Bad Sources for Your Research Project

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In conducting homework research, 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 first responsibility as a researcher is to understand the difference between fact and fiction—and also the difference between fact and opinion.

Here are some common places to find opinions and works of fiction that can be disguised as facts.

1. Blogs

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

Many people create blogs to give themselves a forum to express their views and opinions. And many of these people consult really shaky 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!

2. Personal Web Sites

A 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 very 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 just like stopping a perfect stranger on the street and collecting information from him or her. Not very reliable!

3. Wiki Sites

Wiki websites can be very informative, but they can also be untrustworthy. Wiki sites allow groups of people to add and edit the information contained on the pages. You can imagine how a wiki source could contain unreliable information!

The question that always arises when it comes to homework and research is whether it’s OK to use Wikipedia as a source of information. Wikipedia is a fantastic site with a lot of great information, and this site is a possible exception to the rule. Your teacher can tell you for certain if you can use this source. One thing is for certain: At a very 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.

4. Movies

Don’t laugh. Teachers, librarians, and college professors will all 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 they are created for entertainment, not for educational purposes.

5. Historical Novels

Students also believe that historical novels are trustworthy because they state that they are “based on facts.” There is a 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! Never use a historical novel as a historical resource.