So this weekend I was talking with a friend about a potential project/collaboration and realized right away that I’d need to do some research on a specific topic. But one thing we all fall prey to is the ease of googling (or duckduckgo.com plug plug plug) a topic, or just scouring Wikipedia to rehash an article. My intent is not the “bash” Wikipedia, just to give you some ways to think outside the box and maybe find a better tool for your specific needs. Wikipedia is a great place to gather ideas and outline your thesis, article, or project.
Many teachers in the new era of college have made it plain that they do NOT give Wikipedia credit as a source, and they look at plagiarism very seriously, including those nifty software tools they “claim” to have. I wonder how many teachers bluff and use this like the Doomsday Device in Doctor Strangelove.
Anyway, how do you research or look for “better” sources? Some ideas:
Many subjects that are entertainment or media related often end up with their own wiki. Wikia is a great portal into subjects from Public Domain Superheroes (one of my frequently visited sites) to KISS. Yep, Kiss. Lower level projects can often be solved by using this method. In a comparison example, the Wikia page for Eric Singer of Kiss is the same in both Wikia and Wikipedia, but Atoman is a little more fleshed out on Public Domain Super Heroes. Not much, but PDSH tells me at least how many issues he’s appeared in, plus the publishing company. Sites like Wookiepedia.com are supplemented with more art, deeper articles, and more sources for the ravenous Star Wars fan. Proof?
Hit the Source Page
If you’re looking up information on Satchel Paige, think about whether you are targeting information that might be best referenced from the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the official Satchel Paige website, or MLB.com. Maybe even the Baseball Hall of Fame. What is your topic, what is your thesis, what is your need? Many Wikipedia articles will cite references that may allow you to go deeper and right to where the information was summarized originally.
Simple, effective, and wonderful. New Jersey has a great site, for example, in the NJDARM. I can find an all in one list of the Governors of New Jersey here, and the pre 1947 list including colonials here. If I am researching Governors of New Jersey from 1700-1800, Wikipedia has this broken up on 2 separate pages. Advantage: Public Records. You can also pay for research, which may be cost prohibitive, but you get a cleaner, well documented resource. NJ has some examples here.
The Horse’s Mouth… or the Next Closest Horse
Yes I know we like to cut and paste and read at leisure, but the beauty of the internet that we overlook is the ability to find someone and get in touch with them directly. Email has created a wonderful forum for this. Seems too simple, right? Let’s say you are interested in the high school records and scouting reports on Steve Howe. I’m willing to bet the Clarkston High School Athletic Director has a better shot at getting you that deep research on their famous alumni than a wiki page. You might get a “thanks but no thanks” but with proper people skills and a well crafted letter, you might get another name and email for a former teammate or assistant coach. You might get a tip on something more special, like a regional resource. Although Steve Howe wasn’t from South Jersey, you might find a great interview with a member of the Hot Stovers aka the South Jersey Baseball Hall of Fame who played with him or against him at some level in his career.
Jackalope Wrap Up and Regret
So I hope this long winded blog entry gave you some ideas. Remember, sometimes finding “an answer” isn’t the end of a good report, article, or paper. Sometimes you need to prove an answer yourself, find the real source, or attack it another way. If you have a child (or are a student yourself), using these alternate research ideas can make a paper stand out and leave less questions about authenticity of your work.
Back in college, in the dawn of the internet, I was accused of plagiarism once. I had NOT plagiarized, but I had left the window of doubt open by taking common top level research as my sources. I was deeply hurt, offended, and scared by the personal, educational, and professional ramifications. I talked to my professor and offered a solution that involved a more direct source contact, and a plea bargain to have my paper graded lower than the normal “worthy” mark for the material. It paid off, and my final paper was actually much better than the original as a result. If I knew then what I know now, I would have put in the extra effort from the beginning, and made a paper that stood out for the RIGHT reasons, not the wrong ones.