California State University, Northridge

Using the World Wide Web for Academic Research - Some Advice from Students

Introduction by Maryam Allahyar (spring 1997).
The Internet is a great resource that is available to anyone who has access to it. The World Wide Web contains information from all over the world and is useful for all ages and for all purposes - from very complex things to very simple things, such as door-to- door directions and maps. The information contained on the Web can also be useful for academic research.

In addition to the Web, ERIC is also a very useful resource for academic research. ERIC stands for Educational Resources Information Center and contains over 700,000 records relating to education. Although other sources such as PsychLit are very useful too, it is important to realize that many sources are not updated frequently enough. ERIC, on the other hand, is updated on monthly basis. Overall, the traditional print resources available in the library are great, but Web resources and ERIC should not be neglected.

Accessing the Web with the Non-Graphical Browser Lynx by Takako Hara (spring 1997).
Lynx is a non-graphical browser that gives a computer user only text on the computer screen during research on the Web. Because it is only text, the advantage of using Lynx is speed: it is much faster than using a Web browser that accesses graphics, like Netscape Navigator. So if the purpose of your research is to get information in text style, Lynx is a good way to go. Of course, a disadvantage of using it is the inability to view graphics or video - or hearing sound clips.

To access Lynx on many servers, type "lynx" at the computer prompt and use the menu instructions. By following simple commands which appear on the bottom of the screen, what you can do by using a graphical browser (like Netscape Navigator) can also be done with Lynx. Entering a specific Web Site, if the URL is known, links you to the right place. Lynx also maintains the location that you visit during the current session. Creating a "book mark" file that is a list of specified URLs is also available. You can print of save documents to a file as well.

All these can be done in a relatively short time compared to a graphical browser. If you do not have a lot of time, or do not need graphical information, Lynx is the best way to do research on the Web.

Using the Web for Academic Research by Fumi O. Naughton (spring 1997).
The biggest advantage in using the World Wide Web as a source for research is that it lets us look at specific topics from an interdisciplinary perspective. Due to the large volume of published literature in the library, researchers have had a tendency to stay within their own fields when they search for references. By doing so, they may have been restricting themselves to their own fields and may have had little idea of the kind of studies in other disciplines that may be helpful. This also happens within a single discipline such as Psychology. The developmental psychologists have their own journals while the social psychologists have others, with little chance for the various disciplines to integrate. In looking for information on the Web, searches are often more general in nature, which may bring us information that otherwise may not have caught our attention.

Another advantage in using the Web for academic research is the ability to gain access to the most current information. Since studies can take months (or years) to get published, data can be outdated by the time it reaches the shelves of our libraries. Direct access to current information increases the effectiveness of scientists in their search for information in their areas of interest. This is where the third advantage of using the Web comes in: the Word Wide Web has made it possible for individuals to contact researchers quite easily by using e-mail or campus Web sites. This ease of communication is a tremendous advantage for those of us who are beginning researchers since we are often able to get valuable advice/guidance from the original source of information on the Web. Although we have been and are still somewhat restricted by only having faculty members as our direct source of guidance in our research, this may be slowly changing as we gain the ability to contact many researchers via the Internet.

The only disadvantage that I have experienced using the Web for academic research is the overwhelming amount of information that is available. One can easily get lost in the seemingly infinite amount of titles, abstracts and texts. I have found it helpful to keep a piece of paper in front of me that states exactly what I am looking for - this helps to help keep me focused. Also, I give myself a limited amount of time so I don't end up drowning in cyberspace!

Experiences on the Internet by Patricia A. Dunavold (spring 1997).
One of the best features of the Internet is its convenience. I am a "commuter student" because I live 75 miles away from the campus. Depending on the traffic, that's about one and a half hour's away. But when I use the Internet, the only "traffic" problem I encounter is the occasional busy signal when I try to log on. With the Internet, I can do my research from the comfort and convenience of my own home. I can get up on a Saturday or Sunday morning, make myself a cup of coffee, go into the study, and begin doing my research. In addition, using the Internet saves me valuable time and allows me to manage my resources better: Not driving to the campus saves me about three hours (round trip) driving time. That's three hours I can spend on the Internet doing my research. Therefore I can make less trips to campus and when I do drive down, I already know exactly which journal articles or books that I need as well as whether or not our library even has them!

