How Can I Find Good Sources on the Web?

Tips for successful searching
Evaluating Websites
Good sites for research

Some questions are easier to answer through the web than others. If it has to do with current events, law, computers, popular culture, commercial products, organizations, or public affairs, the web offers a lot; if you're looking for research or scholarship, you aren't as likely to find what you want (though in some fields that is changing). Not everyone wants to give their research away for free.

Tips for successful searching

If your topic is broad, you might do well to start with a selective, annotated directory such as IPL2; or try some of the links on our pages for research by major programs.

It's particularly important to evaluate Web resources before you decide to use them in your research.

The first question to ask is:?should I use the Web for this project or not? The Web is great for some topics, but is not a good place to find literary criticism, scholarly analysis of social issues, or the kind of broad overview written by a noted scholar that a really good specialized encyclopedia can provide. In addition to its print resources, libraries often pay for resources that are accessed through the web; these aren't indexed in search engines. Some "free" sites for magazines and newspapers charge for using their archives; library databases offer them at no charge. Consider these steps as you plan a search:

  • Think about what you need and which key words might describe it.
  • Think about what organizations or government entities might provide information on your topic.
  • Use what you find to refine your search (such as the name of an organization or a government agency). >li>Limit a search to a given domain by including it in your search statement.?For example, autism site:.gov will search for autism on government Websites. Or use the various limit options available through an advanced search.
  • Use Wikipedia if you have a broad topic and your search results aren't turning up good material; then see if the links at the end of the article are useful.
  • Turn to Google Scholar or library database for research-based sources.
Use these strategies as you sort through your results:
  • Shorten a URL to get to a root page by deleting everything after the first slash.
  • Follow links to find out about the page's author or sponsoring agency.
  • Examine the URL to see where it originated. For example, URLs containing .k12 are hosted at elementary and secondary schools, so may be intended for a young audience; those ending in .gov are government agencies, so tend to be "official" information. Domains may include information about what country the site is from: .au for Australia, .uk for United Kingdom, and so on.
Evaluating Websites

Because there is such a wide variety of information from so many sources on the Web, it's extremely important to evaluate what you find using the same criteria you use for all your sources.

Ironically, Web sources that seem scholarly are quite often badly out of date. The Catholic Encyclopedia, for example, is a copy of a reference work pubished in 1917. The library has the up-to-date 2002 edition in the reference collection, but had to pay rather a lot of money for it. The one that is free online is so old it's no longer under copyright.?Unfortunately, though convenient, it's only useful if you want information about the Catholic church in 1917. A few things have changed since then.

Good sites for research

The following are useful for a wide variety of purposes.

Selective directories

Infomine - searchable directory of scholarly sources from the University of California
IPL2 - annotated directory of interesting sites
Scirus - a search engine of articles and Web sites in the sciences
Scout Archives - maintained at the University of Wisconsin

Digital archives

American Memory - incredible digital collections from the Library of Congress
Avalon Project - primary documents on US diplomatic history
Eurodocs - European primary documents

News sources

Google News - an automated news aggregator. You can change your view by country and read news in various languages

Images you can use

Flickr Creative Commons - millions of searchable, copyrighted photos that can be reused under stated conditions.
MorgueFile - a collection of free images for creative use.
World Images Kiosk - over 50,000 fine art images available for educational use from the California State University system.

There's also a great deal of information available on the Web in the way of statistics, maps, and official documents. And each of the Web pages for majors includes recommend sites relevant to particular disciplines.

Image courtesy of Anthony Mattox.

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