Saturday, March 7, 2009

Where do I start my research?

The first thing you need to know is that there is a difference between scholarly and non-scholarly sources on the web. Scholarly sources are ones that are not supposed to be biased or false, and are fully supported by facts. Generally, scholarly sources will have a URL address of ".edu" (meaning they are with a university or college) or ".gov" (meaning they are from the government). Sources with ".com" or ".org" are ones that anyone can purchase and there's usually no way of making sure the facts presented there are correct.

When I'm researching on the web, I usually start with a Google search. Google is good because it will give me a general idea of my options for web resources on my subject. However, you should BEWARE when using Google because Google searches the web like American Idol searches for singers. It's all done by votes.

Google doesn't find you the best websites, it just finds you the most popular. For example, if I was searching for information about dogs, Google would track all of the most popular sites that people have clicked on when they have searched for "dogs".

So, the #1 result is not necessarily the best website, but it's the one most people chose. There's nothing wrong with that, but most people aren't writing a scholarly paper when they go on the web, so the most popular result may not be much help to you. If I used the number one result for dogs in my research, I might end up feeling dumb when the teacher asked me why I'm using information from a dog shipping company in my academic paper.

I started with a Google search, and most of the top results have to do with playing chess because when most people search for "chess" they are trying to find somewhere to play, not the history of chess.

I had to read through pages of search results before I found anything that was good for my topic. Sometimes it helps to add other search terms. I was focusing on chess and race, so I put in "chess race" and that narrowed my search results. It's frustrating, but research can be that way sometimes. Be patient.
Google Scholar is a great place to find academic sources. Google has digitized the academic papers of thousands of university professors and you can search through them. A lot of the papers are dry, but if you read the descriptions, you can find the ones that might be helpful. I found a couple of good articles on the history of chess and how it developed.

Wikipedia is usually excellent for pointing me in the direction of academic sources, but it is not considered an academic source.

Anyone on the web can change Wikipedia entries, so they can be unreliable. One guy had his whole life disrupted because someone wrote a Wikipedia entry about him that said he helped kill president Kennedy. The bad thing was that he didn't know who wrote it and it was a big hassle to get it removed. There are people who constantly keep an eye on Barack Obama's Wikipedia entry because people are always trying to post racist stuff about him.

But, if you look down at the bottom of the page where it says "references" or "further reading" or "external links," you can often find academic resources that will be helpful.
The Chicago Public library also has quite a few academic resources you can check out. You'll need your library card in order to access a lot of this stuff, so make sure you have one with you.

Here are some highlights:

1. The Biography Resource Center--This site will help you find articles that tell the stories of famous people from all countries and all time periods. Search by name or create lists of people based on certain characteristics: what they do (or did) for a living, what country they are from, what American ethnic group they belong to (for example, African American), and whether they are male or female. Great bios on famous people.

2. History Database Search --This database has short overview articles on a wide range of historical events and processes. Also includes biographies, timelines, primary sources, images, maps, and charts.

3. Issues and Controversies--This site presents overviews of current public policy issues and other controversial topics. This resource is a great place to start for students working on persuasive essays or debates or anyone wanting authoritative background information on the issues making today’s headlines.
4. Junior Quest Magazines & ProQuest--These sites are archives of newspapers and magazines. Junior Quest is more teen-oriented, but ProQuest is the resource I had my college students working with. ProQuest is the bomb when you figure out how to use it!

5. You can also search most of these databases by using the search bar at the top of this page
Google News--This site features thousands of news articles from the last few decades. This is a good place to look if you're looking at a specific figure in history or a specific incident.
Webmd.com--This site is a good place to look for any kind of health related material. You certainly don't want this to be the only thing you look at, but it could have some good general information. Usually it features some helpful visuals as well.
Yahoo.com--I know you all are going to say that Mr. Shakur is an old fuddy duddy because he still looks at Yahoo!, but the thing I like best about the site is that they categorize some of the information for you, so it's not just a thousand random sites.
Bureau of Labor Statistics--This is a federal government website that keeps track of all the different kinds of jobs that people are working in the country. They keep statistics on how much people are getting paid, the type of work they have to do, whether or not this type of job will be available in the future, what kind of training you need, and a bunch of other stuff. If you're researching a potential job, this might be a good place to look. Just put the job you want to research in the search bar on the left.

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