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Unformatted text preview: © iStockphoto/Thinkstock 5 Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. —Zora Neale Hurston (Hurston & Hemenway, 1984) American folklorist and writer (1903–1960) soL82373_05_c05_p065-086.indd 65 Conducting Online Research In this chapter, we discuss how Internet search engines and electronic databases function and how to use them effectively and efficiently to find sources for your college research papers. This chapter also provides you with guidance for determining the types of information you have gathered and for evaluating whether that information is acceptable and appropriate for college papers. 7/7/10 2:03 PM As we have discussed in previous chapters, research involves locating, interpreting, analyzing, and evaluating information related to your narrowed research topic and then forming conclusions and integrating information into a coherent final research paper. When you conduct research in a physical library, you may be able to check out materials and spend time reviewing them at your leisure. You may also find the information about the author, the date of publication, and the publisher much more easily than with materials you access electronically through the Ashford Online Library or an Internet Web page. However, because much of the research for your university courses will be conducted online, how can you quickly find useful information for your college papers without wasting time going down blind alleys or searching through hundreds, thousands, or even millions of Web pages or documents in an electronic database? To answer this question, let us begin by examining how Internet search engines and electronic databases operate. 5.1 How Search Engines and Databases Function Students sometimes contact their instructors and say, “I can’t find any information on my topic.” If you cannot find information, it does not necessarily mean that information is not available. It usually means you are not searching for that information in the right way. When we look for information electronically in the Ashford Online Library or on the Internet, most of us simply type in a word or phrase related to the topic of our paper and click “Search.” For example, suppose you want to research the types of examinations psychologists use as diagnostic tools. You might go to an online database in the library such as ProQuest or an Internet search engine such as Google and type your topic as “methods of conducting psychological examinations” in the search field. If you are lucky, you might find a few good results with that method; however, search engines and databases do not search phrases such as “methods of conducting psychological examinations” very effectively. They usually are not designed to yield significant results if you enter phrases or questions in everyday English. One exception is Ask.com, which will search everyday English phrases. However, it focuses on personal questions rather than on academic research topics. Internet search engines such as Google, Yahoo! Search, Alta Vista, Ask.com (formerly Ask Jeeves), and Bing (formerly MSN Search and Live Search), and databases such as those in the Ashford Online Library all operate a little differently from one another. Some search engines will find results that others will not, and information on the Web changes so quickly that a search engine may not display the latest information. So, it always pays to get a “second opinion” by using more than one search engine or more than one database for your research. Some search engines, called “metasearch engines” scan other search engines and databases for information. These metasearch engines—such as Dogpile, MetaCrawler, and WebCrawler—can obtain results from multiple search engines, newsgroups, and databases with a single search. However, they do not have access to the sophisticated mathematical formulas each search engine or database uses to retrieve information, so the results may not be as good as you might obtain by searching the different sites yourself. So, for the most precise results, I suggest you use two or three different search engines or check electronic databases separately. Although search engines and databases conduct their searches in slightly different ways, they all perform the following basic functions: • • They send out software robots called “spiders” or “crawlers” to search for words found on Web pages or in documents and usually tell the spiders to ignore certain other words, called stopwords. (See more information about stopwords later in this chapter.) They then compile an index of the words the spiders found and the page/location of those words. An Internet search engine might index hundreds of millions of pages per day. When you conduct a search, you are searching only the words or combinations of words in the index; if a word was not indexed, the search will not find it. soL82373_05_c05_p065-086.indd 66 7/7/10 2:03 PM • The pages or articles retrieved are ranked in a certain order when they are displayed, using internal rules of the search engine or database. Each search engine and database uses a different method to determine this ranking (Franklin, 2010). When you search for words or phrases electronically, you are asking (called “querying”) the index to search for all those words, usually minus the stopwords. The results you obtain, called “hits,” are displayed in a page order determined by the search engine or database. For example, in our topic above, “methods of conducting psychological examinations,” search engines will usually look for pages that contain any of the four main words: “methods,” “conducting,” “psychological,” and “examinations,” in any order. When I entered the phrase “methods of conducting psychological examinations” in three Internet search engines, I received 7.33 million, 3.6 million, and 1.3 million hits, or responses, to my query. Some of these hits had all four words in the order I wanted, but many had only one or two of these words and they may have been in a different order. For example, I received pages that had only the words “methods” or “conducting examinations,” which were unrelated to my topic of psychological examinations. When I eliminated one or two of the terms and searched for “conducting psychological examinations” or “psychological examinations” in the search engines, I did not improve my odds of finding good information. In fact, in some cases the number of hits I got actually increased. Obviously, you do not have the time to review millions of Web pages looking for information you obtain from this method of searching. Instead, use the basic and advanced search techniques we discuss below to narrow or limit your search to a manageable number of potential sources and to focus your research efforts Databases such as those in the Ashford Online Library also look for specific indexed words. However, databases search for information in a different manner from that of an Internet search engine. A database is an organized collection of information and data, similar to information filed in a file cabinet. The information is structured in a specific way, and database searches follow that structure to find words in a query. Databases are usually designed to search for exact words in their indexes or for phrases or words near each other (Search Tips, 2010). For example, when I entered the phrase “methods of conducting psychological examinations” in the ProQuest databases, I received only eight hits; when I entered the same phrase in the EBSCOhost databases, I received zero hits. 5.2 Basic Online Search Techniques Most Internet search engines and databases allow you to conduct two different types of searches: a basic search and an advanced or refined search. With a basic search, you simply enter a word or phrase related to your topic. As we have just seen with our example, basic searches are not always the most efficient way to find information. You usually have either