Google is great, but not always for researching

Story by Katie Bane, NewsNetNebraska

Google it. 

The common phrase people often use when they don’t know or understand something is also a term used among students when it comes to their research habits.

Instead of booking it to the library and sifting through journals and other literature, more students are staying home and using Google to find sources for research papers. In December 2012, a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center found 94 percent of teachers say Google and other search engines top the list of sources students use for researching. 

But while Google is often a great starting point, its widespread use isn’t always a good thing.

“You will never not find anything,” said Signe Boudreau, an associate professor for the University Libraries. “You just might not get the best thing.”

Google relies on algorithms, not human intuition, to identify the best search results, she said.  But those sources aren’t always reliable or accurate. It’s important to look closely at an article and see who wrote it before using the information.

The popular search engine also promotes certain web pages that pay to appear higher up when people search for certain terms or “tags.”  This means some of the more helpful or academically correct information on the Internet is often buried on the third or fourth pages of search results; pages many people never get to, Boudreau said.

Instead, she recommends using Google Scholar because students are “guaranteed a certain degree of value” and can often view good, peer-reviewed results.

“They feature articles that won’t try to sell you stuff or give you random facts provided by who knows who,” she said.

Also, if University of Nebraska-Lincoln students search on Google Scholar while using the campus Wi-Fi network, they can often view full articles found in the search results that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to access because the library pays for a wide variety of journal subscriptions.

With finals week quickly approaching, Boudreau also said students should use the sources available under the library’s website if they prefer using the Internet to reading books.

Scholarly search engines like JSTOR, LexisNexis and Westlaw Research provide students a vast amount of peer-reviewed articles helpful for researching even the most obscure subjects.

Boudreau recommends students come to the library with questions because specialists in nearly all areas of research are available whenever the library is open. 

While Google is often the most obvious choice for students to take while frantically pulling together a 20-page research paper at the last minute, there are other, more respectable options out there to use as well; even if it means running to Love Library to get help on a more focused approach, Boudreau said.

“Never wait two hours to find the research you’re looking for,” she said. “If it takes more than 20 minutes, hunt us down.”

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