What's your most common go-to for information?
What is the basis of Google's search ranking? (Hint: all but two are part of the algorithm, but only one is the basis. The answer is revealed in another tab in this guide.)
*Asher, A. D., Duke, L. M., & Wilson, S. (2013). Paths of discovery: Comparing the search effectiveness of EBSCO discovery service, summon, google scholar, and conventional library resources. College & Research Libraries, 74(5), 464-488.
Just imagine: if a medical researcher, civil engineer, or journalist were to base their decisions on poor sources, they might inadvertently harm people.
As a student, you probably aren't in a position to harm other people by using poor information, but it's good to get in the habit of looking for the best possible information sources, not just the most convenient ones. Luckily for you, scholars already do some of the filtering for quality with peer review: experts in the field ("peers" of the writer-scholar) review articles for publication, discarding substandard work, and editing even the best work. When your professor tells you to use sources from peer-reviewed, academic, scholarly, or refereed journals, he or she is really saying two things:
1. Use only the best possible sources.
2. Make the search for best sources easy: sources in peer-reviewed journals are already vetted for you, which means you don't have to do all the work of evaluating for quality.
A researcher has an ethical responsibility to evaluate the quality of his or her sources. Just grabbing the first five relevant sources in a Google Scholar search might speed up the process, but it might also begin to erode the quality of the whole "web of knowledge" on which scholarship is based.
For years, generations of scholars have painstakingly built up a web of information linked by citation, making every effort to cite only the most valuable, authoritative, and sound research, so that the next generation of scholars can depend on strong citational evidence.
Consider the possibility that with research tools like Google Scholar, researchers are not always looking for the best sources, but often only for convenient ones. Google certainly speeds up the process, but is it creating an entire generation of fundamentally flawed research?