too many hits to sort through or too few hits to use as sources for your paper. However, basic searches can be useful when you are doing preliminary research to determine what aspects of a topic that researchers have studied in the past. A basic search can help you limit your topic to ensure that it is not too broad to cover well in your research paper. You can improve the quality of your basic search results if you follow the tips below and master the techniques of subject searching and keyword searching. Basic Search Hints • • Most search engines and databases allow you to type in either all uppercase or all lowercase letters; you usually do not have to use standard capitalization rules. However, if the search engine has a heading titled “Search Tips,” be sure to check it for information on how to use that particular search engine. Use the numeral keys for typing numbers (0, not the letter o, and 1, not the letter l). If you are looking for a book or an article that begins with a number, such as 1984, try searching for it both as a number (1984) and written in full (nineteen eighty-four). soL82373_05_c05_p065-086.indd 67 7/7/10 2:03 PM • • • • Do not use punctuation such as commas or apostrophes in your search terms. Hyphens usually do not significantly affect search results. Omit articles (a, an, the) as the first word in your search. (See the section “Stopwords” later in this chapter.) Avoid using common words such as “business,” “computers,” “students,” or “education” unless you combine them with another term. Using these words by themselves will give you too many hits to explore. If you get no results for your search, check your search entry for spelling or typing errors, try alternative spellings of the words (if available), or refer to information in the section “Advanced or Refined Online Searches” later in this chapter. Also remember that search engines and databases do not think or understand concepts; they merely match words and phrases. If your results are not the type of information you are seeking, try one or more of the advanced techniques in this chapter to more precisely define the search. Because search engines and databases do not handle long phrases or everyday language well, you can save yourself hours of time looking for research sources if you understand the two basic search techniques of subject searching and keyword searching discussed below. Subject Searching Most databases search only the language in their indexes, called “controlled vocabulary” or “subject” searching. Making a word plural (for example, “examinations” rather than “examination”) will not usually affect your search results; database searches will generally capture both singular and plural forms of a word. However, if researchers and scholars in psychology do not often use the phrase “psychological examinations” but instead refer to these exams as “psychological tests,” you will find few or no results for “psychological examinations.” If you use the subject terms the database has in its index, you will most likely obtain sufficient sources you can use, and you will find them faster than if you try to search using your own words. © Photodisc/Thinkstock How do you learn the subjects in the index of a particular database? You have two primary alternatives. First, most databases will give you the option of browsing a list of their subjects. Look around on a database search page for the words “subjects,” “subject terms,” “index,” “thesaurus,” or “descriptors.” Click this option and you can usually scroll through the list to find terms related to your topic or type in your search term or phrase and see if it is in the index. If it is not there, the index may direct you to the appropriate term to use. Like a file cabinet, a database can be searched by using the index to find subjects of interest. soL82373_05_c05_p065-086.indd 68 For example, in the EBSCOhost database on the Ashford Online Library, the top of the EBSCOhost search screen has a menu item titled “Subject Terms.” If you click that menu item, you will see a field to enter your search word or phrase and browse the subject terms. I entered the term “psychological examinations” and clicked “Browse”; EBSCOhost informed me that phrase was not an exact match. However, it provided me with a list of other terms that were in the subject index and might be useful for my research. Be sure you record all these other suggested terms. Searching is sometimes a process of trying something to see what happens. A second way you can learn the database subject terms is to go ahead and use your own word or phrase in a search and 7/7/10 2:03 PM see what results you get. Whether you get few results or many, a database will usually give you suggestions for other search terms. Make sure to record any suggestions you think may be useful. For example, as I mentioned earlier, when I conducted my search in ProQuest, the database returned only eight hits. However, at the top and bottom of the results page, ProQuest displayed the following four suggestions for other terms I might try: • • • • Methods AND Psychological aspects Methods AND Physical examinations Teaching methods AND Psychological aspects Methods AND Psychological tests (Note the capitalized word “AND” in these suggestions. Use of this capitalized term will be explained later in the section “Boolean Searching” under “Advanced and Refined Online Searches.”) Databases often provide you with pairs of terms like these to help focus your search. I decided to eliminate “Methods AND Physical examinations” and “Teaching methods AND Psychological aspects” because they did not seem related to my topic. However, I recorded the other two suggestions, so I could search them later. I also thought I might want to search just the term “psychological tests,” so I wrote down that phrase as well. Keyword Searching Keyword searching is probably the most popular search technique people use for searching the Internet, and most Internet search engines retrieve information using keywords. Many databases will also give you the option of searching by keywords as an advanced or refined search technique, which we discuss later in this chapter. Keywords are alternative terms, important words related to your topic, or phrases that describe your topic. When search engine spiders crawl through Web pages, they record how many times a word appears on a page. If the word or phrase is the topic of an article or a main point related to that topic, it will usually appear several times on a page and the search engine will capture it as a keyword. Before you begin a search, it is a good idea to list all keywords you can think of that might be associated with your topic. These keywords might be other terms such as “tests” for “examinations,” or they might be words that are related somehow to your topic such as “psychologist,” or “test scores.” Search under each of these keywords and phrases to see which ones give you the most useful results. Internet search engines, like databases, will often give you other terms that may be related to your search. For example, when I entered the phrase “psychological examinations” in Google, I received ten suggestions at the bottom of the results page that Google titled “Searches related to ‘psychological examinations.’” When you receive suggestions such as these, determine which ones you think will be useful and record them just as you recorded database suggestions. Figure 5.1 illustrates how I recorded the suggestions and related keywords and phrases I obtained for my topic in my database and Internet searches. Figure 5.2 is a blank suggestion form you can print and use to record suggestions in your own searches. 