Despite the fact that switching to the Internet is now an obvious choice when doing research, the Internet, like every other tool, has unique attributes that create both advantages and drawbacks.
On the flip side, the Internet offers the following:
Access to new and valuable resources of information that came into being due to the Internet.
A more efficient path for accessing particular regular data sources such as papers, especially overseas papers and electronic versions of existing print journals.
Access to an enormous amount of information. Presently it is estimated that there are approximately 800 million pages of information on the Web.
Access to non-mainstream views. Fringe groups and those without access to the websites or a printing press can now make their views known on the Internet.
Access to obscure and arcane info. As there are so many people with such diverse interests on the Internet, a search can frequently turn up the most unusual and hard-to-locate nugget of information.
Some libraries are digitizing (making digital versions) of primary research resources such as private letters, official government records, treaties, photos, etc. ) and making these available for viewing on the Internet. The same is true for audio and, sometimes, video.
Access to searchable databases and datasets. There are many sites on the Internet where you are able to search a selection of statistical data, such as demographic or social science data.
The U.S. federal government is one of the largest publishers in the world and it is utilizing the Internet as its preferred method for disseminating a lot of its advice.
Access to global info. Not only can you easily locate official data from other nations by linking to embassies, consulates, and foreign governmental websites, you can even search other countries’ newspapers, discuss topics with citizens from all over the globe on the newsgroups, and find Web sites established by individuals from different nations.
Other key benefits that the Internet brings to the researcher include:
Speed. Doing an internet search on the Internet may take only seconds.
Timeliness. On the Internet, you can find advice that has only been made available a couple of minutes earlier.
Multimedia. The Internet delivers not just text, but graphics, sound, and video.
Hyperlinking. The capacity to click between Web pages can facilitate an associative type of research, and make it easier to view citations and supporting data out of a text.
On the downside, the Internet, despite its real and apparently growing benefits to the researcher, still presents particular drawbacks. One of the most important are:
A diverse group of information. The Internet is really a potpourri of information that’s one of its advantages, but it’s also one of its flaws. On the Net it is possible to come across everything from a scholarly paper printed on particle physics into a 14-year-old’s essay on her summer holiday; there are newswire feeds out of respected press organizations such as the AP and Reuters, as well as misinformation out of a Holocaust denial group; there are commercials and advertisements, and you will find scientific reports from the U.S. Department of Energy. All of this diversity makes it difficult to separate out and pinpoint just the kind of information you desire.
Difficult to hunt efficiently. A traditional electronic database which you may search in a library may take a little learning and practice, but when you get the hang of it, you can become an effective searcher. On the Internet, even if you know all of the ins and outs of hunting, due to the built-in constraints of Internet search engines along with how Web pages are made, you’ll only have the ability to search a small percentage of what’s on the Net. You also won’t be able to readily differentiate the precious from the trivial pages; also you can procure inconsistent outcomes.
Emphasis on new details. The Web came into being in the early 1990s, and, consequently, most of the information available on the Internet postdates this time. However, this is changing since particular Web site owners are loading older, archival material.
Lack of context. Because search engines will return just a single page from a multipage document, you are able to miss the bigger context from which that information was originated.
Lack of permanence. They look, move, and disappear regularly. This is of particular concern for academic investigators, who need to cite a steady page for reference purposes.
Selectivity of policy. Despite the magnitude of the Internet, the huge majority of the planet’s knowledge still resides in print. So a search for information on the Internet in no way represents a detailed look of the planet’s literature or understanding.
Similarly, a good deal of what is on the Internet is “off-limits” to search engines and is not retrievable. These off-limits websites include the ones that are available only to people who enroll, enter a password, or pay a subscription fee. Additional “off-limit” websites include papers that require subscriptions or registration, professional institution members-only sites, etc.
In all, one can observe that researching online can be a blessing or an impediment to great research success. But doing some research on the internet can, at least, provide a great basis for your exploring endeavors.