An Intelligent Guide to Successful
Researching on the Internet:
The Complete Guide to Finding, Evaluating, and Organizing Information
Robin Rowland and Dave Kinnaman
Prima Publishing, Rocklin, CA, USA, 384 pp, paper, $43.95.
Reviewed by Barrie Zwicker
Any book about the Internet joins a horde of competitors; all are
aging fast as soon as they roll off the presses. This book holds
its own and appears to have staying power. Its authors - one Canadian
and one American - are experienced researchers who discuss the Internet
with enthusiasm but not awe.
Their writing is clear. They put the Internet into context for
the serious researcher.
Rowland, the Canadian, provides the backbone text of special interest
to reporters and other journalistic researchers. In 1977 he was
already using primitive computers working in radio journalism with
the CBC. Four years later he was working in videotex, an ill-fated
(partly because it was ahead of its time) attempt to create online
Today Rowland is the Webmaster for CBC-TV's Newsworld. On
July 3 he was appointed Project Director of Canada's first university-based
training institute for computer-assisted reporting, at Ryerson Polytechnic
University. Co-author Kinnaman is a systems analyst for the State
of Texas. He has co-authored several books about the Internet. One
of his concerns is for access by persons with disabilities.
This practical and humane team deal with "Internet-a-Phobia,"
choosing an Internet provider, getting ready for research, and provide
descriptions of the Internet's research tools, the how-to's of research,
Bonuses include some history about the Internet, a chapter on ethical
and legal issues, and one chapter each on major libraries on the
Internet and government resources on the Internet.
For journalists and other serious researchers the heart of the
book is the content dealing with how to find stuff, preferably fast.
In this respect the 20-page chapter on "the E-mail Interview"
is worth the price alone. Rowland told me this is his personal favourite
While most of the advice that applies to telephone or personal
interviews also applies to E-mail interviews, there are additional
Netiquette rules to take into consideration. The technology and
dynamics are new and provide opportunities as well as dangers.
The authors note that E-mail is a reversion to the advantages of
the old-fashioned letter, but with the benefits that it's very fast
while solving the time zone problem in a way the telephone cannot.
A new dimension is the need for "lurking," to get a sense
of the volume and direction of discussion in a newsgroup, and to
identify people who know what they're talking about, to find sources
in other words. Another new facet is that E-mail leaves a trail.
If you're planning a hatchet job, or are under-prepared, your potential
interviewee can access your E-mailed questions to others. The results
may be less than glorious; you could even end up in court.
What's old is the need to "do basic research, both on and
offline, before you ask a single question." And to be skeptical.
As Internet trainer and CBC fifth estate producer Julian
Sher notes, not only may information on the Net be wrong, it may
not be coming from the person or group identified as putting it
The chapter on E-mail, like most of the chapters, contains several
clear summarized lists of do's and don'ts, and plenty of examples.
The 12-point check list for evaluating data found on the Internet
is typically sound, and it comes from Finding Answers: The Essential
Guide to Gathering Information in Canada, by our own Informatics
Consultant, Dean Tudor (see the latest Dean's Digital World). Dean's
"The Tao of Good Research" is also printed verbatim.
It's refreshing, too, that a book on researching on the Internet
would provide a seven-point list of drawbacks and problems inherent
in research on the Internet. "Books and magazines are still
the best method for storing most information in an easily accessible
form. After all, the word magazine comes from the Arabic word makzan,
which means storehouse."
This is an intelligent book, not a simplistic primer, although
it makes its points with clarity and simplicity. On evaluating sources
of information, the authors quote historian Barbara Tuchman, who
writes: "Bias in a primary source is to be expected. One allows
for it and corrects it by reading another version
an event is not controversial, it will have been seen and remembered
from different angles of view by different observers." Later
she's quoted: "As the lion in Aesop said to the Man, 'There
are many statues of men slaying lions, but if only the lions were
sculptors there might be quite a different set of statues.' "
Hints that the Internet may transmute in unhealthy ways can be
found here. The noise-to-signal ratio is rising; commercialization
is rising; "many researchers are ignoring Usenet altogether
and opting for moderated or private mailing lists," note the
They remain optimistic, however, that most of us can learn to research
successfully on the Internet, and will find it beneficial to do
so for some time to come. Their book is an intelligent comprehensive
guide for doing so.
Barrie Zwicker is Publisher of Sources and founder of SOURCES
SELECT Online. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared in Sources,
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