This is “Finding Print, Online, and Field Sources”, section 7.2 from the book Writers' Handbook (v. 1.0).
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Your status as a student grants you access to your college library, and it is in your best interest to use it. Whether you are using your library online or in person, you will most likely need some guidance so that you know the research options available and how to access them. If you are attending a traditional brick-and-mortar college, the quickest way to learn about your library options is to physically go to the library and meet with a librarian. If you are attending school mostly or completely online, look for online tutorials offered by your college library. College libraries still have print holdings that are worth checking out, but the landscape is quickly going digital. In recent years, libraries have been digitizing their print holdings and spending an increasing percentage of their budgets on acquiring better and richer academic databasesAn extensive collection of related information that is available digitally. with vast holdings you can use for most of your research needs.
Within the array of online options available to you, the academic databases to which your library subscribes are generally more authoritativeDescribing a source that has been edited and often peer reviewed before being accepted for publication. because they have been edited and in many cases peer reviewed before being approved for publication. These sources often appeared in print before being collected in the database. However, databases can take you only so far in your research. If you have questions that need quick answers, especially involving facts or statistics, there’s nothing wrong with using popular search engines like Google or even online encyclopedias like Wikipedia, provided you use them critically. Confirm the truth of the information you find by finding corroboration from at least two other sources, and follow up on the sources listed in the sites to which you are directed. For more on evaluating online sources, see Section 7.5 "Evaluating Sources".
Along with the search engines, databases, and directoriesOnline list of websites relating to given topics., the Internet also offers a variety of additional tools and services that are very useful to you as a researcher. Some of these options include citation builders and writing guides, dictionaries, thesauruses, encyclopedias, RSS feedsAn online service that will send you information on a requested topic. (providing subscriptions to specific blogsOnline site where people share opinions in a relaxed environment. and podcasts), collections of famous quotations, government data, stock photo collections, collaboratively produced wikis and websites, and much more. An effective research project will likely combine source material from both academic databases and more popularly available online sites.
In addition to print and online sources, you might also wish to find some field sourcesPrimary source accessed in its natural setting., such as interviewing an expert, sorting through relevant documents, making observations, or attending an event that relates to your topic. For example, if you are researching the effects of inclusion on third grade students with special needs, you could add meaningful information to your paper by speaking with a local educator who has reviewed achievement scores before and after they have received inclusion services.
Once you’ve gotten to know more about your library’s online databases, use what you already know about popular search engines to decide which would be an easier method of finding reliable, trustworthy sources for the following information: an academic database or a popular search engine?