I, for one, can’t imagine life without it. I use Google several times a day to verify citations, unearth nuggets of information, read reviews and pursue my hobbies. I have colleagues who are such power users of Google that watching them will leave some of us quivering in our shoes. Okay, I exaggerate but you get the idea!
But why do some professors tell you not to rely on Google or Wikipedia? As a first step in your research process, Google—or any other search engine—is fine for filling those little gaps of knowledge. But it is risky to rely on information that you find on the Internet without evaluating it. So what do you need to check? Among other things, you should evaluate a website for its currency, accuracy, objectivity, and authority. Well, google (I love using this as a verb) evaluate websites site:edu and you will find all that you need to know.
There’s another wrinkle in the otherwise perfect picture. Many of us may not be aware that Google and other standard search engines only trawl the surface of the web, but do not retrieve information from what is known as the “deep web”. The deep web contains information from databases and other Internet sources that are either dynamically created or too deep down to be accessed by the standard search engines. Thus, if you rely entirely on search engines, you are missing a lot of good stuff.
In addition, in-depth research for most disciplines entails using different types of sources. Each type of source has its inherent advantages and disadvantages. For example, books may contain information that are not as up-to-date as those from journal articles, due to the lengthier publishing process. Thus, if you cite only from books and websites, there is a high chance that your research is incomplete. Consider using databases to look for relevant journal articles and conference proceedings, and your professor may give you a few brownie points. If the thought of using databases makes you swoon, try Google Scholar for a start, together with the proxy bookmarklet.
But if you’re adventurous and prefer to use a database that NUS Libraries subscribes to, but don’t know how to start, do ask a librarian. Can’t tell a librarian from a regular two-legged being? Just ask for one at the information desk of any of the NUS Libraries. You can also email or tweet us. If you’re too far away from the ivory tower and find it cumbersome to describe your research woes, check out our subject guides to get a headstart before the stampede begins in August.