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COMM 1112 Research Guide: Public Speaking

Why Use Library Resources?

Is it ever okay to use Google or Wikipedia?

Your professors want to see high quality, scholarly sources cited in your papers. Impress them by using library resources!  It may be tempting to think....Isn't everything on the internet? Can't I just use Google and Wikipedia for my research?  While Google, Wikipedia, and other internet sources are great starting points, you don't want to rely on them for your research.

If you need background information about a topic before you research it, looking in a place like Wikipedia can be helpful. You can also find background information and overviews of various topics by using online encyclopedias at the UMD Library. Think of internet resources as a starting point, but NEVER a stopping point. Always go beyond Wikipedia!

How to Evaluate Information

The UMD Library subscribes to national and international publications, journals and other resources. Why? Because not all information is freely available online. Paid content is most often created and researched by professional researchers, analysts and journalists, and is not the work of a large group of unpaid curators and volunteers. Most academic presses, journals, popular magazines and newspapers place their content behind pay-walls or limit access to a small number of articles per month or year. The Library actively works to remove these barriers.

How do I evaluate information? It can be difficult to know what is a quality source and what isn't. Here are a few things to look for when evaluating web resources:

Authority: Who authored the information and what are their credentials? It should be very easy to find the authors name, contact information and biographical information. Using links or the author's name, one can then trace the authors publication history and venues.

Accuracy: If the author states a fact or provides a data point, do they provide a link or source for this information? If the answer is no, the source is usually disputed or a matter of opinion. A good researcher provides links to their data and uses information that has been verified by labs, educational institutions or government agencies. Watch out for emotional appeals, facts without links, or memes.

Intended audience: Is the information directed to a particular group? While on the page, are there ads that are tailored to your browsing history, or are they supporting a specific political and religious creed? If you feel like you are being sold a viewpoint or product, you should trust that instinct.

Purpose of information: Is the information designed to educate, or or to market an idea or product? Is the information trying convince you to support or not support a certain cause? Most websites have an "About us" page that will clue you into the intentions of the group.

Date created & updated: Is the web site well maintained and recently updated? Check on the page for date or posting showing when it was last updated. While there is value in historic information, a dormant site on a controversial topic can quickly become out of date and inaccurate. Information changes very quickly in our modern world.

Contact information: Is it possible to contact the author or institution?  Be wary of anonymous sources that offer no contact information or provides an alias?