Research 2.0: How to Conduct Research on the Web

Okay, you've been assigned your first major paper or project of the term. Where can you go online for reliable information on your topic? And how can you find what you need without hours of searching? Check out these tips for making Internet research a breeze.

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Start with the basics. Websites like Wikipedia and CliffsNotes typically shouldn't be used as primary sources, but they can be good places to begin researching your subject. Surfing these sites, especially when a topic is new to you, can provide a snapshot of important issues you'll need to address with a paper or project. And while content at these sites isn't usually appropriate for academic use, check the article footnotes - they may link to primary sources that can be more useful.

Utilize academic databases. Academic databases provide specialized information that can meet your research needs. Websites like ERIC and HubMed are resources that can help make search time productive. You can click here for a list of academic databases. While some do require a subscription, being a student may allow you free access - check with your librarian to find out what subscriptions your school offers. Google Scholar and Academic Search are two free, multidisciplinary resources you can try.

Use library resources. Many people don't realize it, but school and public libraries often feature online resources of all kinds. For example, by logging into a library's system, you might have access to newspaper archives, academic journals and other sources that can serve as primary resources. Digitized archives can even give you access to materials not available in physical form. Many libraries also offer tutorials with research suggestions. Click here for an example.

Organize information efficiently. As you perform your research, be sure to set up an orderly system for saving and keeping track of important sources. For example, it's a good idea to set up a new bookmarks folder for each paper or project you work on. Otherwise, you could lose track of sources for a particular assignment. Whatever system you adopt, implement it right away so that you don't spend valuable time looking for sources you forgot to save or bookmark.

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Protect yourself from plagiarism. With incidents of plagiarism on the rise, professors are on high alert for academic fraud. Make sure you're not the next student to plagiarize. A good rule to observe is to avoid copying and pasting information directly from a website into your paper or project notes unless you are quoting a person or resource. It's easy to lose track of what text you have written and what came from outside sources.

Use documentation resources. It's a no-brainer that you have to document all of your sources. What some students fail to realize, though, is that many school provide access to tools designed to create footnotes and bibliographies. (Click here for an example.) Ensure that the citation format you ultimately use in your paper or project is approved by your instructor.

Evaluate sources. We all know there's a lot of information online that's useless, inaccurate, defamatory or worse. As you consider which Internet resources you use in your paper or project, keep these questions in mind: Is the website an authority on the topic? Are there any biases evident? Is the information up to date? Are facts at the site documented? Click here for more considerations.

Plan ahead for library trips. There is a vast amount of information online, but sometimes you may need books, journals or other resources available at the library. Get a head start on obtaining materials by going to the website of the facility you plan to use. An online catalog should be available so that you can search out materials (by keyword, title, author or subject) before leaving home. You may even be able to have library staff gather resources for you.

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