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Research Starter - DIGM 200: Where to Begin?

Where to Start?

Not sure where to begin?

We recognize that many students will begin their search by performing an internet search for their topic.  So, let's learn how to determine if the information you find on the web is appropriate to use in your research.   

Let this be a beginning step in your research, not the only step.

Is the resource you've found on the web a good resource?  How can we tell?

  • Use the SIFT method to determine the credibility of information found on the web.
    • Stop - do not engage with the text until you get enough context about the text to determine if it is worth engaging with.
    • Investigate the source -
      • who is the author? 
      • what is the purpose of the source?
      • is it possibly written with a bias?
      • has it been reviewed and approved by experts in the field of study?
    • Find better coverage - find other resources about the topic from reliable sources.
    • Trace claims, quotes and media to the original context - backward searching.

Why might an Internet search be a good place to start? Discovery 

  • Learn the basics about your topic
  • Use what you have learned to inform your research.
  • Create a list of keywords related to your topic.
  • Develop your keywords in relation to what you want to learn about your topic.
  • Use the library's databases to provide direct access to academic, peer-reviewed materials.

You're probably already familiar with Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia.  The reference sources listed on this page are similar to Wikipedia, with some differences that you should be aware of, including:

  • Reference sources are generally part of the fee-based web, which means they require a subscription to access the content, making the information in them very valuable.  The fee-based sources listed here are paid for by your institution.
    • Wikipedia is part of the free web, so anyone with an Internet connection can access it seamlessly.
  • Reference sources are written collectively by experts in the fields they cover - some are researchers, some are professors, but all have qualifications of a professional nature.
  • Reference sources are sometimes general in nature, but often cover one subject area in-depth, so you can choose a source that focuses on the discipline you're researching more extensively.
    • ​​​​​​​Wikipedia contains encyclopedia-like articles on almost anything, making it a general or multidisciplinary source of information.
  • Reference sources are edited and vetted for accuracy, currency, and authority by the source's editorial board (often a group of researchers in the field).  
    • Wikipedia has a set of editing policies and guidelines that authors should follow when writing or editing articles.

Wikipedia can be a good source, to begin with.  However, you should balance what you find there with information from other reference sources as well.  And make sure you evaluate the information you find from Wikipedia or any other source.

If you have questions about the kind of information you find, please Ask Us. Library staff are happy to help you find quality information on any topic you're researching.

Courtesy of the MIT Libraries

Reference Works

Research Starters