Thomas Ford Memorial Library

Here are frequently asked questions and answers to help you get started using Thomas Ford resources for online research. Still have questions? Come by the Reference Desk, call 246-0520, or e-mail us.

Where do I start online research?
How do I choose really good keywords to search?
Is it good to use many keywords to narrow a search?
Are there better search engines than Google?
How reliable is online information?
Can I trust the Wikipedia?
Do librarians recommend websites?
Can I get research help from Thomas Ford librarians?

Where do I start online research?

You may begin your online research by using a search engine, a website that may be searched to find topical websites.  Google and Yahoo are examples of search engines. While this tactic does usually find relevant information, it may not be the best way to begin.

In the Library, we often start research by getting an overview of a topic from an encyclopedia.  We often recommend World Book Encyclopedia or Encyclopedia Britannica. Online researchers may also start with encyclopedias. The Library subscribes to a suite of specialized encyclopedias in Gale Virtual Reference.

Another good starting place is full text databases that contain articles from magazines and newspapers.  Because these databases are searchable by names and keywords, they often identify and link to articles on the topics of research.  Thomas Ford subscribes to several useful databases.

How do I choose really good keywords to search?

When you use a search engine, an encyclopedia, or a full text database online, you will start by choosing keywords to search.  The success of your search always rides on your choice of words.  A good tactic is start with a very specific word or words that you expect to find in titles or text about your topic.  If the results of the search are minimal, then you should try alternate or broader terms.

Is it good to use many keywords to narrow a search?

No.  As a first tactic, we recommend fewer, more specific keywords.  Using too many keywords will sometimes eliminate useful websites from your results lists because a keyword was not found on those websites.  If your initial search yields too many irrelevant results, then add more keywords to the search.

Are there better search engines than Google?

While Google is a very powerful tool for finding websites with the information you seek, it is not the only useful search engine. There are many, including Yahoo!, Ask.com, and Bing. Information professionals debate the merits of each constantly.

How reliable is online information?

We recommend skepticism whenever you do research with print or online resources. Newspaper and magazine reporters make mistakes and sometimes even misrepresent their topics. Online authors are as human as their print colleagues. We always recommend finding multiple sources of information for scholarly work or making decisions about medical treatment, investments, and other important issues.

Online information may be particularly erroneous or misleading, for many websites are not subjected to editorial control usually demanded for print publications.

Can I trust Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is a democratically created encyclopedia that is constantly being edited by people who care about accuracy, but they cannot always catch erroneous information posted by people with slanted viewpoints. Wikipedia is useful for identifying names and facts, but these should then always be verified with other resources. This people’s encyclopedia should be only one of your sources. Students should ask their teachers whether use of Wikipedia is allowed.

Do librarians recommend websites?

Yes, we have created pages of links for you to confidently use:

Recommended Websites
Recommended Databases

Other librarians have created these online tools:

Illinois Clicks
Internet Public Library

Can I get research help from Thomas Ford librarians?

Librarians at the Reference Desk are always ready to help you with your research. They can answer your reference questions or advise you on resources to use. They can recommend search strategies and instruct you on use of databases. Come by the Reference Desk, call 246-0520, or e-mail us at info@fordlibrary.org.