Since finding out about it, a lot of teachers have developed a vendetta against Wikipedia. I’ve known lots of kids who use it as their only source in a research paper, and teachers go bonkers when they see that. This is because Wikipedia is editable by anyone, making it an unreliable source for a formal report.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Wikipedia as much as the average person. Like any Internet hipster, I look up information on Wikipedia all the time. I know how much the regulars over there guard pages against any harm, but I also know that anyone who looks around long enough will find some incorrect fact on a page. I have found many, and I regret to say that Wikipedia isn’t as flawless as we’d all like it to be.
Now that teachers wag their fingers at Wikipedia as a source, it’s time to go back to the old-fashioned way of finding information online without it.
- Look at the references on a Wikipedia page. Just because the Wikipedia article isn’t reliable doesn’t mean all of the references are. On an average page, there will three or four references that you can use to find more information about whatever you’re looking up. Some references will be to books or other published material, which won’t be too helpful, but others will be to Internet links. Often times those sources are credible, and some may even link you to other sources as well.
- Google! Obvious. Yes, but more than necessary. If you Google for whatever topic you’re looking up, oftentimes the first result will be a Wikipedia page, but the ones below that might yield different information.
- Google News. This could have gone with the last one, but I think it warrants its own section. If you’re researching a specific incident — especially something recent — news articles can be a ton of help and are always credible. Search around for your topic on Google News to see if there are any articles about it.
- Look for government sites. If the website you’re looking at ends in a “.gov” (as opposed to “.com”, “.net”, etc.), then this is a government site that will pretty much always serve as a credible source. Government sites are a great source of statistics. Throwing in the right statistic at the right spot is always a great way to woo teachers with your research. It might be hard to find a government site, but if you use Google’s advanced search, you can set “Search within a site or domain” to “.gov” to bring back only government sites.
- Look for school sites. Similar to government sites, just look for “.edu”. That usually refers you to college websites, which can also provide some information. Be warned, though, that college websites might put up pages from individual students as well, so your source might not be as good as you think it is. Use your best judgment. “.org” websites usually work in a similar way to “.edu”. Again, use your best judgment.
There are also reliable sites that list a lot of content on the web. Try some of these:
- Encyclopedia Britannica – The website of the famous encyclopedia.
- Scholarpedia – Similar to Wikipedia, except that this site is constantly checked by professionals in the field to ensure factual and reliable sources.
- InfoPlease – Another searchable reference.
Be careful about choosing your sources. In the end, it’s up to you to try to determine if they’re credible or not. Just because there’s a website about a topic does not make it a reliable reference. For all you know, it could have been written by Billy Joe Bob down the street. When possible, try to look up some basic information on the author to see if they’re credible or not (you can at least use Wikipedia for that).
Most high school teachers won’t look too into your sources, so don’t feel as if you have to go overboard in verifying them unless your teacher is especially harsh on it.
If you have any other helpful tips or sources, please, let me know!