5.3 Advanced or Refined Online Search Techniques Most databases and search engines have a tab or menu item near the search field titled “Advanced Search” or “Refine Search,” which lists options you can use to narrow and focus your search. Advanced options differ from one search engine to another, but some of the possibilities include the ability to search more than one word, to give more weight to one search term than to another, and to exclude words that might clutter your results. In the Yahoo Advanced Search, for example, you can choose to search only .gov or .org Web sites if you wish. The search engine might also allow you to search by author or by date or to find words that are close to other words. You can save yourself many hours of research time and generally get higher quality soL82373_05_c05_p065-086.indd 69 7/7/10 2:03 PM Topic: Methods of conducting psychological examinations Search Engine/Database: Search Word or Phrase: Suggestions: ProQuest—All databases methods of conducting psychological examinations Methods AND Psychological aspects Methods AND Psychological tests Psychological tests Search Engine/Database: Search Word or Phrase: Suggestions: Google psychological examinations psychological assessment psychometric testing psychological evaluations psychological screening tests psychological inventories Search Engine/Database: Search Word or Phrase: Suggestions: Google psychological examinations mmpi psychological test psychological interview types of psychological testing personality testing psychological personality traits Figure 5.1 Completed Search Suggestion Form soL82373_05_c05_p065-086.indd 70 7/7/10 2:03 PM Topic: As you search for your research subject or topic, use this form to record suggestions, subject terms, related terms, or keywords suggested to you by the database or Internet search engine that you think might be useful for your research. Search Engine/Database: Search Word or Phrase: Suggestions: Search Engine/Database: Search Word or Phrase: Suggestions: Search Engine/Database: Search Word or Phrase: Suggestions: Figure 5.2 Blank Search Suggestion Form soL82373_05_c05_p065-086.indd 71 7/7/10 2:03 PM results (results that are more closely related to your topic) if you make it a habit to use advanced or refined search techniques instead of performing basic searches. Because the advanced options on each database and search engine are different, the best way to learn them is to read the Help files, the advanced search or refined search information, or the search tips or Help menu of your favorite search engines and databases to see what alternatives are available. Then practice different techniques to see what results you obtain with different types of searches. Also click the ENG 122 tab in the Ashford Writing Center to view a tutorial on the Ashford Online Library and the use of many of these advanced search techniques. Below are the most common advanced search options. Experienced researchers use these advanced techniques to save time and to pinpoint their search results; you can easily learn these same techniques and use them in your college research. You may want to experiment by choosing one of the techniques. Then, when you feel comfortable with that technique, add other techniques to your searches. Before long, you will be a professional at quickly and easily finding information, and you will not waste time poring through unrelated and useless results. These techniques are not difficult to learn, and they can make research an exciting process of discovery rather than a tedious struggle to wade through irrelevant information. Field Searching Databases house data in separate fields such as types of documents, authors, and date of publication. You can usually query the database to retrieve only information in a specific field. For example, if a database contains journal articles, magazine articles, and newspaper articles and your research assignment specifies that you use only information from scholarly journals, you can usually limit your search so that only journal articles are displayed (Database Search Techniques, 2010). Field searching can also be used to limit results to full-text results that include the entire article rather than just an abstract of the article. Truncation One of the easiest and most useful advanced search techniques you can use is called truncation. The word truncate means “to shorten,” and truncation involves using special words or symbols, called operators, to shorten a search word and obtain variant spellings or word endings from that symbol forward. The most common operator used for truncation is an asterisk (*). However, some databases use a question mark (?). For our topic “psychological examinations,” entering “psycho*” in the ProQuest database search field produced articles that contained the words “psychologist,” “psychology,” “psychophysiological,” “psychometric,” “psychosocial,” and “psychopathic,” among others. Truncation is especially useful when your database searches provide very few results. Remember that databases usually search for exact words in their indexes. So, if you use the words “psychological examinations” and the database index lists “psychology examinations,” you will not retrieve any results from your search. Truncating the first word “psycho*” will give you results for both words. With truncation, be careful where you place the operator. If you enter “psy*,” for example, you will get results for words not related to your search such as “psychic” and “psychotherapy.” Wildcards An asterisk (*) may be used for truncation, or it may be used in a different manner as a search engine or database wildcard. A wildcard is a symbol used as a substitute for a letter, word, or other character or as an instruction to a database or search engine to perform a specific function. Wildcards can give you increased flexibility and efficiency in your searches and may sometimes be combined with one another to pinpoint your searches. Table 5.1 describes some wildcards and their common meanings. However, you must check the search tips or Help screens of each search engine or database to determine how they use wildcards. soL82373_05_c05_p065-086.indd 72 7/7/10 2:03 PM Table 5.1 Wildcards Symbol * ? + Common Meaning Example Used to retrieve any words that begin with the characters preceding the asterisk. Searching for “book*” in the title field in the EBSCOhost database retrieved articles with titles that contained the words “book,” “books,” “bookbinding,” “booking,” bookish,” “bookkeeping,” “booklet,” and “bookmark,” among others. Searching for “booksh*” retrieved only titles that contained “bookshop,” “bookshops,” “bookshelf,” and “bookshelves.” Used to represent exactly one character; two question marks would indicate two characters, three question marks would indicate three characters, and so on. (Note: Some search engines use a question mark to perform the function of an asterisk.) Searching for “book???” in the AU (author) field of the EBSCOhost database retrieved only articles written by authors whose last name began with “book” and contained three additional letters. For example, results included authors named “Bookman,” “Bookout,” and “Bookser.” Used to retrieve stopwords. If a search engine or database omits the stopword “with,” using the wildcard before the word “with” (“+with”) will usually retrieve phrases containing that word, such as “with respect” or “with exceptions.” Square brackets can represent any of the characters enclosed in the brackets. Use of “*.