Notes from a 21st Century Librarian: How to do Research

As a high school student, you are required to do a great deal of research. This trend will only continue when you enter your first year of college. Each generation has been responsible for finding information, facts, and appropriate sources; however, the 21st-century has made research both easier and more difficult. Today’s students can easily ask their iPad a question and receive an answer almost instantaneously. Nearly everything can be Googled, putting important information at your fingertips. Students of yesteryear had to actually drive to a library, look up the name of a particular book and take it home for up to a week. Libraries are still a very important part of modern literacy and research, however most students use a virtual library for academic assignments (READ: “Best Libraries in South Orange County For Studying“).


Many of your teachers and tutors went to high school prior to the advent of today’s technological convenience. In a way, this puts them at a great advantage. People who learned how to do research the old fashioned way also learned which sources were valid and which were not. They grew along with the power of the Internet and can utilize it today while easily figuring out which answers are legitimate and well-documented and which sources should be entirely ignored. Although today’s students have the advantage of these wonderful technologies, it’s important to know how to do research in a 21st-century virtual library (READ: “The Student’s Guide to Study Breaks“).

1.  Look for the lock symbol on websites

Some websites have been legitimized and approved to display a neon green lock symbol. Students should strive to use sources and conduct research on these sites. Of course, there are some perfectly valid and useful sites that students can use that do not contain this symbol. It’s important to work with a teacher or tutor to learn how to find appropriate sources prior to leaving for college.

2. Look for the HTTP://

Websites that have the HTTP:// at the beginning of the website are usually valid in some respect.  Most of us don’t look for these series of characters anymore but it’s important to check if they’re there. Remember, just about anybody can put just about anything on the Internet and so it’s important to think about what you should be researching and what is simply a distraction.

3. Balance your sources

When studying current events or the news, it is important to show both sides of the story. Very few current events sources are completely unbiased. They are written by human beings after all. If you are studying a controversial topic, make sure to research and cite sources from both ends of the spectrum. Of course, you can (and should) form your own opinion but it’s crucial to demonstrate that you researched both sides before forming the opinion that you hold.

4. Show adequate support for your argument

If you are doing online research for an argumentative essay, it’s important to cite several different sources in order to demonstrate that your research is comprehensive and complete. For example, if you have cited three articles but they are all from the same source, (PBS, NBC News, etc…) you are really only citing three subsets of one larger source. Research students are graded heavily on their ability to appropriately support their argument. Without adequate support the thesis remains a stated claim.

5. Do not rely on another’s work

Remember, anybody can put anything on the Internet. Teachers, students, researchers, professors, editors, writers and scholars all post information to the Internet. It’s never a good idea to rely on somebody’s work unless they have third-party recognition. Third-party recognition means that the information has been fact checked, edited, and published by a respected source (READ: “A Letter to My High School Self“). Anything else is simply somebody’s opinion and may or may not be historically correct, well researched, or edited for content. Always do your own research and form your own opinion even if you find easy information online.  You’ll be happy later that you did.

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