Tuesday, July 30, 2013


The importance of research in writing

When studying research in essay writing, a lot of time is spent on how to paraphrase, summarize, quote, and cite. These are all essential skills, but pretty useless if not accompanied by proper research.

Laugh all you want, but the truth is many of our students tend to take everything they find on the Internet as a "fact," even though on some level they know better.

Here's one of my favorite examples to use in class. There is a quote going around the Internet that Stephen King said, "Harry Potter is about confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing what is right in the face of adversity. Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend." Now, it is true that Stephen King is not a fan of Twilight; however, he never said this quote. This is not what the Internet would let you believe though! Check out some of these graphics circulating the Internet:

Some of the graphics seen giving King credit for the quote.

At the end of a class where we are talking about different ways of integrating quotations I like to bring up this quote in class. We talk about whether or not it is a good quote and if they would use it. Then I show my students a quick google of the quote:

The first 3 responses suggest that this isn't his quote!

What's the lesson? The Internet is a chaotic, chaotic place. Roger Ebert once said, "Doing research on the Web is like using a library assembled piecemeal by pack rats and vandalized nightly."

I'd say that this is pretty accurate. The Internet is a fantastic tool and one which can give you and your students  a seemingly endless supply of information, but they need to put the effort into making sure that it is reliable information. We have to make sure that they are aware of this as well.

Well...what does make a good source?

Seriously, ask your students what do they think makes a good source.

I often get incorrect answers such as: It has a lot of quotes. or It is long.

So, what do you do you think makes a source great? I suggest you come up with a list as a class that makes sense for your level. For my class we usually come up with a list of:
  • The information is verifiable
  • They refer to their own sources
  • There is an author / company putting its reputation behind what is said.
  • The author / company is known for good information and not a satire or rumor based publication.
  • Normally no blogs (exceptions for official blogs or blogs which show their sources: e.g. The White House Blog)
  • No Wikipedia. Now, they will argue on this one. It is true that Wikipedia is becoming better every year, but even Wikipedia states it should not be used as a credible source. You can teach them to use Wikipedia as a jumping point for finding sources.
What search engines to use? There are many for specific subjects (e.g. JSTOR) but some charge. For freebies that cover most topics try:
  1. SweetSearch - This search engine does NOT check all of the Internet. It only checks the about 35,000 sites that have been evaluated and approved by research experts, librarians and teachers. 
  2. Google News- Most students know about Google, but they don't check the news which gives them blogs, fan pages etc.
Do you have a different reliable search engine or a method for reinforcing how important research is? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!


  1. Replies
    1. Eeeks! Well that's new. Thank you so much for letting me know; I updated it to a more public version.


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