by Adele Enright, Rio
THIS SECTION COVERS:
Nature of Internet Research
Basics of Internet Research
How to Develop an Internet Research Assignment
Internet Research Assignments
THE NATURE OF INTERNET RESEARCH
Internet research has changed
the ways to search for information. Much more information is available
in a wide variety of formats from an Internet-capable desktop computer.
There is information and material available that includes but is not limited
- College information
- Periodical articles
- Government publications
- Original content from individuals
- Library catalogs
- Subject guides
- Online courses
Internet has been described as a vast library. Yes, the Internet is vast,
but it is only a library in the loosest sense of the word: a collection
of items. The Internet differs from a library in that librarians
work to make library collections organized and easily accessible.
Librarians evaluate and acquire authoritative materials that are appropriate
for library users.
Internet is made up of billions of Web pages that have been created by
many people. Web page authors range from authoritative experts,
such as university researchers, to anyone with an opinion and time to
create a Web page. The Internet does not have a central catalog
or index to its material. Access is gained from a variety of tools
that sometimes overlap in their coverage, but do not provide access to
the entire Internet. Information located on the Internet must be
evaluated by the user. There is no quality control function on the
Internet. Click here to read the article "10 Reasons Why the Internet Is No Substitute for a Library"
. With that said, the Internet is good source of information
for the thoughtful and selective researcher.
THE BASICS OF INTERNET RESEARCH
After a topic has been selected,
Internet research requires: Search
strategy development, Search
tool selection, and How to
evaluate sources found on the Internet
research requires the researcher to maintain a spirit of adventure and
willingness to revise and conduct a search several times with several
different search tools until the desired results are obtained.
Determine Types of Information Needed
A search strategy provides an effective and systematic approach to searching
that yields relevant results. To begin development of a search
strategy, determine the types of information you want from the search.
For example you may want to retrieve websites, magazine articles, newspaper
articles, peer-reviewed journal articles, books, etc. Once you
decide what types of information you want, you can choose your search
should be noted that sometimes information is available but is difficult
to locate and can be found more quickly in a Reference book in the library.
Make sure your college librarian is a part of your research team.
Keep in mind that many, but not all reference books, are available on
the Internet. See "Reference Resources" at the Internet Public Library or the "Reference Desk"
at the Library Spot for examples
of reference books available on the Internet. If you cannot locate
information on the Internet, a call, visit, or e-mail to your college
librarian is in order.
Concepts/Keywords and Their Related Terms
In order to get relevant results from an Internet search you must identify
the concepts and keywords and the related terms of your topic.
First, jot down your concepts/keywords. Then develop several
related terms for your concepts/keywords. To develop related terms
use dictionaries, general or subject encyclopedias, thesauri, etc.
Many community colleges have a subscription to an online encyclopedia.
So be sure to check your college library's Web page for an encyclopedia
or use the
Internet Public Library or
Library Spot for access to a online dictionary, encyclopedias, etc.
Keeping track of the terms used will save time searching. See
the sample below for the search strategy for the following topic:
to prevent plagiarism by two-year college students"
Most search engines offer search features such as truncation, proximity
operators, and Boolean operators. Review the Help, FAQ, Search
Tips, etc. pages of the search engine you have selected for an explanation
of the features offered. For an example, see the Google
search engine's Help
The following are
some tips to make your Internet research more effective:
- Make your search strategy
- Consider using phrases
and enclose them in quotes. For example "community college
- Remember that Internet
research is interactive. Review your results to modify your
search strategy. You may need to:
- Expand your search
- Narrow your search
- Use different terms
for concepts/keywords or related terms
- Identify or select
additional search tools, sources, etc.
- Use Boolean search operators
(OR, AND, AND NOT) for complex topics.
tools include: Web
Directories | Search Engines
| Meta-Search Tools | Subscription
databases | Virtual Libraries
There are two basic ways
to locate information on the Internet:
- Subject browsing
- Keyword searching
Use subject browsing for
general searches. Subject browsing is available in Web directories
and Virtual Libraries. For more specific or complex searches use
keyword searching. Keyword searching, for specific and complex
searches, is more efficient in search engines and subscription
databases (such as Ebscohost, ProQuest, etc.) that allow keyword searching.
For general searches and topic development, a Web Directory is
a good starting place. A Web Directory is an Internet search
tool that allows the researcher to click on general topics and to
proceed to more specific topics within the directory. Yahoo!
is an example of a Web directory. Web directories, or subject
catalogs, are lists of selected Web pages that are arranged hierarchically.
That is, the subject categories are arranged from the broad to the
specific. Web directories are compiled by people who evaluate
and select Web pages for inclusion in a Web directory. Directories
do not cover the entire Internet nor do they try.
Many Internet search tools
provide a Web directory and a search engine on the same Web page.
The Web directory part of the search tool is usually a subset of the
entire search tool's database. The Web sites listed in the Web
Directory are often evaluated, annotated, and rated or ranked. Some
Web directories offer keyword searching within the Web directory.
Listed below are some examples of Web directories:
engines are Internet search tools that contain databases of Internet
resources such as public Web pages, image files, sound files, video
files, etc. Search engines gather resources for their databases
through the use of computer programs known as "spiders"
and "robots". Search engines provide the researcher
with keyword searching of their databases. Major search engines
attempt to index the entire Internet. However, this is
nearly impossible. At this time, no one search engine indexes
the entire Internet. Search engines provide the researcher with
access to large amounts of information and provide the most comprehensive
results. When using a search engine it is best to develop very
specific search statements (queries) by using specific phrases or
concepts. Use more than one search engine, since some Web resources
may not be found in all search engines. Listed below are some
of the major search engines:
Each search engine tool
provides online Help, FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions), or Searching
instructions. See HotBot's
Help or Google's Help Central
for examples of searching instructions offered by search engines.
