By Susanne Sacchetti, Online Librarian at APUS
Reprinted with permission from APUS
When students pursue their post-secondary or graduate education online, they are faced with the task of also doing research online. This concept is a new challenge for many online students, and may be a bit intimidating. When a student gets a research assignment and wants to forgo driving to the library, what can they do online to get the same, if not more up-to-date, information? How should students begin the process? How should Web site information be cited? What Web sites are good for research? And what are the plagiarism angles for online research? Let’s figure this out step by step.
First, some background. The Web is a very complex environment that has two sides: the Open (visible) Web and the Deep (hidden or invisible) Web. We are all familiar with the Open Web, the normal and free area of the Web. This area is searchable by Google and inhabited by major repository collections and government documents – as well as an immense range of less-trustworthy resources.
The Open Web
The Open Web provides information, such as news and weather; ready reference, like almanacs and dictionaries to used-car price questions; new developments and emerging topics (technology, pop culture, etc); government documents and information services; digitized images of cultural treasures and historical documentation from leading repositories; and contact information for organizations, agencies, and special interest groups. Most of us are used to searching the Open Web for quick information, but not all information found on the Open Web is reliable. Students must be cautious of the information that they find and think twice before citing that information for research purposes. It is important that students carefully evaluate a page for accuracy, objectivity, and currency.
The Deep Web
The Deep Web is the larger and more controlled area of the web that includes the secondary research materials for scholarly context. More than 90% of the holdings on the Internet are on the Deep Web. For online students, the Deep Web provides crucial access to the secondary literature and scholarly citations that are vital for their academic pursuits–but it also demands special skills. This arena requires passwords or other forms of authentication to enter, often demands payment for viewing, and may not be accessed or spidered by Open Web search engines.
Searching the Open Web
There are a variety of search engines that can be used to search the Open Web. For students who are unfamiliar with search engines or who do not know which to use, here are list of some of the most common search engines:
Students can also take advantage of the Advanced Search option found within most search engines, including Yahoo and Google. The Advanced Search provides several options for limiting results, by language, date and even domain. You can limit search results to associations or organizations by only asking for sites ending in .org, or .edu to limit results to educational institutions, or .gov to limit results to government agencies.
If you are not sure which to use, the Websites below will help them make your selection:
* Internet Public Library’s Searching Tools
* Search Engine Watch’s Search Directory
* University of California, Berkeley’s Best Search Engines
* Yahoo’s Search Engine Directory
How do you look for credible information on the Web? Trying using some of these basic steps:
* Scholarly Networking – seeking out information from colleagues and long-acquired information. One of the simplest and most effective approaches for uncovering reliable information involves mining the scholarship of others.
* Web Portals/Directories – directory pages and portals are another specialized respite for the established researcher. Such resources are particularly good for well-defined issues and established topics of interest.
* Web Search Engines – search engines are increasingly vital for online research. You will learn, however, there are significant differences among the general search engines on the Open Web.
* Deep Web Search Engines – these search engines are often more complex to operate. They are likely to rely on controlled vocabularies and narrow indexed fields.
With the web’s vast supply of information, how do you properly cite information gathered from sources for research? You’ll have to create a web citation. Citations are used for:
* Direct Quotations: Any time that you quote someone, that person must be properly acknowledged. Words are typically set off between “quotation marks” for shorter excerpts and indented without quotation marks for larger slices.
* Paraphrasing: Less obvious, perhaps, is the need to cite sources if you paraphrase, or borrow ideas and facts to inform your study.
There are a variety of citation styles that can be used to cite online information. Among the most commonly used are APA style (The American Psychological Association), MLA style (The Modern Language Association), and Chicago/Turabian style. Students should always check with their professor to be sure that they are using the preferred citation style of the professor or academic program. Students new to citing online information may also purchase automated programs to help them format their citations; however there are also free conversion services on the Internet. Before using these, students should be sure the results meet your professor’s demands.
The Web is a complex and vast repository of information. When accessed thoughtfully, it can open up a world of opportunity – for research and beyond