Locating Sources
with Search Engines

Web search engines, such as Ask, Bing and Dogpile are the go-to tool most of us use to find information everyday. Google, the most popular, has even entered the dictionary, a fact that shows how commonplace searching the web with these tools is.

Differently from other search systems, indexing in search engines is done entirely by computers. This means that entries do not undergo any sort of human scrutiny to verify that a page actually has the information it appears to contain. Search engines try to work around this by ranking pages based on various factors (e.g., who links to a page).

Typically, the results of a search number in the millions, but savvy users know how to optimize their searches using advanced features. When used this way, Web search engines are good tools to find content from government agencies, educational institutions and non-profit organizations.

In Google, for example, you can search for a phrase by enclosing it in parenthesis. As well, you can narrow you search by entering site:edu to retrieve pages from colleges and universities only, site:gov for government sites, or site:org for nonprofits.

Obviously, just because something is hosted in a government, university or nonprofit site, it does not mean there is no need to evaluate its veracity and quality. As well, there are many .com sites that may be good sources (e.g., newspapers).

One site that comes up in many searches is Wikipedia. While widely used for casual research, many professors do not consider Wikipedia an acceptable source in academic projects. That does not mean it can't be helpful otherwise. Here are some pointers as to how to make the most out of it in college.


The reason Wikipedia is deemed unacceptable as a source in many college assignments is because many Wikipedia pages can be edited by anyone and it is difficult to determine who the contributors are. However, there are quite legitimate ways to use it for college work.

One such way is mining the references at the bottom of a Wikipedia article. That means looking through the references in search for sources that would be acceptable in your assignment. So while the Wikipedia contributor may not be an acceptable source, it may be that he (and most Wikipedia contributors are men) did quite a bit of your source finding.

The other perfectly legit way to use Wikipedia in college is as a source to become familiar with a topic. That means using it to understand what a topic is, how it relates to other topics, how it fits into broader topics, what its subtopics are, etc. So while you may not be allowed to quote it, no one said you can't get the topic's background from Wikipedia.


Google the topic assigned by your professor in class and select a quality relevant webpage from your search results. Then complete and hand in to your professor this report providing information about your search.

An easy way to create a citation for your selected web source is to use a citation generator such as BibMe or EasyBib. Follow these steps on BibMe:

  • Click on the website tab
  • Enter the URL (i.e., web address) of your web source on the load info box
  • Check the accuracy of the information that BibMe captured
  • Enter any information BibMe did not capture
  • Press the "Add to My Bibliography" button
  • Copy the citation from the right panel