The only negative features I have found using the Internet for academic research are the abundance of information available and the nebulous origin of some of the information. Occasionally when doing a search, even on a very specific item or topic, I will get hundreds and even thousands of hits! There is so much information available that it can be overwhelming and I sometimes get "lost" in all of it - and even forget why I went there in the first place! This problem can usually be solved by narrowing the topic down as much as possible and by selecting the appropriate Search Engine. I have found that certain Search Engines are more useful for some subjects while other search engines are more appropriate for other subjects. For instance the WebCrawler seems to be a good Search Engine to use for general or non-academic information, while Alta Vista usually provides the best information for topics related to Psychology. At times it is also difficult to authenticate the validity of the information found on the Web. However, this problem can be partly resolved by using sources that have strong academic ties (or are provided as links from recognized Web Sites) or by using information that is generated by someone who is well-known and respected in his/her field.

Search Engines and Search Strategies by Ingrid M. Cordon (spring 1997).
The World Wide Web's potential as a research tool opens up a new and possibly comprehensive source of information for research psychologists. Millions of files available on the Web make information available for research purposes, and much of this information may not readily be available through other means. However, with the tremendous amount of information available on the Web, the task of finding relevant and reliable information can be difficult and sometimes very time-consuming.

Since the amount of information on the Web can be overwhelming, a successful researcher must often use efficient and creative search strategies. Search Engines, such as Webcrawler, provide a valuable tools with which a researcher is often able to locate specific information on a subject of interest. Creative use of search strategies can allow a researcher to find new and interesting sources of information that can lead to productive results. For example, key words or names that were first located in a published article or newspaper (sometimes found with LEXIS/NEXIS searches) can serve as a starting point from which additional or related information can be located on the Web. Much of the information obtained may not be directly useful for research purposes, so the researcher must carefully sift through the various files carefully in order to find useful information resources.

Because of the questionable reliability of some of the information available on the Web, a researcher must be cautious about the information obtained. It is important to followed up the information gathered through the Web by using traditional sources of research information, such as published articles in recognized journals. [Using the name of an author of a Web document to search in CARL UnCover is one way to find other articles he/she may have published. And visiting the Home Page of the author's institution is one way to verify his/her credentials as well as find the author's email address.] As educational and professional organizations and associations continue to contribute Web sites, researchers can look forward to the increased capacity of the Web to further the interests of research.

The Most Efficient Way to Use A Search Engine by by Carissa Klevens (spring 1997).
Search Engines allow you to search millions of sites on the World Wide Web. Since each Search Engine uses a different method for locating information, it is better not to limit yourself to just one. Some Search Engines (e.g., AltaVista, Excite, Infoseek) cover the full text of many pages and can give a higher percentage of "hits" that are closely related to your topic. Other Search Engines are based only on headers and page titles, and some (e.g., World Wide Web Worm) will often connect you to sites that are more obscure. Do not neglect smaller Search Engines because they may be very useful and may specialize in the area of your topic.

Be sure to read the description for each Search Engine before you use it. Try to begin each search with a "fast search" if possible since a comprehensive search may take too long. If you conceptualize some key words, phrases or concepts before beginning your search, you may be able to avoid retrieving information that is not relevant to your topic. Try using synonyms or related words if you are not finding the information that you are looking for.

AltaVista contains a very large Web search database. Since it is so comprehensive, you may have to spend more time looking, but you may find every important reference relevant to your topic. Type in a primary word or words. For example, if your topic is "human sexuality in the 90's," enter "human sexuality." AltaVista also has a Web directory and sub-directories (e.g., in art, science, education).