A researcher can find searching tips as well as explanations and examples
of the search terms, search techniques and concepts that include Boolean
operator searching, phrase searching, relevance ranking, etc.
Meta, or comprehensive search tools, enable the researcher to use
several search engines simultaneously or list search tools that can
be accessed from the meta-search tool's Web site. The two types
of meta-search tools are called parallel (simultaneous search) and
the all-in-one search tool (a list of search tools on one Web site).
The meta-search tool collects and displays the most relevant sites
found by each search engine for a single search statement (query)
submitted. Some popular meta-search tools are:
Subscription databases, also called online databases or electronic
databases, are provided by most California community college libraries
for their campus communities. You can expect your community
college library to provide access to at least one or two subscription
databases. Many community college libraries offer a wide range
of subscription databases. The most popular type of subscription
database is a full-text periodical database such as ProQuest,
Ebscohost, or Lexis Academic Universe. A full-text
periodical database will provide access to complete articles from
many magazine, scholarly journal, and newspaper titles. In addition
to full-text periodical databases, many community college libraries
offer other subscription databases such as an online encyclopedia.
Most subscription databases contain Help,
Searching, Search Tips, etc., sections. Read these sections before
you begin using a particular subscription database. Also note that
many community college librarians offer workshops that teach the use
of subscription databases for students, faculty, and staff.
It is important to take advantage of this service by contacting your
community college librarian for information about using subscription
databases provided by your community college library.
Virtual libraries are a type of subject directory of Internet resources.
Virtual libraries are compiled, organized, and annotated by librarians
and other information specialists to provide a logical means of access
to Internet resources. Virtual library resources are evaluated for
their authority, appropriateness, currency, etc. The Internet
Public Library, Infomine,
and The Librarians Index
to the Internet are good examples of virtual libraries. These
virtual libraries and others are developed and maintained by librarians
who have a commitment to locating and providing the researcher with
the best resources the Internet has to offer. Some virtual libraries
provide the researcher with Internet resources that are rated. The
ratings are determined by librarians and other information specialists.
There are three main types of virtual libraries: subject guides, reference
works, and specialized databases. Listed below is an example of each
type of virtual library:
Virtual libraries rely
on librarians and other information specialists who select Internet
resources bases on their excellence and value to their virtual library
users. This is similar to what traditional brick and mortar librarians
have done for many generations. Therefore virtual libraries are the
best place to locate subject guides since these subject guides are
maintained by people who are knowledgeable in the subject areas.
TO EVALUATE SOURCES FOUND ON THE INTERNET
Why is it necessary to evaluate Internet resources? Because with the
exception of information found in virtual libraries, the vast majority
of the information available on the Internet is not reviewed by an editor
or editorial review board, etc. Anyone with time and web space can create
a Web site. While there is a tremendous amount of objective, useful,
and authoritative information, there are also bogus, inaccurate, biased
Web sites. The Internet is a "buyer beware" environment. Therefore,
it is up to the researcher to examine and determine the quality and
usefulness of each resource. Listed are criteria to use for evaluation
of Internet resources:
- Publishing body
Is the author an authority such as a noted expert in the field, a researcher,
or an educator?
Is the content appropriate for your purpose? Is the Internet resource
comprehensive? Are the sources used to create the Internet resource
listed in a bibliography or works cited page?
Is the publisher of the Internet resource a reputable organization?
For example, medical information found on the
PubMed Web site is the product of a reputable organization, the
National Institute of
Is it objective? Is the information presented from a non-biased
Does the author try to persuade or display bias? For example see a pro-choice
page such as Planned
Parenthood and right to life Web site such as the National
Right to Life Committee are examples of bias or Internet resources
that try to persuade the researcher.
Is the information current. Is the information up-to-date? When
was the information posted? Is the date of the last revision or update
Is the information correct? To determine accuracy compare the information
found on the Internet Resource with information in books or other Internet
resources from reputable authorities and experts in the subject area.
Who is the intended audience of the Internet resource: children,
students, teachers, general public, etc.? Select the Internet resource
that is written for an audience that is appropriate for your research.
Links to additional information about the evaluation of Internet resources.
HOW TO DEVELOP AN INTERNET RESEARCH ASSIGNMENT
Many librarians have published
guides for the development of Internet or library research assignments.
Listed below in the "Guidelines" section are the key
steps instructors can incorporate to ensure that their students have a
productive Internet research experience.
- Determine the assignment
objectives and communicate them in writing to your students.
- Determine what Internet
resources are available to your students:
- Subscription databases
(which ones and how are they accessed)?
- Online library resources
(catalog, virtual reference librarian, etc.)?
- Provide a list of the above
resources in the assignment instructions. For details about subscription
databases and other library resources, check the library Web site or
contact the librarian.
- Use clear and consistent
- Prescreen the assignment
by COMPLETING THE ASSIGNMENT YOURSELF. This will reveal
flaws and glitches that can make Internet research unnecessarily difficult.
Some community college librarians offer assignment review services to
assist instructors with the research aspect of an assignment.
- REFER. Stress
to students where they can get additional help online and offline.
Offline help includes reference librarians and your office hours.
If you are referring students to the library, forward a copy of your
assignment to the reference librarian in advance. This will help
the reference librarian help your students.
- Be mindful of copyright
restrictions. See Copyright
and Intellectual Property Rights in the Digital Information Age
for more information.
- Integrate research skills
into your assignment.
- Inform your students about
plagiarism and why it is prohibited. Many students are not aware
that "cutting and pasting" without citing sources is theft.
SAMPLE INTERNET RESEARCH ASSIGNMENTS
See samples of Internet research