While there still remains some stigma attached to the Internet
as an academic tool, bias against the Web
is slowly diminishing, especially as students are showing instructors
how powerful a tool the Internet can be. This web resource is tailored to help you develop your research skills, while cautioning you against some of the pitfalls of Internet searching.
College-level research often involves finding information on a specific topic, and arranging that information in a meaningful way. You may be doing research for a fact paper, or for an opinion piece. For the Internet, your goal is the same as for university databases, or for print books: the key to effective research is not just gathering a lot of information. One must also evaluate the information and make sense of it.
|Did you know?
Google can be used as a calculator or a dictionary. In the search box on the main page, type in a mathematical operation or the phrase “define [your word].” For example, typing in 4933*3 gives me a result of 14799 . Typing in define paraphrase provides me a list of web site that (hopefully) offer a definition of “paraphrase.” Google has a wide variety of helpful features.
Fact papers generally ask you to gather information on a specific subject. For example, you might be asked to write a fact paper on Woodstock '99.
Note that fact papers are not always called fact papers, but if you are gathering information and reporting on a thing, person, place, or an event, you are writing a fact paper. You still need to be careful in choosing what details to report and in organizing details effectively, but fact papers do not ask for your opinion. In a fact paper you might offer an account of what happened at Woodstock '99, but you would not be required to offer any personal opinion on the subject.
Opinion papers ask for your opinion on some subject. Do not think, though, that research is unnecessary for opinion papers. It is often effective (and required) to support your opinions with certain kinds of researched evidence. For example, it might be your opinion that equipping classrooms with computers is a good idea. Supporting this opinion with facts on the performance of schools with and without computer-equipped classrooms can only help to strengthen the presentation of your opinion. Or perhaps if you take a stance against public health care, for example, you might want to research who is for and against the same issue, thereby strengthening your argument with the authority of a prominent figure who has taken the same position.
You will often face the challenge of having to combine fact and opinion, sometimes in subtle ways. Therefore it is good practice to make research a part of every written assignment.
When facts are in dispute
Two legitimate sources may sometimes offer opposite versions of the facts. How do you choose which side is correct? Puzzling out what facts to trust can be difficult, but a strong research paper will take the opportunity to discuss the varying viewpoints, and can show off your skills as a researcher, as you use various sources and detect possible biases within each source.
Sometimes "facts" are contradictory because they are not measuring the same things. When you balance a checkbook, you will come up with different numbers depending on whether or not you count checks you wrote that have not yet been cashed. Make sure, before you start, that you are comparing apples to apples.
Another important, and related, consideration needs to be whether you are indeed dealing with facts or opinions. Bias
, covered in Part 2
, involves the manipulation of facts – assumptions, selective quoting, interpretation – to support an opinion, and can often involve turning a fact into an opinion. This case study is a good example:
Gun-deaths per year in the United States: a fact-counterfact case study
The best course of action when you are writing a research paper is to be as transparent as possible. In other words, when you do run into the case where facts are in dispute, you should make this dispute clear to your reader. Let your reader know that even the basic statistics are reported differently. Never try to hide a dispute about facts: your academic integrity and honesty are at stake.
Checking multiple sources, mentioning discrepancies, and seeking out those sources that seem to provide facts within an unbiased framework, can help provide solid ground on which your paper can stand.
|Did you know?
That Singingfish is an excellent audio and video search engine. You can search the web for many types of media files, limited by length and category if you wish.