Excite is a Search Engine that is the best for keeping their sites current and updating their database, so you won't encounter as many inactive links. Type in both primary (key) words and concepts for your topic. The ability to search for concepts is an added feature that many Search Engines (like AltaVista) does not have.

Yahoo and Magellan are classified as catalogues rather than as Search Engines. Catalogues are ideal for broad category search of established sites. Yahoo provides an hierarchical subject index and allows you to begin with a general topic, then become more specific. You can also search the Yahoo index instead of searching the entire Web. If you do not find any information on your subject, then you can switch to a Search Engine like AltaVista.

FirstSearch is another way to use the Internet for research. It allows online searching of about 50 major indexes and can be reached directly through one's UNIX account at CSUN. As a research tool, FirstSearch is a starting point of gaining information on specific topics in the published journal literature. In contrast to CARL UnCover, FirstSearch gives you access to abstracts and summaries. Of course, in order to get the entire copyrighted article, you have to find the journal in the library or request a copy of the article through Interlibrary Loan. But this preliminary work can be done from home and when you arrive at the library, you have a list the list of articles that you will need for your research.

Using the Electronic Medium as a Research Tool by Iris Beneli (spring 1997).
Much of a serious student's life is spent locating information about one topic or another. Until recently most of the available time an efficient student had was allocated in trips to the nearby library. Various search methods have been at our disposal for years, even decades, (e.g. the index card files), but with the revolution of the computer age, new techniques have been implemented and many students are getting left behind.

Most students who are comfortable with using computers have already discovered the many resources found online. Since this self-selection process leaves behind students who are not at ease with computers, a huge disparity is occurring in our universities. And students who attend technologically-advanced schools like CSUN can benefit from all these advantages, although perhaps only those students probably grew up with access to computers take advantage of them. That could mean that a student who did not have this sort of opportunity might not have the same educational experience in college. So better-prepared students coming to the university have an additional advantage over students who may not have had the benefits of computer literacy in high school. How do we break this cycle so that all students can benefit from this technology?

My personal experience with computers even a few years ago was quite limited. I recall not knowing how to do even the most basic task without assistance. Looking back to what forced me to delve into the world of technology, I must say it was my own curiosity. I suggest to the academic professionals interested in having their students move into the 21st century prepared: assign classwork which requires the usage of the Internet, the World Wide Web, and email. Another possibility would be to require that so many hours be spent in the computer lab, per class credit. One professor I know requires his students to all log into the University server at the same time - instead of class meetings, he holds class discussions in this manner. Many graduate course instructors distribute readings via students' email accounts.

Listing the many benefits gained from online research shows how logical it can be to use these services: there is the benefit of conducting research from your own home or office and there is the ability to communicate with members of the academic or professional field you are interested in. And in searching for information, one topic may lead to another and expose the student to a much more interdisciplinary approach to a topic. Unfortunately, logic here may not prevail. Fear of the unknown is most likely the factor which keeps the majority of students away from the wonderful benefits of online research. The bottom line here is providing students with the tools for success after graduation, and that responsibility lies with the instructor. If the instructor is not comfortable with the electronic medium, perhaps growing along with the students is a possibility!

Using the World Wide Web for Academic Research by Kelly M. Johnson (spring 1997).
As unbelievable as this topic may seem to some, it is actually true that preliminary academic research may be performed using the World Wide Web. One way that I have used the Web to support my thesis by locating journal authors at their various universities. The reason for doing this is twofold: one is to be able to find a method of quickly communicating with these authors [you can usually get an email address from either the university's directory or the faculty member's Home Page]. One can also investigate the faculty member's current research and list of publications. By using the Web, I've been able to ask questions of the authors of various articles I'm including in my thesis. By accessing these author's Home Pages, I've also been able to find publication information on articles that were under review and not yet in print when they were referred to in other articles. So the Web can actually be used for academic research such as a thesis.

