BE PREPARED AND AWARE
Before one starts searching for information, it is important to craft a reasonable search strategy, which includes understanding the appropriate terminology, the scale of the topic, the limits and facets to the topic, and the best tools to find the most complete, precise, or convenient materials.
One must always critically analyze the resulting materials because many items are not current, accurate, or complete—or are written to support a specific position rather than providing a balanced representation of all perspectives. Consider using the CRAAP test: is the material Current, Relevant, Authoritative, Accurate, and Purposeful? These questions should be answered before you use any materials to support a position or a conclusion.
BEST TOOLS TO START UNDERSTANDING A SUBJECT
There are a number of ways to understand the basic terminology, key authors and organizations, and historical coverage of a topic. One good way to approach this overview is to search within the RELIABLE reference tools such as handbooks, dictionaries, and encyclopedias on our Facts/Definitions information page. You may also search for more in-depth online and paper reference tools found on our subject guide pages.
CONSIDERATIONS WHEN SEARCHING THE OPEN INTERNET
WARNING: Searching the Internet will provide many unique pieces of information, but the results can be false, skewed, and inaccurate. Focus on the accuracy of the content, not the format or the place where you find it. The web provides high quality information from professional associations, societies, and academic institutions. However, the web also contains sites which provide false, misleading, and outrageous content; and some sites appear authoritative but are really only presenting the portion of the material that supports their positions. Everything is written for a purpose, so be alert in order to identify misleading information.
USE CRITICAL THINKING WHEN USING INTERNET SOURCES.
You should be able to justify the articles and web pages you have selected to support your position.
The following CRAAP criteria must be addressed for each item you use as a reference in your bibliography:
EXAMPLE SCENARIOS TO DEMONSTRATE FREE WEB SEARCHING CONCERNS IN RELATION TO OUR PAID RESOURCES
SEARCHING FOR FACTS:
You should never trust the results that are returned from a general Google search, as many pages are created by people with little expertise and/or a hidden agenda. Wikipedia provides excellent overviews of topics, with pointers to source materials, but the perspective is not always academically accurate or balanced. Be sure to supplement this information with more reliable information from peer-reviewed resources such as those listed on our Facts/Definitions page.
SEARCHING FOR JOURNAL ARTICLES (research results and expert opinions):
Be careful if you perform advanced Google searches, as your results are based upon your previous search preferences, so results will be less comprehensive over time, and will tend to support your favorite topics/perspectives/purchasing behavior. In addition, Google will not provide all the full-text articles that are available to you through our multidisciplinary Academic Search Complete journal-article aggregator.
Google Scholar provides free searching of a selection of the academic journal literature, with results providing more reliable peer-reviewed materials, but the results are not as comprehensive as those found in our subject specific journal indexes. In addition, Google Scholar will not provide all the full-text articles that are available to you through our multidisciplinary Academic Search Complete journal-article aggregator.
See a few images of the comparative domains of these search tools or a presentation about the limits of Google and the alternative search options.
WAYS TO NARROW A TOPIC TO CREATE A REASONABLE SCALE RESEARCH QUESTION
A good way to select a sub-topic of a reasonable scale, which also has literature that addresses that angle, is to use the controlled vocabulary or the facets that are presented on search-result pages. Facets contain breakdowns of the larger topic into more precise groupings, often created using thesaurus terms or word-frequency analyses. Consider using these facets as guides for narrowing your topic.
If you do not find what you are looking for, also consider contacting your subject librarian.