as to their purpose on the web. Since anyone can register a domain, anyone can put anything they want online.



Library Sources



Most colleges and universities allow public access to their library facilities. They generally have access to online databases of articles and books, searchable and reliable, such as EBSCOHost. Check for facilities available in your area.



If you don’t have access to such libraries, try Google Scholar. This version of the popular search engine searches only publicly available scholarly journals and articles, some of which have the full text available for free. Some are offered for a few dollars to access the material, but if your research project is very important, it will likely be worth it. Again, make sure that you can trust your source comes from a reputable site.



What does Peer-Reviewed mean?



Peer reviewed journal articles are the cream of the crop. In academic communities, having an article published in a journal is a very prestigious honor. The articles published in academic journals are subjected to the publisher’s critical eye, so all of their research and sources are checked extensively for plagiarism and falsification. If you can find a peer-reviewed journal article in the subject area that you are researching, consider it a very valuable source of reliable information.





The principles of good scientific work apply to research very well. If the information that you have found can be found in other places and checked by others as reliable, have confidence in it. Otherwise, it might just be somebody’s blog or opinion piece. Opinions are not facts. I firmly believe that the Internet is the greatest source of information we have, but it does not replace the brain for common sense, so double check yourself and make sure you have your facts straight. Thanks for reading, and look out for more updates from the Modern Nerd, available every week, here at the Computer Fixer.



Aaron Krick

Blog Contributor at The Computer Fixer

www.thecomputerfixer.com

aaron@flyingparrotcomputers.com

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