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Finding Sources and Conducting Research

Knowing how to conduct good research is key to success at university. This page provides a very brief overview of a few important tips.

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When you are conducting research for university-level assignments, you need to make sure to use sources that are suitable for academic research (i.e., are peer reviewed). While there is lots of information available online, most of what you will find using Google or other popular search engines will not be suitable for your course assignments.

While everything you need to know is probably out there on the Internet, finding it in a quick and effective manner is challenging. Searching the Internet may provide you with a snapshot of popular sites about your topic, but scholarly sources will not likely appear.

The importance of peer review

Peer review is a practice that journals, use to ensure that the articles that they publish are scholarly and rigorous. Articles that are submitted to journals are scrutinized by a panel of scholars in the same field (their peers) to ensure the work is relevant, of high quality for publication in the journal.

Publications that are not peer reviewed rely on the editor to determine an article's value. For that reason, you should try and focus your research within peer reviewed journals as the articles have withstood the scrutiny of other academics in the field.

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Scholarly Research

The UOIT library website includes information on conducting research and finding scholarly sources that are peer reviewed and are suitable for your research for course assignments. This section also provides you with important information on properly citing sources, and details on the common citation styles used. Click the link below to view this information.

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Google & Wikipedia

To begin your search, you need to know what you are looking for. What is your topic? What is the breadth of information required? Do you require scholarly articles or opinions? Narrowing down your topic can save hours of searching on the web. Google is a powerful search engine that can be useful in helping to narrow your topic. The Google search engine ranks sites by collecting information on how many sites have linked to that particular page. If a page has many people linking to it, it is presumed the information must be relevant. The higher the number of links to the page, the higher Google places the web site when it returns the results of the search. Be watchful! Many search engines enable companies to purchase placement at the top of the search results. These "sponsored links" are usually separated and identified. For example, Google has sponsored links which can appear on the left side of the page.

Wikipedia can also be useful in conducting preliminary research to narrow your focus and get general background information. Wikipedia, however, is an encyclopedia that includes content created by volunteers. There is some oversight of the content, but it is not peer reviewed and edited in the same way that journal articles and books are. And encyclopedias are not suitable for academic research.

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Evaluating resources

The onus is on you - the student - to establish the authenticity and reliability of your resources. Online materials are easily duplicated, manipulated, transferred, and stolen. One of the benefits of the Web is its ability to provide a venue for anyone to publish materials, yet this means that one has to be vigilant in ensuring the resources are academically sound. 

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Analyzing the URL

The first step in evaluating Web resources is to learn how to read a URL (universal resource locator) or Web site address. Web addresses work the same way as a street address, it is a specific location for that piece of information. URLs are organized in specific order. For example:

http://www.uoit.ca/teachingandlearning/contact/index.htm

http:// - means "hypertext transfer protocol" and is used to provide access to the Web site.
www - is the server that takes you to the World Wide Web
uoit - is the domain name or the name of the organization that owns and runs the Web site
.ca - is a code that helps define the organization. In this case, it is the country code for Canada.
teachingandlearning - is the department's web site that we are going to visit
contact - is the name of the newsletter we are going to read
index.html - is the first Web page in the newsletter site

Other types of domain codes can include but aren't limited to:

  • .com - commercial business
  • .edu - educational institution in the US. Canadian schools do not have a specific domain code and usually use just the country code.
  • .gov - government organization
  • .org - non-profit organization
  • .net - networking organization
  • .ca - Canada's country code - others include: .au - Australia, .uk - United Kingdom, .bm - Bermuda, .cn - China, etc.

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Who is the author and how credible is the work?

Let's assume that you have found an article on the Web that you think may be of help to your research. You've looked at the URL and it seems credible, but now, let's look at the article itself. Review the list of questions below. Are you able to answer those questions about the article? If not, perhaps this article is not credible and therefore, would not enhance your research. 

  • What are the person's credentials?
  • Does s/he have the academic background to publish on this issue?
  • Can you contact the author?
  • Watch for advertising. Is there a corporate endorsement?
  • Is this page a parody or hoax or joke?
  • Does it provide a bibliography or reference list?
  • Is it biased or forcing one particular view?
  • Is the page up-to-date? When were the last edits made?

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BEWARE of the ~

This is a tilde ~ . This sign usually designates that the site is a personal Web page. For example, the URL may look like this: <http://www.bestuniversity.ca/~essmith/nursing.htm>

In analyzing this (fake) URL, one might think that it is an academic page because it has the name of the university in it. However, as an instructor, I have seen students reference pages with the ~ sign only to determine that the information was written by a low level staff member at the university and had no academic background or credentials. 

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Watch for the parody

Hoaxes or parody or joke Web sites are prevalent on the Web. Their purpose is for entertainment, to poke fun or satirize a topic or person. Some of these sites are so well done that it can be very difficult to tell if they are real or not. Most sites have a link to "contact us" or "about," this is where you should be able to contact the site's author or editor to gain more information. 

For more information, see:

Other sources:

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