[gov]” in a Google search retrieved only Web site URLs that ended in .gov (government Web sites). Stopwords Stopwords are short or linking words that you should not use in your online searches. In our topic “methods of conducting psychological examinations,” the word “of” is a stopword. Using stopwords can add clutter to your search and give you irrelevant results. Try not to think of your topic as a phrase that includes these words, but search for single-subject words or keywords instead. If you want to use more than one word in a search, use exact phrase searching or Boolean logic, explained below. Table 5.2 lists some common stopwords. be for is such using about been from its than was both has no they where an but have of this what are by if on to who as do in same upon will at Common Stopwords a all Table 5.2 each into some used with Exact Phrase Searching Remember that most Internet search engines search every word in your search phrases, regardless of the order in which the words appear. If you want to search for the exact phrase “psychological examinations,” you must usually enclose the phrase in double quotation marks. However, a danger of exact phrase searching is that you might accidentally miss good results. For example, by searching for the name “Alexander Bell” (in quotation marks), you will not get Web pages that refer to Alexander G. Bell (Google Search Basics, 2010). So, check the search tips for each engine search to see how it handles exact phrases, or try to search phrases with and without quotation marks to see if you get different results. soL82373_05_c05_p065-086.indd 73 7/7/10 2:03 PM Boolean Searching Also called Boolean logic or Boolean algebra, Boolean searching can be one of the most useful tools you have for searching both Web sites and library databases. The best news, though, is that it is easy. One author describes this search technique by saying, “Boolean logic (or at least the parts you need in order to understand the operations of computers) is outrageously simple” (Brain, 2000, para. 2). Boolean searching is named for George Boole, a self-taught 19th-century British-born mathematician. In his writings, Boole pointed out the possibilities of applying principles of algebra to the solution of logic problems (Redshaw, 1996). As computers were developed, many software developers adopted Boolean techniques and used them in their search engine and database programs. Today, most search engines and databases use Boolean search techniques, at least as an option for advanced searching. To use Boolean searching, you simply type your search words into the search engine or database, using the word “AND,” “OR,” and “NOT,” typed in all capital letters, to limit or broaden your search. These capitalized words, called Boolean operators, focus the results of your searches in defined ways. Table 5.3 lists the primary Boolean operators and how to use them. Table 5.3 Boolean Operators Operator Function Comments AND Links words that are different. Example: “psychological AND examinations” You can use more than one AND operator. Example: “psychological AND examinations AND methods” Use to narrow your search by indicating terms that must be included in the results—for example, a search using “psychological AND examinations” will retrieve records only if both words appear on the Web page or in the article. You can use more than one AND operator in a search. The more terms you search with the AND operator, the fewer results you will obtain. OR Links words that are similar in meaning or are synonyms. Example: “examinations OR tests” Use to broaden your search by retrieving records that mention any of the words linked by the operator—for example, a search using “examinations OR tests” would retrieve any records in which the word “examinations” or “tests” is mentioned. A search using “examinations OR tests OR assessments” would retrieve any records that mention any of these terms. AND and OR Combines the functions of both AND and OR operators. If you use both operators in a search, put the OR terms in parentheses so that the search engine treats them as a unit (this technique is called nesting). Example: “psychological AND (examinations OR tests)” You can combine AND and OR operators to more precisely focus your search—for example, a search using “psychological AND (examinations OR tests)” will retrieve any records in which “psychological examinations,” or “psychological tests” appear. NOT Removes unwanted terms from a search. Example: “examinations NOT physical” Retrieves all records in which the first term appears and excludes records in which the second word also appears. AND and NOT Combines the functions of AND and NOT operators. When using the NOT operator, be careful that you do not eliminate potentially useful records. Example: “psychological AND examinations NOT physical” will eliminate a sentence like this one: Psychological examinations are different from physical examinations. You can combine the AND and NOT operators to more precisely focus your search—for example, a search using “psychological AND examinations NOT physical” will retrieve any records in which the words “psychological” and “examinations” appear on the page but will exclude any records in which the word “physical” also appears in the record. (Reminder: Not all search engines and databases allow these Boolean operators, and some use different operators. Be sure to check the Advanced Search, Refine Search, Search Tips, or Help menu for each search engine or database.) soL82373_05_c05_p065-086.indd 74 7/7/10 2:03 PM Boolean searching can be extremely useful when you get thousands or millions of hits on your search and need to narrow down the results to a manageable level. It can also be used to broaden your search when you do not get enough information for your research topic. Study Figures 5.3 through 5.7 for illustrations of how Boolean searching focuses search results. AND Figure 5.3 Boolean operator AND (Two Words) psychological examinations AND Figure 5.4 Boolean operator AND (Three Words) methods psychological OR Figure 5.5 Boolean operator OR (Two Words) examinations soL82373_05_c05_p065-086.indd 75 examinations tests 7/7/10 2:03 PM OR Figure 5.6 Boolean operator OR (Three Words) assessments examinations tests NOT Figure 5.7 Boolean operator NOT examinations physical Proximity Searching Proximity searching is similar to Boolean searching and involves the use of operators to find words that are near one another, within a specified number of words away from one another, or that follow one another. Review the search information for each database to determine if proximity operators are available. 5.4 Understanding Uniform Resource Locators Every Internet resource or document has an address that indicates where it is located. This address is known as its Uniform Resource Locator, or URL. The URL usually appears in a box in the upper-left corner of your browser, the program such as Internet Explorer, Netscape, or Firefox that you use to surf the Web. Let us take a look at what each section of the URL means. We will use the Ashford University Academic Catalog as an example. The Internet address, or URL, for the catalog is <http://www.ashford.edu/student/forms/ catalog0910.pdf>. Refer to the illustration in Figure 5.8 as we discuss each section of this URL. Knowing the structure of this address can help you determine what information to include when you document an Internet source in your research papers. soL82373_05_c05_p065-086.indd 76 7/7/10 2:03 PM Figure 5.8 Understanding URLs http://www.ashford.edu/student/forms/catalog0910.pdf protocol domain name or host name path to document file name Each section of a URL is separated from other sections by one or two forward slashes (/) or (//). For consistency, always type the URL in all lowercase letters. Do not insert a hyphen if you need to break a URL at the end of a line. Instead, break the URL before a punctuation mark, such as before a forward slash or a period. (Exception: Do not break a URL after http://.) Do not add a period after the URL when you include a URL in your reference list at the end of a paper; readers may think the period is part of the URL (American Psychological Association, 2010). Protocol The first part of the URL indicates the protocol, or the rules for carrying out a function such as transferring data between computers. Most Web addresses begin with the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (http://) because this protocol controls communication between a server (a computer that receives requests and returns information) and World Wide Web customers (Castells, 2000). Other protocols are used for email transfers of information and transfers of other types of data over the Internet. Domain Name, or Host Name The domain