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The internet is an excellent tool to help students source online information for revision and assignments.

This quick guide will make sure you are getting the most from your online research and also point you in the direction of some useful tips you might not be aware of.

Search Engines

When using Google, or whichever search engine you prefer, pick out some specific keywords that relate to your subject.

Start with a general search using these keywords to find some subject-related websites or articles.

Make sure to bookmark your search results so you don’t lose them. Another tip is to always open a link in a new tab so your original search results don’t get lost – you can do this by holding the control (CTRL) button when clicking.

How To Check If It’s a Good Resource

When typing your keywords in to a search engine it returns many results, so you need to be able to pick out which websites are good resources to use.

Here are five things to look for on a website:

  • Currency
  • Authority
  • Purpose
  • Objectivity
  • Writing style

To check the website is current, look for the date it was last updated, if this was more than a year ago then it’s probably not a good resource to use because you should be looking for websites that are currently active.

Check who the author of the content is to make sure they are authoritative in that particular field. For example, when I found an article on the subject of journalism and the author was a Multimedia Lecturer, I knew this was a trustworthy source to reference.

authorative writer

It is also important to evaluate the purpose of the website before you use it in your research. Ask yourself: is it for entertainment? Education? News? or another purpose? Looking at the content and URL can help you determine if it is useful, for example .gov and .edu websites are going to be more trustworthy than a .com, .org and .net website.

Looking for the objectivity online can be a little more difficult to judge. Basically, you want to make sure that the website isn’t selling a product or is biased to a certain side of a subject. If for example a website is full of adverts then the website is trying to make money from its visitors, you should try and look for websites whose main purpose is to share information.

The reason it’s important to evaluate the writing style is to determine if there are a lot of spelling or grammatical errors. If there are it is a sign that the source is not suitable for academic research.

Other Research Tools

Search engines are the first place we head to when trying to source information, however there are also some other tools that can help you.

Youtube

Youtube isn’t just for watching funny videos or music releases; it is also full of educational videos from academics and professionals.

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iTunes

You might be surprised to know that iTunes offer a huge range of educational podcasts which you can download and listen to. Many universities upload podcasts on different subjects which might be able to give you some helpful insights.

Zotero

Zotero is a toolbar add-on for Mozilla Firefox which is really useful when you are using search engines to source information.

It works as your personal research assistant, storing any information you find and allowing you to add notes to keep track of why you saved it in the first place.

Wikipedia

When searching for information on a topic, Wikipedia is likely to be one of the top results, however when sourcing information online for academic purposes I would advise staying away from this platform.

Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia and you can find information on literally any subject, however the problem is that anyone in the world can go on and edit the entries on the website; this means the information can’t be trusted as accurate.

However, all information on Wikipedia must be referenced. You will notice small numbers next to most information on Wikipedia. Look at the bottom of the article and these numbers will reference external websites – some of which you may be able to use as on online resource.

Now you should be able to start sourcing information for your next My Distance Learning assignment.

For help on how to reference an article you have found online, read our earlier blog on Harvard Referencing.