Unreliable Sources for Your Research Project

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In conducting research for homework or an academic paper, you are basically conducting a search for facts: little tidbits of truth that you will assemble and arrange in an organized fashion to make an original point or claim. Your responsibility as a researcher is to understand the difference between fact and fiction, as well as the difference between fact and opinion.

When beginning your next assignment that requires sources, consider the credibility of those sources before including them in your final project.

Here are some common sources to avoid; each of these may include opinions and works of fiction disguised as facts.

Blogs

As you know, anyone can publish a blog on the Internet. The problem with using a blog as a research source is there no way to know the credentials of many bloggers or to get an understanding of the writer’s level of expertise.

People often create blogs to give themselves a forum to express their views and opinions. And many of these people consult less than reliable sources to form their beliefs. You could use a blog for a quote, but never use a blog as a serious source of facts for a research paper.

Personal Web Sites

A personal web page is much like a blog when it comes to being an unreliable research source. Web pages are created by the public, so you have to be careful when choosing them as sources. It's sometimes difficult to determine which websites are created by experts and professionals on a given topic.

If you think about it, using information from a personal web page is much like stopping a perfect stranger on the street and collecting information from him or her.

Wiki Sites

Wiki websites can be informative, but they can also be untrustworthy. Wiki sites allow groups of people to add and edit the information contained on the pages. So it's easy to see how a wiki source might contain unreliable information.

The question that often arises when it comes to homework and research is whether it’s okay to use Wikipedia as a source of information. Wikipedia is a fantastic site with a wealth of great information, and it is the possible exception to the rule. Your teacher can tell you for certain if you can use Wikipedia as a source. At a minimum, Wikipedia offers a reliable overview of a topic to give you a strong foundation to start with. It also provides a list of resources where you can continue your own research.

Movies

Teachers, librarians, and college professors will tell you that students often believe things they’ve seen in movies. Whatever you do, don’t use a movie as a research source. Movies about historical events can contain kernels of truth, but unless it's a documentary, movies are not for educational purposes.

Historical Novels

Students often believe that historical novels are trustworthy sources because they indicate that they are “based on facts.” There is a significant difference between a factual work and a work that is based on facts. A novel that is based on a single fact can still contain ninety-nine percent fiction. Therefore, it's not advisable to use a historical novel as a historical resource.