Benefits And Drawbacks Of The Internet As A Research Source



Despite the​ fact that turning to​ the​ Internet has become an​ obvious choice when doing research, the​ Internet, like any tool, has unique characteristics that create both benefits and​ drawbacks.

On the​ positive side, the​ Internet offers the​ following:

- Access to​ new and​ valuable sources of​ information that came into being because of​ the​ Internet. These include electronic journals e-journals and​ Internet discussion groups.

- a​ more efficient route for​ accessing certain standard information sources such as​ newspapers, particularly overseas papers and​ electronic versions of​ existing print journals.

- Access to​ an​ enormous amount of​ information. Currently it​ is​ estimated that there are about 800 million pages of​ information on​ the​ Web.

- Access to​ non-mainstream views. Fringe groups and​ those without access to​ the​ media or​ a​ printing press can now make their opinions known on​ the​ Internet.

- Access to​ obscure and​ arcane information. Because there are so many people with such diverse interests on​ the​ Internet, a​ search can often turn up the​ most unusual and​ hard-tolocate nugget of​ data.

- Access to​ digitized versions of​ primary sources. Some libraries are digitizing making electronic versions of​ primary research sources such as​ personal letters, official government documents, treaties, photographs, etc. and​ making these available for​ viewing over the​ Internet. the​ same is​ true for​ audio and, in​ some cases, video.

- Access to​ searchable databases and​ datasets. There are many sites on​ the​ Internet where you​ can search a​ collection of​ statistical data, such as​ demographic or​ social science data. While some databases on​ the​ Internet are fee-based, others are free.

- Access to​ government information. 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 much of​ its information.

- Access to​ international information. Not only can you​ easily find official data from other countries by connecting to​ embassies, consulates, and​ foreign governmental sites, you​ can also search other countries' newspapers, discuss issues with citizens from around the​ world on​ the​ newsgroups, and​ locate Web sites established by individuals from other nations.

Other key benefits that the​ Internet brings to​ the​ researcher include:

- Speed. Doing a​ search on​ the​ Internet can take just seconds.

- Timeliness. on​ the​ Internet you​ can find information that has just been made available a​ few minutes earlier.

- Multimedia. the​ Internet delivers not just text, but graphics, audio, and​ video.

- Hyperlinking. the​ ability to​ click between Web pages can facilitate an​ associative type of​ research, and​ make it​ easier to​ view citations and​ supporting data from a​ text.

On the​ downside, the​ Internet, despite its real and​ seemingly growing benefits to​ the​ researcher, still presents certain drawbacks. Among the​ most significant are:

- Diverse collection of​ information. the​ Internet is​ truly a​ potpourri of​ information-that's one of​ its strengths, but it's also one of​ its weaknesses. on​ the​ Net you​ can come across everything from a​ scholarly paper published on​ particle physics to​ a​ 14-year-old's essay on​ her summer vacation; there are newswire feeds from respected press organizations like the​ AP and​ Reuters, as​ well as​ misinformation from a​ Holocaust denial group; there are commercials and​ advertisements, and​ there are scientific reports from the​ U.S. Department of​ Energy. All of​ this diversity makes it​ difficult to​ separate out and​ pinpoint just the​ type of​ information you​ want.

- Difficult to​ search effectively. a​ traditional electronic database that you​ might search in​ a​ library may take a​ little learning and​ practice, but once you​ get the​ hang of​ it, you​ can become an​ effective searcher. But on​ the​ Internet, even if​ you​ know all the​ ins and​ outs of​ searching, because of​ the​ built-in limitations of​ Internet search engines and​ the​ way Web pages are created, you'll only be able to​ search a​ small percentage of​ what's on​ the​ Net. you​ also won't be able to​ easily distinguish the​ valuable from the​ trivial pages; and​ you​ can obtain unpredictable results.

- Emphasis on​ new information. the​ Web came into being in​ the​ early 1990s, and, consequently, most of​ the​ information available on​ the​ Internet postdates that time. However, this is​ changing as​ certain 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​ can miss the​ larger context from which that information was derived.

- Lack of​ permanence. Web pages are notoriously unstable. They appear, move, and​ disappear regularly. This can be of​ particular concern for​ academic researchers, who need to​ cite a​ stable page for​ reference purposes.

- Selectivity of​ coverage. Despite the​ size of​ the​ Internet, the​ vast majority of​ the​ world's knowledge still resides in​ print. So a​ search for​ information on​ the​ Internet in​ no way represents a​ comprehensive search of​ the​ world's literature or​ knowledge.

Similarly, a​ good deal of​ what's on​ the​ Internet is​ "off-limits" to​ search engines and​ is​ not retrievable. These off-limit sites include those that are accessible only to​ those who register, input a​ pass





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