There is nothing wrong with using a search engine to find information. Ask Google (or any search engine) to give you the current time in Hawaii and you'll instantly find the one correct answer. However, ask "what caused the Gulf War" or "what causes political polarization in the U.S." and you'll instantly get millions of results and just as many differing explanations.
How do you know if any of them are right? Firstly it is important to know how to evaluate resources that you find on the Internet for quality--so be sure you are familiar with how to evaluate web resources. You should also know about a much better option than web searching: the full-text database search.
|Internet Search||Database Search|
|Finds only free information, or information for which you must pay||
Searches thousands of high quality resources for which you would
|Information is not always verified. Anyone can put information
online and make it look professionally published even if they
are making it up entirely.
|Articles in scholarly journals and other database resources are
almost always verified and factually accurate. Journal articles found
online are exactly the same as those in the printed version of the journal
and can be considered a print resource.
|You cannot be sure why certain search results come first nor
know whether the most relevant results are even visible on the
first few screens
Databases offer highly focused search tools such as subject headings
If your Internet search turned up some seemingly high quality resources you may wonder why your instructor is insisting you find a print or database journal article. The main reason is verified accuracy. Even seemingly valid online information might be incomplete or misstated in some way. Verifying everything you read online is a lot of extra work, and this is precisely the work a database does for you. Full text databases offer resources that are nearly always carefully checked for accuracy. (If you'd like to read an example of a seemingly trustworthy internet quotation being wrong you can go here and here.)
What about Wikipedia? This 'online encyclopedia" makes it easy to find information that looks reliable. Wikipedia entries can be an excellent introduction to a topic for your own personal interest but college research requires more rigor. Wikipedia's early reputation for allowing absolutely anyone to change any entry at any time is less deserved today. Most Wikipedia entries should allow you to verify their sources, but that requires both expertise and a lot of work. Most Wikipedia entries are also anonymous which leaves no way to know whether the author is an expert in the field they are writing about. Be extremely cautious about using Wikipedia in academic research, and be especially concerned when you see a warning that Wikipedia has flagged that entry because it is potentially incorrect or incomplete.
Because your instructor is interested in helping you learn the best ways to research and support your writing they may ask you not to use Wikipedia at all. Even if you look at it for background information, a scholarly journal article from Academic Search Complete (or other databases) is the gold standard for your assignments.
Any time you are not sure about the correct resources to use for your assignment you should contact one of the librarians here in the Clark State Library. Our contact information is listed below and we are very happy to help.