Reference Nostalgia

Generations before the Millennials may remember striving diligently through library materials, such as encyclopedias, atlases, almanacs, etc., especially for school projects.  Unfortunately, this diligence has surrendered to convenience.  The wave came first through computer software, then through the internet.  And as many have tried to “surf” the web, rip tides are inevitable.

Let’s start with Google.  It has been synonymous for quite sometime with searching the web.  Or maybe even searching, period.  In any case, let the searcher beware.

And now you have an “encyclopedia,” known as Wikipedia, which, being a public entity in which people try to look things up, there is little or no assurance of scholarly backup.  Sure, the sources in the references may be scholarly.  And there are varying differences of technicality among Wikipedia articles.  But the contributors (read:  writers) are responsible for what goes in and out of it (along with a few “bots”).  And, whether you consider it a blessing or a curse, articles constantly change!

Alas, I must confess, I am prone to using Wikipedia myself.  Therefore, I want to avoid preaching about it, but just follow your heart.  Besides, in scholastic situations, instructors advise their students not to use it (or any encyclopedia) for projects assigned.

Ok, moving on.  Yesterday I felt I had the dilemma of keeping either the print set (1981, though most content seems to been written in, say, the early 70s), and the more modern computer program (2012). But since they work as a team, there really was no “dilemma” to begin with!  Some libraries, in fact, may retain multiple editions of a reference source.  Though in the 21st century, many libraries have purged much of their reference material.

And there is much potential in that.  Back to Google (or any of its rivals, e.g. Bing), you can get even more content.  Or if you prefer print, consult a number of references.  Or even websites!  See, there is a good element to the web.  It just requires wisdom.

Until you’re satisfied with a topic, the more references, the merrier.  Think of them as a team, whether separate works and/or different editions of one work. And if you’re totally puzzled in one source, try another.  Variety is the spice of life, as they say.

Just Add Water & “edu”

When doing a Google search on an academic topic, particularly a more formal one, I have serendipitously discovered a way you can get trustworthy articles and avoid the forbidden Wikipedia (and other similarly “iffy” sources).  You simply type your intended query, followed by “.edu.”  The quotes are optional but recommended, in order to to optimize your search.

Watch out for the other extreme, though.  If you see “Cited by (number)” and/or “Related articles,” these are directed by the branch of Google called “Google Scholar,” home of dry academic papers, many of which you’d fall asleep on page one.  (Unless you happened to be a professional in one of those fields.)

Nonetheless, to strike a balance, depending on level of your understanding and scope of the source, this is actually a good method.  Great sources, given the “.edu” domain requested, include course pages and department

To sum up:

  1. Include the “.edu” in your Google query
  2. Stick with stuff that is not Google Scholar material based on the methods above (unless you really wanted to enter into such territory.)

So, whenever appropriate, you can boldly Google where no other search has gone before!