Google Search May Not Always Be the Best Research Option

As the new school year starts, we've prepared a quick PSA on internet research. For students, Google is a prime source for finding quick answers and performing research for essays and homework. While using Google has its obvious perks, we should also be particularly mindful of exactly how we use it. According to an arstechnica article, a new study released by Northwestern University found that college students hardly pay attention to what shows up as a top link on their Google search. As a result, it leads students to sacrifice the quality of their research and work.

When researches studied a sample of 102 college freshman using Google and other online search methods, they found that students clicked on the first search result regardless of what it was. Over 25 percent of respondents said they specifically chose that result because it was the first one listed. While some students did acknowledge that websites ending in .gov or .edu may be more trustworthy, only 10 percent of all participants bothered to check who the author was on the site or whether or not they had any credentials.

Be shrewd and practical when conducting online academic research. Instead of using a cursory Google search to find important information, use academic databases first – it’s highly likely that your school or university has already paid subscription fees for valuable resources that you can use for free. These include databases such as LexisNexis, JStor, and ProQuest, which you can access through your school’s library website.

If you're doing a casual Google search or are understandably pressed for time, quickly check if the website you’re using is that of an academic institution or professional organization. Be especially careful with Wikipedia pages, which tend to turn up at the top of Google search results. Since anyone in the public can contribute to Wikipedia articles, always check the links at the bottom for the credibility of the sources. For general webpages, does the article or page you’re referring to have a date? Does it list or refer to specific sources? If the page has nothing that you can clearly base its information off of, give it a pass.

Remember, just because you think you’re very familiar with the web doesn’t mean you can be 100 percent sure whether a webpage is credible. So Google and search with care–and if you're ever in major doubt, you can always hit the books.

Photo: Jasmine Ako