There was a time college professors and instructors viewed student research using the internet as anathema. Many still despise Wikipedia. Internet information was deemed unreliable and the World Wide Web was untamed. Like Alice disappearing through the rabbit hole, the screen unlocked a bizarre world of information far from accepted scholarship. Over the years, however, that has changed.
When Research Topics Lead Students to Bad On-Line Information
The use of questionable internet sources usually begins with an equally questionable topic. That’s when students write about the Illuminati, UFOs in Ancient Egypt, and a host of conspiracy theories. An essay on Vlad the Impaler becomes a discourse on vampires, losing all historical contexts. It’s as bad as using movies like Gladiator as a source on the lives of Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus.
Knowing the Difference Between Good Topics and Bad Topics
There is nothing wrong with asking a professor or instructor to comment on a paper or essay thesis. In fact, many of them look forward for opportunities to pontificate. Free advice is always a good thing. Additionally, there are many internet websites and articles that give topic suggestions.
What makes an instructor cringe? It happens when students say things like, “I’m doing my paper on Renaissance Art,” or “I plan to write about Marie Antoinette.” A seven-page paper might cover her upbringing; a 15-page paper might even cover her marital relationship. Never tackle biography. Rather, identify some very specific aspect in a broad topic.
Using the Internet to Research
Professors tend to be internet adaptable, especially the younger ones. Many have come to realize that regardless what they say about internet usage, most students will still go to Google first. Secondly, the internet is constantly adding new, reliable sources such as sites with primary source documents. Many of these are compiled on university websites.
The internet is also attracting writers that know their subject areas, more so than in years past. Finally, almost every college or university subscribes to databases that include academic journals, e-magazines, and old newspapers. As more books are digitized, another research source becomes widely available and many of these books are out of print. Government sources have also increased.
Picking the Right Sources to Use in a Paper or Essay
Also one of great internet sources that students can use when they write an essay is homework help sites. Here they can ask for help or just order a finished job. This is very useful for those students who have a problem with writing and do not know how to correctly formulate their thoughts. Therefore, they can do everything by the example.
The most important thing for students to learn when using the internet is to pick the right sources. Websites can come from anywhere. Middle school kids are putting up project websites and to satisfy the fast-information impulses; there are a lot of “answer” type sites that rely on other users to provide answers to questions.
Good internet articles are well-researched articles. A good article usually contains sources or footnotes. When in doubt, ask the professor if you can email the URL to him or her. Papers usually represent a sizable percentage of the semester grade, so it’s important to get it right. It is even more important if the paper is an extra credit assignment: those tend to be scrutinized with greater efficiency.
As the internet continues to change, more opportunities for reputable research – at least on the college survey level, will exist. Unless you have a professor adamantly opposed to the internet (and some of those are still out there and will actually tell you that they were teaching in the same classroom the day President Kennedy was shot), use the resources but do so carefully.
If you need help in selecting a topic in Western Civilization I survey, you might enjoy How to Select an Ancient History Topic.