To check the validity of information on the Web, you can use email links on Web sites to communicate with the authors of the documents. Not only can you verify the author's credentials, but you can clarify issues in the document. Besides email links, you want to look for links to other legitimate Web sites as a check on overall legitimacy of the document. But whether or not there are links, you should ALWAYS perform a search on the author's name or document title in other sources (E.G., LEXIS/NEXIS, CARL UnCover and/or MELVYL) to verify the credentials of the author.

On some issues that are subject to bias, you need to look at the address of the document to see what organization wrote it. This will help you to evaluate a document that may contains one-sided information. And if you feel strongly about a particular subject, you can make a more intelligent argument if you are better informed about all the sides of the issue, not just your own. So you should examine information on Web sites that don't support your own viewpoint.

Checking the Validity of Information Found on the Web by Takako Hara (spring 1997).
When you find information on the Internet, it is always important to ask yourself where the information came from. Look for the name of the author of the document and go to the end of the document to look for journal or book references that you can verify later. If other studies are referenced in the document, always verify them by checking traditional printed books and journal articles in a library or by using CARL UnCover, PsychLit, First Search, MELVYL or other information resources on the Internet.

Checking the 'domain' in the URL of a document may be very important. Although many people assume that documents from domains with ".edu," ".org" or ".gov" are from more legitimate sources than documents from ".com," all documents found on the Web need to be authenticated. Documents appearing in (or linked to) legitimate Web Sites (like the Home Page of the American Psychological Association - are probably the most reliable. But a researcher needs to confirm the accuracy and source of all information appearing on the World Wide Web.

Conclusion by Susan Edelman (spring 1997).
On the Internet is a wealth of information that many of us, for various reasons, do not take advantage of. The Internet should be approached and viewed as one more resource when doing research. Personally, I was intimidated by the Internet - perhaps it was fear of the unknown. However, since using the World Wide Web, I have come to realize what a powerful tool it can be. I have learned how Search Engines work and that enormous amounts of information are literally at my fingertips. I am grateful that Psychology 691B - Seminar in Emotion and Motivation - has given me the opportunity to learn about and explore the Internet.

My Experiences on the Internet by Jason Piccone (spring 1999).
All in all, I have mixed feelings about my academic experiences on the World Wide Web. On the one hand, I often find it difficult to find quality information that I can incorporate into my work. First, one has to sift through the junk (which is often quite substantial) when doing a keyword search using a Search Engine, then one has to hope that when one does find a Web site with potential, it has the information that is needed. Many times, I would get to this point only to find that a promising site only has an abstract - or it is a "teaser" for a book that someone is trying to sell. On the other hand, there are ways in which I have found the Web to be helpful. I found that on many occasions, a leader in the field has his/her own Web site. These sites are often very helpful - with good hypertext links. I have often found that these sites are good places to begin Web searches.
I have found that the greatest advantage of using the Internet to be the ease with which I can send people email queries - or contact them out of general interest. In my experience, people are extremely willing and prompt in replying. But my current attitude toward the use of the Web for academic research is that although there are some very practical uses, they are currently limited because of the scarcity of good academic Web sites. However, it is clear that the Web is evolving into an extremely useful tool for academic purposes. And the people who are currently putting the Web to good uses are the ones that are part of this evolution - and their activities should be facilitated to a greater degree. I am eager to launch an academic Web page in the future because I want to use it to share the results of the meaningful research that I am planning to conduct.

My Experiences on the Internet by Edward Binder (spring 1999).
In the fall of 1996, I returned to school for the first time in 23 years. After a long and successful career as a professional photographer, I decided to go back and complete my education in order to become a psychologist. Up to this point, the only experience I had with the understanding and use of personal computers was when I would watch someone else use one. Basically, I had been computer-phobic since the early 1980's and I wondered if I would ever be able to overcome my personal fear of this technology.

