Americans now spend as much time researching, surfing, or browsing the Internet as they do watching television. According to a survey published by Forrester Research, Internet use has increased 121 percent over the last five years. In May, 2011, 78 percent of adults now use the Internet in order to read or send an email, search for directions, check the weather, buy a product, watch a video, and manage their finances, among many others. Of these online activities, conducting research was at the top of the list. Ninety-two percent of adults in the United States use the internet in order to find information on a variety of topics, including health and wellbeing, hobbies and interests, academics, commercial products, travel, sports, careers, religion, and politics. The Internet offers wealth information on an array of (seemingly) limitless topics. Possibly the biggest obstacle facing researchers on the Internet is how to access the vast amount of information available with the simple click of the mouse. The purpose of this guide is to offer tips on how to conduct quality research and to provide resources to make the process as efficient and effective as possible.
The Pre-Search and Preliminary Research
For simple or more complex research, it is generally a good idea to spend some time on a “pre-search analysis.” Think about what unique words, distinctions, abbreviations or acronyms are associated with your topic. This first step will allow or the focus to be narrowed. Thinking about key professional societies, groups, or other organizations related to your topic could yield a homepage containing links to journals, databases, websites and online libraries on the subject. Think, too, about particular words and phrases. For example, do certain words associated with the topic belong together? Do they have a certain order, like a cliché? If so, search for these related words in their proper order and put quotation marks around them. Example: “sustainable development” or “communicable disease.” In addition, consider any extraneous or irrelevant words or phrases which might be associated with your topic. If there are, exclude them with AND NOT followed by the word or phrase. This is commonly referred to as Boolean logic. Finally, think about broader categories for your topic as well, especially if what is needed is a simple overview. For example, “modern literature” or “historical fiction” will offer more general results; however, if the topic is a more precise, specify that. For example, “automobile recyclability, future designs, want current trends, not how to recycle.”
Picking the Right Place
If seeking an overview, this area is not recommended as a starting place. Google is currently the most used search engine, as it contains one of the largest databases on the Web. It also includes blog posts, Wiki pages, group discussion threads, and a variety of document formats. Google alone, however, is not always sufficient, and it is recommended to seek out other search engines in order to obtain another “opinion.” Yahoo! Search and Exalead are two other reputable engines that offer extensive options for limiting and refining your search. In order to view a chart comparing these three search engines, click here.
Meta-search engines, such as Yippy or Dogpile are not typically recommended in order to conduct research, especially if it is of an academic or professional nature. Meta-search engines do not own a database of Web pages; instead, they send search terms to the databases maintained by other search engine companies, and within a few seconds, results from these other sites are obtained. Few meta-searchers allow for deep and useful research. The results they yield are often from miscellaneous free directories, often small and highly commercial. Directly searching individual search engines will offer more precise and accurate results.
Directories allow you to search for broader terms and also the specific elements related to your topic. ipl2 and Infomine are two of the highest quality directories, both compiled by academic librarians from across the United States. If research is conducted using these sites, look for resources identified as “Directories, “Virtual Libraries,” or “Gateway Pages” in order to specify within a director. About.com and Yahoo! are other directories that are useful if the research is conducted in order to find out more about specific “how-to” guides or read up on popular and commercial topics. If you are using about.com for an overview or guide, try looking for pages that are described as “101″ or “guides” or a “directory.”
If a brief overview or summary is initially needed when conducted research on a topic, Wikipedia is acceptable to consult. However, for formal academic and/or professional research, it is recommended to steer clear of this website, and not include it as a reference.
Conducting Internet Research- This website offers advice on conducting research as well as evaluating websites.
Top Ten Database Search Tips- This website offers a printable checklist and covers topics such as Boolean logic and truncation.
Internet Research Guide- This is a comprehensive research guide particularly helpful for students writing fact based or opinion based research papers.
Search Engine Watch- Researchers can evaluate engines and read up on the latest search engine developments here.
Topic Pre-Search Worksheet- This is an excellent tool for students in the pre-searching phase of a research paper.
Glossary of Internet and Web Jargon- This is a comprehensive dictionary of internet and web-related terms.
Evaluating Web Pages- Learn more specifics about skillfully and acutely evaluating web pages here.
Style Sheet for Citing Resources- This is a useful webpage covering how to cite a variety of sources using MLA, APA, and Chicago Style Guides.