Introduction to Research Skills
The purpose of this lesson is to introduce you to research skills. This topic is far too broad to cover in one lesson, so we are going to focus on one aspect: Evaluating Information

You are all probably familiar with searching for information on the internet using search engines like Google or Bing. The internet has made locating information much easier.

Once you have found information on the internet, however, how do you know it is accurate? How can you be sure it is the most relevant information for your purposes?

Unlike print information, most information freely found on the internet is not subjected to a rigorous publishing process. Anyone can create an impressive looking website, and the process is typically quicker and less expensive than traditional book publishing. This means that there is a wealth of information on the internet, but not all of it is suitable for scholarly use.

In order to get the most out of the internet, you need to learn to evaluate websites.

Step one: Determine the author.

You probably know how to determine the author of a book. It is usually clearly printed on the front cover.

Finding the author of a website is not always so straightforward. Take a look at the websites below to see if you can figure out their authors. Record your answers on the answer sheet provided.

Step Two: Currency. When was a website last updated?

Again, you probably already know that the date of publication for a book is usually found among the first pages.

When performing research, you will often want the most up-to-date information possible, but how can you tell when a website was published or last updated? Take a look at the following websites to see if you can discover when sites were last updated. Record your answers on the sheet provided.

Highland Schools Virtual Library

Step Three: Bias. Can you trust the information you have found?

As explained above, publishing on the internet is much easier than book publishing. Of course, books can also contain inaccurate or misleading information, but biased or erroneous information is much more common on the internet.

Some commercial websites may appear to contain factual information, but can you fully trust a source if they are trying to sell a product? You should also be aware that some websites portray nationalist, racist, or sexist views.

Take a look at these two websites. Which one would you choose for reliable information? Why? Record your answer on your answer sheet.

Enerhealth Botanicals

Step Four: Detecting Hoaxes

There are plenty of websites that were created as hoaxes or parodies. Most were intended as jokes, but some hoax website look so professional that it is difficult to tell the difference between them and the real deal.

Take a look at the following university websites to see if you can tell which one is the hoax website.

University of Aberystwyth
Kalamazoo College
General Delivery University
Smith College

Step Five: Which is best?

Thanks to the internet, not being able to find enough information is rarely a problem. However, determining the best information for your purposes is a challenge that requires practice and patience.

Books in a library are usually selected by a professional librarian (like that lovely Ms. Ferguson!). The books in THS Library are specifically chosen for secondary school pupils to support the curriculum.

When searching the internet, you need to use your own judgement to select resources that are suitable for you. Take a look at the following websites. Which one would you choose to use for a school research project. Why?

Intute: Solar System
NASA: Solar System Exploration
ESA: Solar System

Step Six: Wikipedia. What's the big idea?

You have all heard of Wikipedia. You may have even been told not to use it for research projects.

Some of you may wonder why teachers have banned Wikipedia. After all, it appears to be a wonderful free resource covering just about any topic you can imagine. The problem is that wikis, like Wikipedia or even this one, can be edited by anyone with permission. There is little quality control in Wikipedia.

Wikis are wonderful tools for collaboration and Wikipedia can be used as a preliminary source when starting your research. It should not, however, be your only source of information, just as a print encyclopedia should not be your sole source.

Take a look at the Wikipedia entry for Thurso. Where in the entry can you find suggestions for further reading and more in-depth information? Record your answer on the answer sheet.

Wikipedia: Thurso

Great! If you have completed this exercise, you should be well on your way to understanding how to evaluate information.

Please return your completed answer sheets to Ms. Ferguson. Time permitting, we will have a class discussion about research strategies.