name, or host name, is the name of the provider that sends information to other computers. On the Web, it is often the address for an organization’s home page. Many domain names begin with “www.”; however, not all do. Each part of the domain name, or host name, is separated from other parts by a dot (.). In our Ashford example, the domain name is www.ashford.edu, which indicates the domain is on the World Wide Web (www) and the educational institution’s name is Ashford. We know that Ashford is an educational institution or university because the domain name ends with the extension .edu. Domains outside the United States also add a two-letter domain suffix. For example, the Web site of the Canadian postal service, called Canada Post, is <www.canadapost.ca>. Table 5.4 shows the most common domain name extensions you are likely to find in your academic research. Path to Document This portion of the URL shows the path, or list of the directories, the computer uses to locate a particular file. At times in your research, you may be reading a document at the end of a long path and need to know the full name of the organization that published the document or the date the Web site was last updated, to document the source. If you go to the URL address box, you can delete characters in the URL until you back up the path to the domain name and the home page of the organization. Then click “Enter” and look for your reference information. For example, if you were on a page of the Ashford University Web site at <http://www.ashford .edu/online/degrees/bapsummary.php> and were examining a summary of the university’s Bachelor of Arts in Psychology program, you could get back to the home page of the university by going to the URL address box, putting your cursor after the extension “php” and delete characters until the URL reads <http://www.ashford .edu/>. At this point, if you click “Enter,” you would return to the home page of the university. This technique can be useful when you are very deep into a Web site and need to back up to find information about a source. soL82373_05_c05_p065-086.indd 77 7/7/10 2:03 PM Table 5.4 Extension Common Domain Name Extensions Meaning .ac Suffix for academic institutions in the United Kingdom (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales). Suffix is always followed by the .uk country code; for example, the URL for Oxford University is http://www.ox.ac.uk/ .au Country suffix for Australia; for example, the URL for the Australian Customs and Border Protection Web Site is http://www.customs.gov.au/ .biz Generally small-business Web sites .ca Country suffix for Canada; for example, the URL for the Canadian postal service, Canada Post, is http://www.canadapost.ca/ .co A commercial company outside the United States (always followed by a country code)— for example, www.amazon.co.uk .com A commercial entity or business in the United States .edu A university or educational institution in the United States .gov A government entity in the United States .info Represents the word information and is used for a wide range of sites from reputable resource sites to personal Web sites with information about the site owner .mil A military domain in the United States .net Represents the word network and is commonly used by organizations involved with the Internet, such as Internet service providers and Web-hosting companies .org Domain for nonprofit organizations and trade associations, but may also be used by other organizations .uk Country suffix for the United Kingdom File Name This section of the URL specifies the name of the document and, often, the document type. For example, in our Ashford University Academic Catalog URL, this section of the URL reads “catalog0910.pdf” and specifies that the name of the document is “catalog0910” and the file type is PDF (a file that can be read by free Adobe Reader software). 5.5 Types of Information Your research is likely to result in a great deal of information that is acceptable for college-level research and a great deal of information that is not. Once you have found some information online or at a physical library that you believe could be potentially useful, how can you determine if that information is acceptable for your college research paper? First, you must consider whether the information is a fact, an inference, or an opinion. Facts are definitely acceptable for academic research; inferences and opinions may or may not be acceptable. Figure 5.9 summarizes the differences between facts, inferences, and opinions that we discuss in more detail below. Let us examine these three categories of information individually. Facts For purposes of academic research, facts can be defined as statements that can be proven to be true and are not in dispute. Remember, researchers are concerned with data that are observable and measurable, soL82373_05_c05_p065-086.indd 78 7/7/10 2:03 PM FACT A fact is a statement that can be proven to be true and is not in dispute. Facts can be verified through our senses or proven by measurement. Facts are definitely acceptable for academic research. INFERENCE An inference is an interpretation or a conclusion we make based on facts or on observable or measurable evidence. It is a logical assumption based on something we or others have observed, measured, or have deduced from evidence. When we make inferences, we are interpreting information, and interpretation is an important part of research. However, to be acceptable for academic research, we must make sure our inferences meet four criteria: • • • • They must be reasonable and logical. They must be based on sufficient and relevant evidence. They must be valid. They must be reliable. OPINION An opinion expresses thoughts, feelings, judgments, or value. You can often recognize an opinion by use of words such as feel or believe; by emotional language such as “I like/hate”; by words that indicate the speaker is comparing or judging something such as most, least, better, best, worst or by words such as always, never, all, or none. Opinions also may use descriptive words such as beautiful, fun, exciting, or smart. Opinions are not acceptable or appropriate sources of evidence for college-level research, except in situations where the opinion is given by someone who has special knowledge or expertise on a subject. Figure 5.9 Recognizing Facts, Inferences, and Opinions and facts are statements that we can verify through our senses or prove by measurement. When we observe something, we make contact with that object through the use of our physical senses of seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, or smelling. It is true that not everyone gets the same result by using their senses. For example, some people can taste wine and detect a hint of pepper or wild cherries in the wine. Others may not detect those tastes at all. One reason for this difference is that observation is affected by experience, knowledge, training, and attention. Law enforcement personnel are trained to be observant of certain behaviors and details and will often spot potential problems on a city street before a member of the general public might notice anything is wrong. With training and experience, we can all train our senses. Musicians are trained to hear if a musical note is sharp or flat. And, with training in wine tasting, we can improve our ability to discern different flavors in the taste of various wines. soL82373_05_c05_p065-086.indd 79 7/7/10 2:03 PM © John Howard/Digital Vision/Thinkstock Similar to how a musician may train his ears to detect certain notes, researchers are trained to observe phenomena. Scientists and researchers are often educated, trained, or have experience in observing phenomena. However, they are also careful to record their observations and, if possible, to find a way to quantify or measure them. Because measurements are more finite and less likely to be disputed than observations, researchers rely heavily on numbers or statistical measures of phenomena, whenever