Learn about websites, social media and blogs, videos, government documents, and statistics and how best to use them for research.
Why use information from these places?
Sometimes books and research articles do not provide the information about your topic you may be looking for. Other credible sources of information might serve your needs and purpose better.
How to use websites
Websites can be useful for very recent topics or topics that are changing quickly with new developments. They can also help you find a topic or give you ideas for developing your focus, as they tend to provide basic information, introductions, and overviews about topics. They are often easier to find, understand, and use than other information sources. But their credibility varies widely and they are not always appropriate for academic research and your assignments.
The author, currency, bias, purpose, and accuracy of website information and content can be difficult to determine. Websites ending in .edu (from educational institutions), .org (from organizations), and .gov (from government agencies) tend to be the most reliable, but not always.
Instructors often won't allow students to use websites as a research source. If you are allowed to use websites, you will need to evaluate them critically more than any other type of source before deciding to use them. This can be a burden as it may require additional searching beyond the website itself. See the Choose Sources portion of this tutorial for more information about evaluating sources.
How to use videos
Educational films and documentaries can be a powerful learning tool. They often provide overviews or critical commentary and analysis about a topic in an easy to understand way. They might include primary sources like photographs and news footage, interviews with experts, or personal stories that illustrate the significance and impact of your topic. They're also useful for inspiration when trying to find a topic.
If you're not sure if a video is appropriate to include as one of your sources, see Evaluating Sources on the Choose Sources section of this tutorial for help deciding.
The library's collection contains many educational videos for your use. Search SpartaCat, the library's catalog, to find DVDs and online streaming videos in our collection by choosing Video as the collection you are searching.
Once you are on the results page, you can limit your search results by Item Type and include either the DVD or Online Video limiter.
Our online videos can be searched directly in the Films on Demand collection as well:
Other suggested sources for videos
How to use social media and blogs
Social media and blogs can provide commentary, public insight, and opinions about a topic. Posts can reveal personal stories that can be used as specific examples of how a topic affects someone's life. They might also be used for minute by minute updates of an event as it is happening. Because they are not edited or reviewed and generally represent one person's experience or opinions, they can be prone to factual errors and bias. While social media and blog posts are not generally acceptable as sources for academic research, sometimes they may be used if your topic calls for this type of information.
How to use government documents
Government documents are publications issued by local, state, and federal government agencies. They're best used for topics related to public policy, laws, or regulations. They can also provide historical information. Reports from the research activities of government agencies can be useful for social issues or controversial topics.
Finding government documents
The library's databases may include some government documents, but many more government documents are available on the internet. Searching Google using site: .gov or site: pa.gov prior to your search keywords will only show results from those government websites. Adding the words document, publication, report, regulation, legislation, law, or policy to your search may help find these sources within those websites.
Suggested sources for government documents
How to use statistics
A statistic is a fact or piece of data from a study. It's often an answer to the questions "how much” or “how many.”
Statistics can be used in research to support a claim or position you are making. Statistics represent a specific time period in which data was collected and also might be limited to a specific geographic region or population. It is easy to ignore or overlook these contexts, which can lead to researchers misinterpreting and misusing statistics. While this misuse might make your position stronger, it hurts your credibility.
Finding statistics can be challenging. There is no single place to find statistics. Statistics might appear in research articles, but they could also be published independently by data collecting organizations.
The websites of government agencies, academic institutions, professional associations, regulatory agencies, and other organizations related to your topic are great places to look for statistics, as they often publish statistics on their websites.
Keep in mind if you are looking for up to the minute statistics, that it takes time to collect, compile, and present data. The most current statistics you find might actually be months or years old.
If you can't find a certain statistic you expected to, it could be that it does not exist. The data might not have been collected and analyzed yet.
Suggested sources for statistics
Here are some of the most used sources of statistics for research at NCC: