Friday, December 19, 2008

The Beginner's Guide to Internet Research

We've all been there, whether you're a student, a parent, a patient or an enthusiast, there have been (and will be) many points in our lives when we needed a question (or many) answered that isn't common knowledge. So we set out to find the answer - or do research. When it comes to research, the first question on most peoples' minds is "Where do I begin?" This guide is meant to help you understand the basics to find your answers.

STEP 1: Define your research topic.

- Write down the simplest question that needs to be answered. "Do cats see in color?" "Who are the Louisiana Tigers?" "What is the difference between Alzheimer's and forgetfulness?" "Did Spanish Conquistadors have canteens to carry water?" "What is the real cause of inflated gas prices?"

- Determine the scope of the answer you need. If you type the questions above into an internet search engine like Google, you are going to get varying results. You might find answers, You might find that you have more questions to answer. You might get no answers whatsoever.

- Quick answers to easy questions can often be found using an internet search engine."Do cats see in color?" is a question that can be researched using a broad internet search engine.

- Some questions seem like they have easy answers, but are too broad in scope. "Who are the Louisiana Tigers?" If you use an internet search engine to ask this question, your answer could be a sports team or a Civil War regiment. Are you answering the question for a history assignment? Or for a different reason? This is a question that would better be answered after learning about subject headings. (See Step 2)

- Some questions need more than a quick answer. "What is the difference between Alzheimer's and forgetfulness?" My first guess is that the person asking this question might have more concerns than just answering the question. A quick answer from the world wide web might not have enough information - or even the correct information. This is a question that would better be answered from a reliable source. (See Step 2)

- Some questions may be simple, but they're so obscure that the answer requires doing deeper research. "Did Spanish Conquistadors use canteens to carry water?" This is the type of question I would ask myself while writing a period correct story. Google doesn't know how to approach a question like this, because as simple as it is, it's not a commonly asked question. Finding other ways to ask this question might be useful, defining subject headings and keywords, and locating books about the history of the canteen, or the era of the Conquistadors might be useful. Finding a reliable source is also important. This is a question that might best be answered using a subscription database, or the help of a professional (See Step 2)

- Some questions don't have an answer, as opposed to having a broad range of opinions. "What is the cause of inflated gas prices?" If you ask this question of a search engine, you'll get answers. But each article that is found is likely to have a different answer according to the person who wrote it. This is the kind of question that needs comparable answers from reliable sources so that you can decide on your own answer. Knowing how to choose a reliable database is important here (See Step 2).

STEP 2: Find reliable sources for your answers. is a fantastic source for quick answers. And I recommend it "AS A STARTING POINT." But go to, and check out the definition of the word "wikiality," and you'll understand why I only recommend it as a starting point. Anyone can post anything on the World Wide Web and claim that it's true. So it's important to find sources of information that are more likely to be true than are others.

-How do you find reliable information?
-If you Google "Do cats see color," you will com up with a list of websites that attempt to answer the question. Your first hits are, in theory, the most relevant. Does the first site answer your question? Does the second site give you the same answer? Check out two or three sites to help confirm you have a correct answer.
-Look for a website's 'resume.' A reliable website will have indicators to help you determine its authority on the topics it represents. Is the site represented by a reliable author, a noted university or a recognized organization? does the website have a list of reference material or links to other websites that corroborate the information given? If you can't find any of this information, choose another site.
-If you google a question, and come up with a wide range of answers, try limiting you answers by using subject headings. Library and subscription databases are built around researching by subject headings, and are beginning to better utilize keywords in their search mechanisms. What are Subject Headings? They are terms recognized by most libraries that help organize a broad range of subjects by category. Key word searching is different. If you do a key word search, you are allowing whatever search engine you are using to search documents and websites for the actual words mentioned in the document. For a more detailed explanation, check out
-Check out subscription databases. If you are a student, or if you are a member of a public library, there are many online subscription databases available to you for free. Most of these databases are reliable sources of information, and many are designed to offer information on specific subjects, such as Medical information, databases specific to science, history or the arts, and databases that access educational journals from sources who are recognized for their field of expertise. There are also databases that specialize in "point, counterpoint" perspectives that might be useful for questions like "What is the cause of inflated gas prices?" One of these databases is "Opposing Viewpoints," which can only be accessed with a subscription, or by using a a library that subscribes to the service.

STEP 3: Ask a Librarian!

Librarians are trained to help people find answers, so if you get stuck in your research process, visit a library. Most libraries are connected to the world wide web, and if you have a library card, you are more than likely able to ask your question through their website. They can help you find the right path to finding answers to your questions.


1. Wikipedia.
2. Bolner, Myrtle S., and Gayle A. Poirer. The Research Process. 4th ed. Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing, 2007
3. "Library Catalog Subject Search", Cornell University, copyright 2008 accessed December 18, 2008.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Blog Reflection #9 - The Future of Libraries

I have to admit that I have mixed emotions about this being my last blog for this class. I have enjoyed it on the level of considering myself a writer. The saying says, "Writers write," and this blog challenges me to keep in practice. But the frustration that stems from "What do I say," and "How do I begin," is about to give me a break. I welcome the break. But deep down, I will miss the challenge.

Will I continue to blog on my own? Maybe... If this class parlays itself into a future employed in the librarian industry, then there's a good chance that blogging will play a part in it. As our week's readings pointed out, the internet, and the future of libraries are intertwined. The two factions have a symbiotic relationship, as opposed to a sometimes seemingly parasitic one. Internet technology will not kill the library. It will challenge it to grow and become more useful to a broader community. Because the internet is far from an infallible source of information, and some of our libraries could use a technology facelift.

Thank Christmas for a short blog this week. I'm off to finish my Holiday shopping!