This past spring while taking a graduate seminar in emotion and motivation, I had the opportunity to learn about and explore the world via the World Wide Web. In my past profession, I had traveled around the world on photo-assignments and had seen a lot. But I was astounded with the ease with which I am now able to travel without leaving my desk! In addition, I now have available to me a world of resources and up-to-date information regarding any and all topics that I wish to pursue. And since using the Web has made the task of going to graduate school less time-consuming, I am now able to spend more time with my family, friends, and doing extracurricular activities. I whole-heartedly recommend learning and using the Web to all who have an interest in exploring this wonderful world in which we live - and to gain the knowledge that inevitably makes for a happier and healthier lifestyle.

My Experiences on the Internet by Gokce Gokalp (spring 1999).
I used to hate computers. Every time I tried to use one, something would go wrong and I would give up. Then in a speech class in college, our professor required all of his students to open an email account. He created a newsgroup for the class and gave us a topic each week. He then asked us to post comments on the newsgroup.

When we got Internet access at home, I was excited. Having the Internet at your fingertips is almost like having the world at your fingertips - that is, of course, after you go through all the junk! You can find out what is going on in the world and have a chance to communicate with experts in your field of interest or your favorite author. If you are in certain newsgroups, you can discuss issues that interest you and exchange useful information with others. For me, another advantage is that I am able to know what is going on in my homeland since the Internet gives me access to Turkish newspapers and I am able to communicate with my friends there. Another important aspect is that through the Internet, you can find out about programs offered at different universities and you can even contact professors who are doing research that interests you.

As far as conducting research with the use of the Internet, if you find the right Search Engine, you are more likely to find serious articles or papers. The number of Web sites that actually provide useful information is still limited, but I have found a number of useful ones. My only fear now is that since people can do almost anything through the Internet, actual social interaction with other human beings might slowly be dimished in the future!

My Experiences on the Internet by Ludwin Molina (spring 1999).
My opinion about using the World Wide Web as a research tool can best be summed up as "cautiously optimistic." While I see its grand potential, in its present state the Web can only be described as "respectable." One of the major problems in using it for academic research that I have been experiencing is the difficulty of verifying the source of information found on the Web. In order to confirm that this source is actually legitimate, you can waste precious time playing "novice cyber-sleuth" in trying to get that one piece of a puzzle that tells you if the author/creator of a specific resource (e.g., Web site) is a scholar or just a lonely person with too much time on his or her hands!

Hopefully, one day more people in Academia will realize the potential of the Web for disseminating knowledge to colleagues around the world as well as to the general public. It is then that some true advances can be made with respect to using the Web for academic research. I believe that the Web can rival the libraries of our nation's elite univesities. Imagine logging on, doing a literature search, finding the articles that you need on a "cyber shelf" 24 hours a day, then downloading them to your hard drive and printing them later at your leisure. [No more going back time and again to the library to retrieve an article from a volume that seems to exist only in old folk tales!] Actually, I have done exactly this! The future is here and you need not be afraid!

My Experiences on the Internet by Desiree Despues (spring 1999).
If you are considering doing research on the World Wide Web, you are in for a treat! There are quite a few Web sites that offer the kind of information that you are looking for. For example, the United States Constitution Search is a wonderful Web site that allows you to search the Constitution as well as amendments that were never ratified. And if you are doing research on medical subjects, another great site is the A.M.A. Health Insight Web site that was developed to increase the public's medical literacy. And if you are interested in finding statistics, you will want to check out FEDSTATS. This Web site offers statistical data on everything from a state's population growth to a city's immunization rates. You can also find great Web site from the American Caner Association, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and many, many more.

Although the Web is a great place to find statistics and other academic information, be aware that not everything found on the Web is legitimate. Indeed, there are a lot of sites that really aren't worth looking at! Be more cautious of information from domains that end in .com or .net than you would for those ending in .edu or perhaps .org. Information on commercial or network Web sites is probably not monitored for quality. The basic motto for students wanting to use the World Wide Web for academic research is Let the buyer beware! If a Web site looks suspicious, then it is probably not a good idea to use its information. After all, nothing beats a trip to the local library for legitimate information in the print literature. However, if you are just beginning your research, the Web can be a good place to start looking for information.

Here are some Search Engines that you may wish to use.