The Internet makes research easier in some ways and more difficult in others. Through Internet search engines such as Google and Bing, you have immediate access to a great deal of free information. Keep in mind that many of the entries on any topic are not valid sources for serious research, however, and the order of the search results is determined not by their importance but by search formulas that depend both on popularity and on who pays for Web pages to be on the top of the list. Anybody can put up a website, which means you can’t always be sure of the website owner’s credibility and reliability. A Web source may be written by anyonea fifth grader, a famous professor, a professional society, or a person with little knowledge about the topic.

Some students might at first be excited about receiving 243,000,000 hits from a Google search on climate change, but they may be shocked when they realize the information they find is not sorted or organized. Think carefully about the usefulness of the information based on three important factors: relevance, authority, and bias.


The first thing to consider in looking at a possible source is whether it is relevant: Does it relate to your subject in an appropriate way? How well does it fit your needs? The answers to these questions depend on your research project and the kind of information you are seeking.


Once you have determined that a source is relevant to your project, check that it was created by somebody who is qualified to write or speak on the subject and whose conclusions are based on solid evidence. This, too, will depend on your subject and the nature of your research. For example, a fifth grader would generally not be considered an authority, but if you are writing about a topic such as bullying in elementary schools, a fifth grader’s opinion might be exactly what you’re looking for.

Make sure you can identify the author and be ready to explain why that author is qualified to write on the subject. Good qualifications might include academic degrees, other research and writing on the subject, or related personal experience.

Determine whether your project calls for scholarly publications, periodicals such as magazines and newspapers, or both. Many journalists and columnists are extremely well qualified, and their work might be appropriate for your needs. But as a general rule, scholarly sources that have been thoroughly reviewed give the work credibility in a college research project.



While you are reading this chapter, conduct an Internet search for the phrase “finding resources for research papers” with a couple of your classmates. What ideas did you find through your Internet search?


When you are searching for sources, you should realize that all materials have an author who has personal beliefs that affect the way he or she views the world and approaches a topic. This is a normal part of the research process; however, serious authors have adopted ways to ensure that their own opinions don’t get in the way of accuracy. You will want to find such objective sources whenever possible; many sources will be heavily biased toward a specific viewpoint or ideology. Consider, for instance, how news outlets like MSNBC and Fox News often present very different, biased viewpoints on political issues.

Research consists of considering multiple perspectives on a topic, analyzing the sources, and creating something new from your analysis. Signs of bias, such as overly positive or overly harsh language, hints of a personal agenda, or a stubborn refusal to consider other points of view, indicate that you should question the credibility and accuracy of a source. Although nothing is wrong with someone having a particular point of view, as a researcher you will want to be aware that the bias exists. You may need to exclude strongly biased sources from your research. For example, if you are writing about climate change, you will want to examine sources for evidence of political or personal agendas. The following questions can help you evaluate your sources:




Do you know websites, blogs, newspapers, magazines, or TV networks that you believe are biased? Why do you consider them biased?