Google (or Bing or Duck Duck Go - - search engines, in general) make it incredibly easy to start digging into information that's out on the web. Sometimes you don't even have to click any links to get the answers you want:
This is great when you need quick answers: defining a word, looking up cold vs flu symptoms, basic math calculations, or trying to get a restaurant menu. When you're just starting out on a research problem for a class assignment, this can also be a good way to start feeling out your topic.
A basic Google search gets you shallow, easy-to-find answers. College-level research, on the other hand, is about going deeper and thinking critically and really exploring your topic beyond picking out five articles that came up on the first page of results and stopping there.
What's Wrong With Google:
- How does Google decide what results to put at the top of the page? Why is that #1 link where it is? Think about it.
Does Google realize you're looking for an article for school and therefore it really needs to be good, and adjusts what it's showing you accordingly?
Is that #1 result really the actual, literal best result of the entire Internet?
Probably not, right? Search engines algorithms up results based on a very complex balance of relevance, currency, popularity, site structure, details about your location, browser, and computer system, and even what kind of pages you've looked at in the past. Generally, this works out pretty well and you don't have to dig deeper. Unless, of course, you have a more complex problem to solve, or you're looking for something from a certain time period, or otherwise falling outside Google's assumptions about you.
- Despite the millions of pages Google says it can bring back for you, it does not have the entire Internet indexed. See the screenshot above defining the "deep web," or the part of the web that is not discoverable through the usual search engines. A lot of this content is behind paywalls or passwords, including the really good scholarly articles your professors will expect you to find. In the meantime, it does have indexed a lot of useless blogs, wikis, satirical sites masquerading as legitimate, and more and more and more.
- "Scholarly sources" are hard to get into through the Web. They're enmeshed in a web of publishing restrictions and standard practices. They're expensive. Google may be able to find them for you, but that doesn't mean you'll actually be able to access them, and if you can't read an article, you shouldn't be listing it as a source. (By the way, there are practically 0 websites that count as scholarly. Scholarly and authoritative are very related but not synonymous concepts!) Google Scholar helps a little, but not enough.
Where To Look Instead:
The Lone Star College libraries maintain a collection of research databases for you to use! These databases collect authoritative, credible sources, including articles from expensive scholarly journals, and make them searchable to you. Searching can be a little more complicated than using a regular searching engine, but a librarian can help show you what to do. The upside is that you can put together much more specific searches, which means you have fewer results to wade through, and the ones you get are more likely to be relevant.
If your assignment says to use scholarly sources, the databases should be your first stop!