Since everyone knows that books and journal articles are great sources for research papers and projects, many students start their research by looking for books and articles. This is often a bit premature. You can save a lot of time by scanning synthesized treatments of topics —like encyclopedia articles—before committing to a topic and delving into the primary literature.
• Wikipedia. You've heard it before and we'll say it again: Wikipedia is an acceptable place to begin your research, but not to end it. What appears in Wikipedia may or may not be factual, so you can't use it as a source - but sometimes the sources listed in Wikipedia bibliographies are acceptable for academic work. Use with caution, and don't spend too much time here. Wikipedia is a stepping stone. Keep on moving!
• Why I ♥ academic encyclopedia articles
• How to find great subject-specific encyclopedias
• Timesaver! Remember, even if you can't use an encyclopedia article as a source for your final project, encyclopedias can give you a jump start, lead you to quality sources you CAN cite, and save a lot of time!
• For upper-division science and social science students: consider seeking a review article on your topic. A review article is akin to the book reports you did in elementary school, only much more thorough - the author reads all the research published to date on a topic and synthesizes it in a single article. Review articles have lengthy bibliographies that are gold mines for student writers. If you can find a review article on your topic, read it early in your research process. Where can you find review articles?
You should think critically about the information sources you're using in your work, especially if you're citing them in a research paper or presentation. It's one thing to use the Internet when looking to buy a cell phone, but it's another thing when you're finding sources for an academic paper.
A few of the things to consider when evaluating sources:
Scholarly vs. Popular Sources
Video Source: North Carolina State University Libraries, "Peer Review in 5 Minutes."
For much of the research that you do at Gettysburg College, professors will request that you use scholarly articles (from peer-reviewed journals, rather than popular magazines and websites.) If you need help telling the difference, see our guide on the library website (PDF).
We know that the Internet is more than old music videos on YouTube. There is also a lot of academic information available. While the great thing about the Internet is that anyone with a little time, some knowledge, and a small amount of money can make a webpage, we have to keep in mind:
If you need help evaluating websites, check out the CRAAP test. The test guide will help you wade through the muck you pick up when searching the web.