15 August 2008

Internet Research: First Thing First

Welcome to the Internet. There is an extremely wide variety of material on the Internet, ranging in its accuracy, reliability, and value. Unlike most traditional information media (books, magazines, organizational documents), no one has to approve the content before it is made public. It's your job as a searcher, then, to evaluate what you locate, in order to determine whether it suits your needs.
Information is everywhere on the Internet, existing in large quantities and continuously being created and revised. This information exists in a large variety of kinds (facts, opinions, stories, interpretations, statistics) and is created for many purposes (to inform, to persuade, to sell, to present a viewpoint, and to create or change an attitude or belief). For each of these various kinds and purposes, information exists on many levels of quality or reliability. It ranges from very good to very bad and includes every shade in between.

The first stage of evaluating your sources takes place before you do any searching. Take a minute to ask yourself what exactly you are looking for. Do you want facts, opinions (authoritative or just anyone's), reasoned arguments, statistics, narratives, eyewitness reports, and descriptions? Is the purpose of your research to get new ideas, to find either factual or reasoned support for a position, to survey opinion, or something else? Once you decide on this, you will be able to screen sources much more quickly by testing them against your research goal. If, for example, you are writing a research paper, and if you are looking for both facts and well-argued opinions to support or challenge a position, you will know which sources can be quickly passed by and which deserve a second look, simply by asking whether each source appears to offer facts and well-argued opinions, or just unsupported claims.

Becoming proficient at selecting sources will require experience, of course, but even a beginning researcher can take a few minutes to ask, "What source or what kind of source would be the most credible for providing information in this particular case?" Which sources are likely to be fair, objective, lacking hidden motives, showing quality control? It is important to keep these considerations in mind, so that you will not simply take the opinion of the first source or two you can locate. By thinking about these issues while searching, you will be able to identify suspicious or questionable sources more readily. With so many sources to choose from in a typical search, there is no reason to settle for unreliable material

The Internet provides access to a wealth of information on countless topics contributed by people throughout the world. On the Internet, a user has access to a wide variety of services: vast information sources, electronic mail, file transfer, interest group membership, interactive collaboration, multimedia displays, and more. The Internet consists primarily of a variety of access protocols. These include e-mail, FTP, HTTP, Telnet, and Usenet news. Many of these protocols feature programs that allow users to search for and retrieve material made available by the protocol.

The Internet is not a library in which all its available items are identified and can be retrieved by a single catalog. In fact, no one knows how many individual files reside on the Internet. The number runs into a few billion and is growing at a rapid pace.

The Internet is a self-publishing medium. This means that anyone with little or no technical skills and access to a host computer can publish on the Internet. It is important to remember this when you locate sites in the course of your research. Internet sites change over time according to the commitment and inclination of the creator. Some sites demonstrate an expert's knowledge, while others are amateur efforts. Some may be updated daily, while others may be outdated. As with any information resource, it is important to evaluate what you find on the Internet.

How to find information on Internet:

There are a number of basic ways to access information on the Internet:
# Browse
# Go directly to a site if you have the address
# Explore a subject directory
# Conduct a search using a Web search engine
# Query a service devoted to digitized scholarly materials or books
# Explore the information stored in live databases on the Web, known as the "deep Web"
# Join an e-mail discussion group or Usenet newsgroup
# Subscribe to RSS feeds

In the next article we discuss on the logical Process of Internet Research