possible. For example, in stating a fact about air pressure, a scientist might write, “At sea level, the standard air pressure is 29.92 inches of mercury” (U.S. Geological Survey, 2010). This fact has been proven through scientific research and is not in dispute. The term standard air pressure has been defined scientifically as the pressure of the atmosphere at sea level, at 0 degree Celsius. It can be measured in several different ways: 1013 millibars, 101.3 kiloPascals, 760 millimeters of mercury, 29.92 inches of mercury, 14.7 pounds per square inch, or a figure known as 1 atmosphere (National Earth Science Teachers Association, 2010). So, when stating a fact about boiling water, a researcher might qualify the statement by saying, “At sea level, at a standard air pressure of 29.92 inches of mercury, water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit” (Georgia State University, 2010). Notice how specific this statement is. When you paraphrase information and data from research sources you find, be careful that you do not make sweeping statements and that you are specific when you paraphrase and restate factual information. Do not forget to cite the source of the factual or numerical information, as I have done above. © iStockphoto/Thinkstock In your research, you may often find research studies with very lengthy titles because researchers are careful to state facts in specific terms. They do not make broad generalizations such as “water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit” because that statement would not be a fact that is true in all places at all times; the boiling temperature of water depends on altitude and barometric pressure. In Denver, Colorado, for example, nicknamed the “Mile-High City” because its elevation is 5,280 feet, water boils at approximately 203 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on barometric pressure (Cornell University, 2007). Researchers are careful to state facts in specific terms. A generalization such as “water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit” would be inaccurate. Inferences An inference is an interpretation or conclusion we make based on facts or on observable or measurable evidence. For example, if we see dark clouds moving into the area, or if the atmospheric pressure drops on our barometer, we infer that a storm is coming. Conclusions such as these are logical assumptions we make based on something we have observed, measured, or have deduced from evidence. We also make inferences from the conclusions others have drawn from their observations or measurements. When you conduct research, you make inferences when you interpret facts and form conclusions based on data. If you recall from previous chapters in this text, interpretation and making inferences from observable and measureable data are appropriate and essential tasks in the research process. However, it is important to recognize that inferences are statements of probability, not certainty. Whereas facts deal with what is, inferences can be made about the past, the present, and the future, and they have soL82373_05_c05_p065-086.indd 80 7/7/10 2:03 PM © iStockphoto/Thinkstock varying degrees of probability. To be acceptable for academic research, we must make sure that the inferences we make and those we accept from others meet these four criteria: If we see dark clouds, we might infer that a storm is coming. • • • • Inferences must be reasonable and logical. Inferences must be based on relevant evidence. Inferences must be valid. Validity means that the statement is supported by objective truth (facts) or a generally accepted and trusted authority. Inferences must be reliable. Reliability is a test of consistency. A research result is reliable when the same test is repeated and gives the same result. In the next section of this chapter, we discuss how to evaluate sources you find and to make sure that inferences meet these criteria. Opinions If we cannot observe or measure a phenomenon and cannot make reasonable inferences based on facts, a statement may not lend itself to academic research. For example, the question “Is the Colorado River beautiful?” is not a fact and is not a researchable question. We cannot measure the term beautiful because no objective criteria exist to determine beauty. As we say, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” (Netting, 2005). A statement such as the one above about the Colorado River is an opinion and a statement of value. An opinion is a personal belief, a point of view, or a judgment that is not founded on any proof. We hold opinions on many issues ranging from personal behavior to religious and political issues to aesthetic concepts such as what is beautiful and what is not and to moral issues such as concepts of right and wrong. Often you can recognize opinions because they contain words that indicate personal feelings or adjectives that relate to personal values or beliefs. Below is a short list of some words that often indicate an opinion: • • • • • • • Feel Believe Always; never All; none Most; least Best; worst Descriptive words such as beautiful, fun, exciting, or smart For example, a licensed physician may render a medical opinion on an issue, and this person may have credibility because of his or her knowledge of medicine. However, the opinion may be disputed or challenged by other medical experts, who also have expertise in the field. Opinions from experts are acceptable and appropriate for academic research. However, it is important to remember that these opinions must be supported by factual evidence as well as simply the expert’s soL82373_05_c05_p065-086.indd 81 © iStockphoto/Thinkstock Opinions are not acceptable or appropriate sources of evidence for college-level research, except in situations where the opinion is given by someone who has special knowledge or expertise on a subject. Even in these situations, however, the opinion may be challenged, and we must always examine the credibility of the “expert” making the statement. What valid research question could you ask about the Colorado River? 7/7/10 2:03 PM personal opinion. It is also important to acknowledge other opinions, if they exist, and to discuss why those opposing opinions are not valid. Another type of opinion is that of a legal opinion issued by a court. A legal opinion is a formal statement or conclusion made by a court stating the reasons and principles for the court’s decision. Again, this type of opinion is acceptable for academic research. However, it is important to remember that legal opinions may be challenged and possibly overturned by higher courts. When citing legal opinions in your research, make sure to carefully document your sources, so others can check your references. Opinions can be used, however, in argumentative research papers. Because opinions are debatable, they can be argued. You may be asked to write research papers in which you form an opinion and then argue your point of view. In that type of assignment, your goal is to use logic, reasoning, and factual evidence to convince readers of the validity of your point of view on an issue. To accomplish this goal, you must conduct research and gather evidence to support your opinion. This evidence might consist of examples from your own experience, facts, statistics, and statements from authorities in their fields to prove your point and to build a case that readers will accept. You will also be expected to take opposing views into account and to counter or overcome them using reason and logic (Campsall, 2010). You might think of an argumentative research paper as teaching your readers the facts about an issue. Your task in this type of research paper is to show your readers that you are well informed and understand the issue, that you have considered different points of view, and that, after careful consideration, you have decided that the point of view you advocate is the correct one. You must also convince them that you have solid, specific reasons that support your thesis or point of view. Once they see the facts, you reason, they will have no choice but to accept your opinion on the issue. 