It’s true. Searching a library catalog or database is not always as straightforward as Google. And sometimes, searching Google is frustrating because you get so many questionable results. So how can you make it easier to find strong sources for your paper? This video will show you some tactics to help get you on your way to being a Super Searcher!

 

These days, we’re finding more and more information for free online. The following eight websites (or types of websites) are recommended for first-year undergraduate students. Most of the websites are broad-based and interdisciplinary, useful for searching any topic or subject. A few of the websites are subject-specific (such as health/medicine or controversial issues) or type-specific (such as primary sources or writing lab handouts). The following annotated list provides:

  1. the names of the websites (and authors, if not the same as the publishers or providers),
  2. the associated publishers or providers,
  3. URLs to the homepages for the websites,
  4. and summaries that describe the websites’ content and coverage as well as suggested research use.

 All of these websites are free and open access.

 

Wood, Shaun, "Wet Web" September 8, 2009 via Flickr. Creative Commons
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

CIA World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency.

“The World Factbook provides information on the history, people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues for 267 world entities.” It provides maps and flags for each country, along with detailed statistics in each of the main categories. For example, the “People and Society” category provides a variety of demographic statistics ranging from ethnic groups to languages to birth and death rates. This is a good site for both foundational and statistical information at the broad, national level for countries around the world.

Government Statistical Sites

Government bodies publish more and more statistical information online, both to save printing costs and to allow for greater transparency. These sites can be treasure troves for students looking for supporting documentation regarding current events, controversial issues, and other topics. Here are two examples to give you an idea of what you can find.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Department of Labor.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) focuses on “measuring labor market activity, working conditions, and price changes in the economy.” This is the place to go to research employment, occupational information, salary and benefits, and other labor-related information. Students researching careers will find a lot of information in the Occupational Outlook Handbook.

National Center for Education Statistics. Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) “collect[s] and analyz[es] data related to education in the U.S. and other nations.” It reports statistics and publishes reports from early childhood education all the way up to higher education. It also collects and publishes data about libraries. This is the place to go to research assessment scores, school programs, enrollment figures, tuition costs, financial aid, graduation rates, and other similar topics.

Internet Archive. Internet Archive.

The Internet Archive is more than just an archive of web pages. (Even though looking up older versions of web pages can be a pretty cool thing!) It also includes “texts, audio, moving images, and software.” It is international in scope and offers “specialized services for adaptive reading and information access for the blind and other persons with disabilities.” This site would be a good place to check for media archives for video and music events. It’s also a good source for public domain works (i.e., works that are no longer in copyright).

National Archives and Records Administration. U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

The National Archives holds a variety of records and other important documents as “the nation's record keeper.” Many of these sources are digitized and available online. Even if the documents aren’t digitized, the National Archives provides records to tell you where you can locate or request a print copy. You can search the site for “documents, photos, and records,” or you can review educational material. This site is also the place to research military records. Because of the site’s emphasis on recording information of historical significance, it’s best used for historical or genealogical research.

National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) “is the nation’s medical research agency.” It’s actually “made up of 27 Institutes and Centers, each with a specific research agenda, often focusing on particular diseases or body systems.” Some of the institutes include the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, along with the National Library of Medicine. Each of these institutes has its own site where it provides information about its specialization in the forms of documents, pamphlets, training materials, consumer-focused data, and statistics. These sites would be good sources for locating information related to the biological sciences: biology, anatomy, disease, environment, aging, nursing research, etc.

ProCon.org: Pros and Cons of Controversial Issues. ProCon.org.

ProCon.org is a non-profit site that focuses on covering both sides of controversial issues. It organizes topics according to subject, with some topics containing additional subtopics. Each argument includes citations to supporting documentation. In this way, students are able to use the site as both a brainstorming tool and a source of relevant articles and online sources.

Purdue University Writing Lab. Purdue Online Writing Lab [Purdue OWL]. Purdue University.

The Purdue Online Writing Lab [OWL] is one of the most well-known online writing labs. The site contains sections for writing (both general and subject-specific), research, and citation. It also provides detailed guides for writing and citing in both MLA and APA styles. This is a good site for students seeking more information about writing and citation styles, as well as the general mechanics of writing.

The Writing Center at UNC Chapel Hill. Handouts & Demos. College of Arts and Sciences, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Handouts & Demos is a collection of materials to help students with the writing process. The site is organized into four sections: “Writing the Paper,” “Citation, Style, and Sentence Level Concerns,” “Specific Writing Assignments/Contexts,” and “Writing for Specific Fields.” This is a good site for students needing more information about the mechanics and background of writing.

 

 

 

 

“It’s not Information Overload. It’s Filter Failure”
 — title of presentation by technology commentator Clay Shirky at Web 2.0 Expo NY, 2008


“[T]he fear that keeps us awake at night is not that all this information will cause us to have a mental breakdown but that we are not getting enough of the information we need.”    
— David Weinberger, senior researcher at Harvard's Berkman Center for the Internet and Society (from Too Big to Know [Basic Books, 2012])
   

Below are some strategies to help you more directly access the information you are seeking on the open Web. Consider them a beginning toolkit to draw upon for your web research. The web is always changing, and so is search. Be attentive to new tools as they become available.


While internet search engines have made locating sources online easier, there are still many digital sources beyond websites. Databases contract with publishers and other content providers to package access to articles, reports, conference proceedings, ebooks, films, images, and other material. Using databases and having access to such a variety of source material is an important part of the research process.

Search magazine articles, research reports, journal articles, and abstracts published in magazines, newspapers, and scholarly journals.

Magazines, newspapers, and scholarly journals provide contemporary material that is often on very narrow topics. Magazines are written in a more popular style and aimed at a general audience. The term "journals" is used for scholarly research publications. (Librarians use the term "periodicals" to include both magazines and journals.) Often journals are peer-reviewed, which means that the articles are read by a number of scholars in the field before being approved for publication. There are thousands of journals, magazines, and newspapers published annually. Instead of leafing through journals, magazines, and newspapers themselves, you can consult a periodical database to find out what articles have appeared on a given topic.