YouTube – Is it really all that useful of a research tool?


YouTube is a very well known and popular website boasting a whopping over 1 billion unique visitors a month.  It provides an excellent form of entertainment providing everything from viral videos of the Harlem Shake to full documentaries.  When it comes to YouTube you can find how-to videos on all sorts of different topics.  Over the past few years it has increasingly became a resource that will allow someone to byoutubeecome a do it yourself champion.  You can access YouTube and get lessons on a diverse amount of subjects.  Learn to cook an amazing meat loaf ( Something I have personally done) or fix that leaky faucet if you need to know how to do something YouTube is a wonderful place to turn.  With all of that being said the real question is,  does YouTube equate to  a useful academic research tool?  At first thought you may think this is a simple yes, but there are some things that one must be weary of when using YouTube to conduct research.

The first issue that comes to mind is the fact that YouTube is HUGE!  The vast amount of videos stored on their servers for one to access can make it difficult to find what your looking for.  For instance lets imagine that you are looking for a famous historic interview for a project of a famous politician.  There is a chance that when you first search you may run across a slew of parodies, fake videos, or clips from Family Guy.  I attribute this to the same as attempting to find information through a Google search.  There are going to be those times when you punch in your search term and amazingly the first return is familyguyexactly what you are searching for, and then there will be other times when you have to refine your search exhaustively to reach your goal.

Now here you sit, having completed your YouTube search on your topic, and in front of you sits a page full of what you think is useful information.  Off you go clicking away video after video to see if what you have found actually is something you can use.  When you plan to  use YouTube videos for your academic research you alone must sift through and watch each video to make sure that it will be a legitimate source.  The fact that there is so much user created content on YouTube one must be very careful when citing material.  Where is the information from this YouTube video actually coming from?  Was the precious video you found with a ton of useful information created from a fellow academic, or was it created by someone who watched a documentary on the History Channel and formed a strong opinion?  It is up to you as an academic to make sure you check the sources of the video as well as watch the whole video to make sure it is what it seems.

Now that I have expressed some of the concerns that go along with using a resource such as YouTube I would like to say that I think it is an amazingly powerful tool.  The ability to access the shear amount of content that exists at the quick click of a mouse is superb.  If you learn how to use proper search terms you can easily weed out much of the garbage that you may run into.  For those you are interested in local history you may find videos of locations pertaining to your research without even stepping out of you home.  While the vast majority of people think of YouTube as a source of entertainment those who take the time and invest in learning to use it as a research tool will not be disappointed.

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About dfreeman82

Graduate student of History at William Patterson University.
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3 Responses to YouTube – Is it really all that useful of a research tool?

  1. Pingback: Freeman - Digital History

  2. I have my students working on a research project and I allowed them to use YouTube– they came back with all sorts of inaccurate information. It was a bummer. I really like that you created a poll for this post!

  3. mfreimuth915 says:

    I personally would avoid youtube for research purposes. It might be useful for finding a recent episode of a show I missed, but in the end I prefer to use the site more for an entertainment outlet.

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