5.6 Evaluating Information and Evidence Once you have determined that you have acceptable information for your college paper, you have one final step to take before you use the data or information in your paper: You must make sure it is appropriate for college-level research. When we discussed the research process in Chapter 3, we mentioned that an important step in the process is evaluating the materials you use for your research papers. Evaluation involves critically judging the meaning, quality, importance, or value of the information, and this evaluation takes place while you are conducting research and examining the sources you find. When you evaluate research information, you are doing so to make certain you have enough information about your topic and that the information is relevant, credible, valid, reliable and appropriate for your paper. Let us look at how to conduct these evaluations. Tips for Evaluating Web Sites When a periodical, book, or a company document is published, editors and reviewers often read it before it is published, and errors and omissions are often corrected before the publication goes to press. When you do research on the Internet, however, no one has to review or approve material; anyone can post almost anything on the Web. Thus, it is your job as a researcher to make sure that what you found is an appropriate source for your research paper. Below are some tips to help you in your Web site evaluation. Remember to use the information in this chapter to help you find acceptable research information on the Web. • Check at the top and bottom of Web articles to see if the author cited his or her sources. If so, it is more likely that the source is reputable. These citations may also be sources you can use. soL82373_05_c05_p065-086.indd 82 7/7/10 2:03 PM • • • • We stated earlier in this text that Wikipedia and similar sites are not acceptable sources for academic research papers. However, they can lead you to acceptable sources. At the bottom of every Wikipedia page is a list of references and links. Check them out. Many of them may be good research sources for your papers. In the text of Web articles, if you see footnote numbers or links to other material, take time to explore them. They may provide explanatory information, background information, or links to other materials. Go to the home page of a Web document to see if you can learn more about the article, author, or organization that published any material you find. Look for links titled “Additional Sites” or “Related Links” on Web pages and explore them. Six Tests of Evidence When researchers make statements that are not factual but represent inferences or opinions, they must back up those statements with evidence. Remember that evidence consists of examples, facts, statistics, or the words of credible sources. Again, you must evaluate this evidence to ensure that it is sufficient. Below are six simple tests of evidence you should conduct to make sure the information you use is appropriate for your paper. Ask yourself the following six questions about each source. If you can answer yes to all these questions, you probably have a great source for your research paper. • • • • • • Is the source credible? Is the source unbiased? Is the source relevant? Is the source complete? Is the source logical? Is the source recent? Let us look at each of these questions in more detail and discuss what to look for as you attempt to answer each question. Is the Source Credible? Credibility refers to whether the information and the source of the information are believable and trustworthy. We make important decisions every day based on our judgments of credibility. For example, if someone told you that your company was going to lay off workers, would you believe the statement? Chances are the answer would depend on who made that statement, whether that person has any knowledge about personnel issues in the company, and whether that person has a reputation for being honest and trustworthy. In other words, you would need to know if the person and the information were credible. You must make judgments about the credibility of your research sources as well. You should use only credible sources for your research papers. A printed or electronic source is more likely to be credible if the following is true: • • • • • • • The author’s name is given. The author’s education, training, or credentials are in a field relevant to the subject. The author’s job title, position, or organizational affiliation is provided and is relevant to the subject. The organization publishing the information is a government, military, or nonprofit organization; an educational institution; or a known corporate entity. The information is in a reputable publication or posted on a reputable organization’s Web site. The URL is .gov, .mil, .edu, or .org (check .org sites to make sure they are hosted by a reputable nonprofit organization). The information is written in a professional manner, does not contain grammatical errors, provides evidence to support inferences and opinions, and does not contain emotional statements. soL82373_05_c05_p065-086.indd 83 7/7/10 2:03 PM • • • • Sources are named and a bibliography or reference list is provided. The tone of the information is objective. The reasoning is logical. If the source is a periodical, the type of periodical is acceptable for academic research. Do not be misled by articles that try to make you believe that they are presenting credible information when they are simply trying to sell a product. Many articles about weight loss or diet products, for example, include photographs of people supposedly taken before and after they use the product and who have had dramatic “results.” The articles may also present testimony from people wearing white lab coats, but whose medical background is not stated. Photographs can be manipulated with software programs to make people look heavier or thinner. Credible sources will always include their credentials so you can judge their credibility. Obtain your information from reputable publications, as discussed in Chapter 4, and you will have fewer problems with issues of credibility of your sources. Is the Source Unbiased? Bias refers to the point of view or the slant of information. Some sources present information about a subject objectively and fairly discuss both sides of a controversial issue. Other sources provide only one side of the issue and do not discuss points of view that are contrary to its own. A source that presents only one perspective, that slants information to favor its opinion on an issue, or that tries to persuade readers that its viewpoint is the only one that should be considered is said to be biased. Bias is not necessarily bad; we all have points of view, or biases, on subjects. You can use biased sources in your research papers. However, it is important that you recognize the bias and perhaps even mention it in your paper. If you have a biased source and are writing an analytical research paper in which your purpose is to objectively examine, analyze, and evaluate an issue, you must find other points of view about the issue so that the presentation of material in your paper is fair and balanced. If you are writing an argumentative research paper, a biased source may be helpful as a source to support your point of view. However, you should seek out other points of view on the subject as well and take them into account as you write your argument. It is also important to examine biased sources to see whether the author supports his or her point of view with facts and statistical data or with only personal opinions and emotional appeals. Bias can be found in the language of a source and the manner in which the subject is presented. Bias can also be present in the author; in the newspaper, magazine, or Web site itself; or