Friday, October 24, 2008

Research Using the Internet - Evaluating Search Results and Source Credibility

When preparing for a research paper, there are many places you can go to find the information you are looking for. Traditionally, you would go to the library and browse the many books they have looking for exactly what you want, but times have changed. Thanks to the internet you no longer need to look through hundreds of book to get what you are looking for. You can now use the internet to search for articles, books, magazines, and websites containing the information you are looking for, which may be available virtually and/or physically. Thanks to this technology, research can be done much more quickly than in the past, but there is still much needed knowledge to ensure you are getting the results you want, with information from credible sources, fast. Keywords must be carefully chosen to get the results you are looking for from a search engine, and sources must be carefully examined. According to Bonnie Tensen (2004), there are six aspects to examine when evaluating the credibility of a source. They are the purpose (why it was written), the source (who wrote it), the intended audience (is it general or in-depth), the date it was published, the appearance (how it looks), and reputation. Using these six aspects when evaluating a source should help identify its credibility, and whether or not it should be used in your paper.

While researching the Web 2.0 technology Facebook, I carefully noted which keywords and search engines gave me the best results, and critiqued the validity of each result to make sure that they will be suitable for my upcoming research paper. The two search engines I used to look for information on Facebook were Google and Yahoo. I decided that it would be a good idea to try a broad search using only the keyword “facebook” in each search engine and see what results were returned. The first ten results returned from each search engine were very similar, but there were one or two sites that were different. Both Google and Yahoo returned the main site for Facebook as the first result. This was the actual site where you could sign up for and log into your Facebook account. If you wanted to include some hands on use of Facebook in your paper, this would be the only place you could really get it. Another result that both Google and Yahoo returned in the results was the Wikipedia page on Facebook. This page included a lot of useful information about Facebook, such as when Facebook was created, who the founder is, and how Facebook has changed in recent years. This seems like a credible source for information, but it must be noted that the information on Wikipedia is added by the general public who want to write on the topic. It would be a better idea to follow the references at the bottom of this page to find where the information was derived from and use that source for your paper if it is credible. Other results that Google and Yahoo shared were the iPhone Facebook application and the Facebook login page.

There were also a few results Google and Yahoo returned that were not the same. Google returned the Facebook Company Profile from, as well as, Facebook – The Complete Biography from Both of these websites provide in-depth information about Facebook. The profile from seemed a lot like Wikipedia. There is a lot of information written with sources provided at the bottom of the page, and the site was recently updated in 2008, making the information very up to date. The biography that provides is also very informative, and even includes pictures showing people how to use Facebook, however, the article is from 2006 so some of the information may not be reliable. Two different results that Yahoo provided were The Facebook Blog and Facebook Blast. The Facebook Blog is a blog that is actually run on the Facebook website. All the posts there seemed to come from people who worked for Facebook, and some even came from Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. This blog seemed like a very credible source to use for discussing recent Facebook updates. Facebook Blast, on the other hand, may be reliable if you were looking to spruce up your Facebook, but included no information on Facebook that would be usable for a research paper.

After going through many search results returned from Google and Yahoo, I decided that I would give the LexisNexis database a try. In LexisNexis, you use keywords to search just as you do in search engines. LexisNexis uses these keywords to search within the publications of your choice. I chose to use the keyword “facebook” as I did in Google and Yahoo, and search within major U.S. and world publications. Close to one thousand results were returned and sorted by relevance to the keyword that I had used. Each result included the title of the article, where it was published, and when. Many of the results were published recently, which indicated to me that the information would be up to date. They also came from publications that I have heard of and deemed credible already. One article that came from the New York Times was entitled, “The Way We Live Now: Facebook Politics” and was published September 14, 2008. This article discussed how Facebook was being used by politicians to reach out to voters. Coming from the New York Times, I trust that this is a very credible source. There may be a bias in relation to the politicians and how they are discussed, but I believe the information about Facebook will remain very factual. article I found using LexisNexis was “Facebook Exposes Users To Search Engines”, which was published by the web-based publication TechWeb on September 5, 2007. This article briefly discusses the issue of privacy on Facebook, and how anybody can find you by typing your name in Google unless your Facebook profile is set to private. The source seems fairly credible as it seems like a large company with many other websites; however, there are many ads that may discredit the site.

After using search engines like Google and Yahoo, and the LexisNexis database to research the Web 2.0 technology Facebook, I learned a lot about finding information and evaluating sources on the internet. Both Google and Yahoo returned similar results, but not all were the same. Given the fact that I found the different results that each provided useful, I think that I will use both search engines simultaneously in future searches. For the keyword “facebook” Google returned 580 million results, while Yahoo returned 1.8 billion results. I think in future searches I will try and narrow the results by using Boolean operators like AND or NOT to find exactly what I am looking for. An example of this would be using the keywords “facebook AND history” to get results that include both the words facebook and history. It will also be important for me to evaluate each result individual to make sure that it is credible and will be able to be used in my paper. I especially liked using the LexisNexis database due to the fact that there were not too many search results and I had the choice of which publications I would like to view. I believe that a majority of the information available here is credible, and will definitely be using this again for my paper. By adding more terms, I think I will be able to narrow the results down to exactly what I want, which will be provide me with useful information in a timely manner.

In conclusion, through my personal use of these search engines and the LexisNexis database, I would say that the internet has definitely provided a new way to research, and a quicker way to do it than in the past, but more knowledge and evaluation must be done on the internet to ensure the credibility of the sources and that you get the results you want when searching. If the use of keywords and Boolean operators is perfected, and sources are fully inspected of their credibility, the internet can be an extremely useful tool in doing research for your next paper.

Tensen, Bonnie L. (2004). Research strategies for a digital age (chapter 5). Boston: Wadsworth.

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