Quality Research Resources: Let’s Google It

Google is a vast portal of information on everything from news to recipes to song lyrics and more. It is the simplest form of finding research, some would say, but does simple research mean quality content?

Dr. Rebecca Sanford, associate professor of communication, said that Google is used extensively by students. "I think that it becomes just a given that if you don't know something or want to know more about something, Googling is the way to access information," Sanford said. She added that Google is a great resource that most people have right at their fingertips. With smartphones, we can get the information we want, when we want it.

However, Google has its flaws in terms of serious research. "The internet is a democracy. It has all sorts of information at ranging levels of accuracy," said Sanford. "I may find information, but the credibility of my information may or may not be as strong as it should be."

Because information is so easy to find, our overconfidence in determining good research from bad often causes us to lose respect for the research process, according to Sanford. Researchers may in turn mistake an inaccurate source of information as being credible.

Dr. Marina Vujnovic, assistant professor of communication, teaches an online journalism class where she discusses top level domain with her students. "Those things that are on top of the search when you search for something, it's not because it's the best. It's because they paid to be there," Vujnovic said.

One of the websites that is most commonly at the top of any search is Wikipedia. Most professors forbid students to use Wikipedia, which can be edited by any internet user. Vujnovic, however, does not tell her students that they cannot use it. She allows her students to do research on Wikipedia as long as they are using the direct reference links on the bottom of each information page.

Online research databases for scholarly sources are available to all students with their student ID and password. The University Library often gives research tutorials for classes whose professors request them. Students may also ask a librarian for individual help using the available databases. Although students have accurate information from academic journals, articles and other publications, navigating these resources is not as easy as clicking "search" on Google.

University alum and current Director of Pep Band and Instrumental Ensembles, Bryan Jenner, said he completed an extensive amount of research at the University. He is now in Rowan University's doctoral program for higher education. "The Library has great resources with access to academic and peer reviewed journals which is where I did most of my research," said Jenner. He uses similar resources for his studies at Rowan.

Though the library staff is more than willing to help students with their research, many of them still find themselves on Google. The period of time that is given for a class tutorial in the library does not always afford them lessons on how to use the search engine wisely. Sanford said that, even in classes, students are mostly taught how to use the academic databases rather than common search engines. "But then, we, as faculty, might be guilty in assuming that a student who is showing up already knows how to use Google or other search engines," Sanford added.

Vujnovic agreed. "I can only assume...I don't think students really know how to search. They think they do, but when they need to look for research, they don't even know that Google Scholar exists," she said. Google Scholar is a feature on the Google search engine that allows users to look up accurate information from credible sources. The only flaw to this is that users can not always get the entire journal or article for free.

"Undergraduates tend to look at Google for source material in certain subject areas, but generally that is often to address project presentation material that may not require scholarly journals or peer reviewed material," Jenner said. "I don't see Google used much at the graduate level, as much of the research requires scholarly journals and such."

Vujnovic suggested that before students go to Google or scholarly databases, they should try to reach out to real places and real organizations. "Go talk to people. They will pull out images, they will pull out information, even show you a really rare document," Vujnovic said. "You will get a lot more excited about it than if you found something on Google."

She also said that she sometimes finds that students who use non-scholarly sources from Google do not credit the author of the information. "Students tend not to cite, especially if the information is coming from magazines or blogs or sources that they do not think we will find," Vujnovic said. However, many professors use Turn It In, a program that checks written work for plagiarism.

It is not always the portal that students use to find information that hinders their source accuracy, but the ability, or lack thereof, to be critical in determining good research and bad research. "The information is neutral...it's what we do with it that matters. It's how we critically evaluate it, how we assess whether it's good quality," said Sanford. "You could find [information] on Google or you could find it on Lexus Nexus and it would be the same information and the credibility would be fine."

Information is everywhere, but it is a person's ability to determine what is credible that makes for good research. Before diving into pools of information, Sanford advises, "Think. Think lots, think often, think deeply, think critically."