in the publisher. You can refer to the comments section in the examples of journal and magazines that were presented in Chapter 4 to help you determine the bias of well-known publications. As you read potential research sources, use your critical thinking skills to evaluate whether the author is fairly and accurately presenting information. Be suspicious of highly emotional language and judge whether the author is presenting a reasonable argument. Even the arguments of opponents should be presented fairly. None of us is totally objective, but writers should not be afraid to address differences of opinion and control their own biases when they present information. One of the biggest problems with objectivity is conflict of interest. At times, studies are conducted that are funded by financial grants, and an organization may benefit financially or politically from publishing information that presents a certain point of view. For example, a study sponsored by a liquor producer is unlikely to recommend that people stop drinking or may place more emphasis on the benefits of their products than on its hazards. Make sure you recognize your own biases as well, as you conduct research. Bias usually stems from our feelings, which are based on our personal experiences, beliefs, values, and attitudes rather than on rational soL82373_05_c05_p065-086.indd 84 7/7/10 2:03 PM thought about an issue. As a researcher, remember that you must try to set aside your own biases and conduct your research objectively to try to find the truth about a subject. What you learn may cause you to strengthen your own biases, or it may cause you to change your opinion about a subject. In either case, though, you will grow from the experience. Is the Source Relevant? As you search for sources on the Internet and in libraries, make sure that all material you retrieve relates to your topic. Rather than read hundreds of articles you found in a database search to see if they contain information you can use for your paper, quickly scan the abstracts of any articles that look promising. If an article appears to be a useful source, read it carefully and thoroughly to see if it relates to your topic. Ask yourself the following questions: • • • What subject areas does the source cover? Are these areas ones that I will address in my paper? Is this publication meant for academics or others who are well informed in the field? If so, does it contain any references that can help me obtain background information on the subject? Is the Source Complete? No source ever presents totally complete coverage of a topic; that is why we must find more than one source pertaining to our topic. Remember that research is ongoing, and we never completely understand a subject. However, when we say that a source should be complete, we mean that the writer should be thorough in discussing the subject and should not leave out information because it does not fit his or her point of view. When you read information about your topic, ask yourself if the author presented enough evidence to support his or her point of view. Also ask yourself if you have enough evidence to present a clear and complete picture of the topic in your paper. Do not take information out of context and mislead the reader by using only the portion of the information that supports your opinion about a topic. Is the Source Logical? Examine the information to ensure that it makes sense and is consistent with other known evidence. If it is inconsistent, the inconsistency must be explained in your paper. If a claim does not make sense or is hard to believe, look to see what type of evidence the source provides to back up that claim. Test claims you read on the basis of your own knowledge and experience. If you read, for example, “Ninety percent of all students love college math courses,” would that statement fit with your experience? Do you believe that the percentage is that high? If not, try to find other sources that support this claim before you report it in your paper. Is the Source Recent? Make sure the sources you use are as current as possible and have not been replaced by more recent research findings. Check to find the date an article was written or, if it has no date, check the copyright or revision date on the Web page to determine how recently the information was updated. To determine if information is current enough for your paper, you must consider how frequently topics in that field would change. If you are writing a paper about English grammar rules, for instance, an article about grammar and punctuation rules that is two years old is probably current enough. However, if you are writing about computer software, a two-year-old article about the latest software applications will be out of date. In fields such as technology, science, medicine, and business, be especially careful to ensure that you have very recent information about your topic. soL82373_05_c05_p065-086.indd 85 7/7/10 2:03 PM 5.7 Summary Internet search engines and databases contain materials that could be useful for your college research papers, and they all perform the same functions of searching for certain words or phrases, compiling an index of these words and phrases, and ranking the pages and articles in which these words appear. Because every search engine or databases performs these functions in a slightly different way, though, it pays to always use more than one search engine and more than one database when you search for research information and data. Searching for words and phrases on a search engine or database is called querying. You are actually querying the index to determine if it contains the words or phrases you entered in the search field. If you do not find the type of information and data you are looking for, it usually means that you have not been performing the search in precisely the right way. You can obtain results by using the basic search techniques of subject searching and keyword searching. However, you will most likely have better results and spend less time with your research if you master the techniques of advanced searches such as truncation, wildcards, and Boolean searching. It is helpful to understand the four sections of a Uniform Resource Locator, or URL, when you search the Web for research information and data. The URL will give you useful information to help you locate research materials and to aid you in understanding, evaluating, and citing your sources. When you find potential research information, whether it is online or at a physical library, it is also important to identity the type of information you have found. Information can be classified into three categories: facts, inferences, and opinions. You must determine if the information is acceptable for college research papers. Facts are definitely acceptable for academic research. Inferences and opinions may be acceptable if they fit certain criteria. Inferences must be reasonable, logical, based on relevant evidence, valid, and reliable. Opinions must be credible statements made by someone who has special knowledge or expertise on a subject. Once you have found acceptable information for your research papers, the final step in conducting research is to evaluate that information. Use your critical thinking skills to ask and answer six important questions about each source to determine if it fits the criteria for an appropriate academic research source. Finally, remember that a great deal of research is trial and error. So, if you do not get the results you want with your online searches, do not despair or become frustrated. Simply adopt one or more of the advanced search techniques you learned in this chapter or search using a different search engine or databases. Be as precise as you can be about your search terms, and you will soon find that conducting research is not just challenging, it can be rewarding and fun as well. soL82373_05_c05_p065-086.indd 86 7/7/10 2:03 PM ...
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