Arctic Tern

  Chris Hawkes

 Essay Writing
Internet Search and Research Technique

Your primary source is of course your text; however, you should research your topic. Please heed the warning:

You must not copy phrases, sentences or paragraphs from ANY source - plagiarism is the worst intellectual sin. The Examination Board will disqualify those found cheating from ALL examinations. The internet is a resource like any other research tool, and should be approached in the same way. As with all published material, pages are copyright of the author. Use of other people's material unacknowledged is a crime - worse, it is a sign of intellectual impoverishment.

Use all research sources as a spur to your ideas, to support your thesis, or as something to argue against. If you want to quote from a source, do so and acknowledge your quotation: this is good scholarly practice - and impresses the marker! See the section on references for how to do this correctly. Remember too to approach all sources (including this one!) sceptically. Publication is no guarantee of truth, correcteness or value.

The purpose of research is to generate ideas,to find academic support for you thesis, and to provide something to argue against. Use research sources as a spur to your ideas, to support your thesis - or as something to argue against. (There are no right answers in English!) NEVER allow a quotation or reference to stand alone: you must analyse, explore and expand it. If you can't do this, don't use it. You do not get marks for quotation, but how you use quotation.

There are two main resources you will use for your research.

The Library (School and/or local)
Use - and understand! - the catalogue system to locate books of interest. Use the index as a search mechanism. Think laterally: if researching for a King Lear essay on kingship, do not just look for books on Lear, but also search for essays within general Shakespeare texts, or texts on the Elizabethan/Jacobean concept of royalty. Ask the Librarian for help if you need it.

The Internet
Again, remember the "sceptical" warning. The joy of the WWW is that there is so much out there, and (almost) all unregulated: but that is also one of the problems. First, you must find the material; second, you must assess its value. This is true for all resources; however, on the Internet anyone can publish - and most do!

Make the Search Engines your friends. They are your primary tool for sifting sites. I find aardvark a helpful page: it links to a number of different search engines.

Beware of Yahoo! - it's a Directory rather than a search engine as such. I generally use Alta Vista, but there are others also useful.

Use search syntax. Try this experiment:

  1. Using Alta Vista, type in the two words william and shakespeare, and click search. Look at the number of pages found - on the day I tried it, there were 58974.
  2. Now type in shakespeare william - I received 6004 pages.
  3. Finally, try adding some syntax. Type +william +shakespeare (make sure there's a space between the two words)- my total was 220240. (+shakespeare +william will produce the same result.)
Clearly, it pays to be in control of your search! Search syntax is easy - there are three basic rules which will help make your searches effective.

  1. Put a plus sign before a word if the sites you are looking for MUST contain it.
  2. Put a minus sign before a word if the sites you are looking for must NOT contain it.
  3. If you are searching for a phrase - two or more words in a particular order - place them in inverted commas - "Wife of Bath's Tale".

The more you can modify your search, the fewer "hits" you should get, and the more useful they will be. For example, say I wanted to find information about what A.C. Bradley had to say about Shakespeare's Othello -

Search 1: +shakespeare +othello +bradley
Result: 1284
Too many, and the first few are all from booksellers. So - all books have an ISBN reference: to get rid of these -

Search 2: +shakespeare +othello +bradley -ISBN
Result: 801
Icould fine it further: to check I have an academic site, I could enter the words of one of the quotations almost certain to be used - as it is a phrase, these go in inverted commas, still with a plus sign -

Search 3: +shakespeare +othello +bradley -ISBN +"your bright swords"

Result: 13, including the most useful http://sunflower.singnet.com.sg/~yisheng/notes/shakespeare/othello_b.htm

Research is an important part of the scholarly method of approaching an essay. Remember, however, that it's not so much the ideas that count: it's how you use them. Other people's ideas and theories need to be analysed to make them your own - and that process allows you to develop these ideas and form your own personal response to the text. And that is what the marker is looking for!

  The drudge

 The Essay Title

 Internet Search and Research

 Brainstorming

 The Linear Plan

 Footnotes and Bibliography

 Redrafting

 Return to CJH's main page

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