Tips for scientific Internet research: The problem with the overview

Looking for a new TV on the internet is one thing. But to use the Internet as a starting point for a scientific research on a bachelor’s thesis, master’s thesis or dissertation is a completely different one.

While in the case of a commercial product, providers tend to seek to present the technical data and prices in a transparent and accessible manner, scientific research often looks different:

The results may be confused: apart from the professor, who offers his seminar on the pages of the university, there are committed representatives of the academic middle-class who put their thoughts on the web. The Wikipedia entry on the subject seems to have been written by a writer who gives more importance to an author’s personal attributes than his theory. And further pages hardly reveal how the sought-after theory relates to other currents. For this there is a PowerPoint presentation of a lecture, from which all important seems to emerge, but on closer inspection is highly tendentious. In a journal, there are a series of articles detailing the dispute between two theorists, while a dissertation database provides a dozen titles, all of which seem to fit just about the topic.

In order to gain an overview of such a questionable yield of the search process, it must be rescheduled: If the Internet is to be used, then it may help to first look through the introductory literature and go through it. The further research in the academic databases is then postponed to a point in time where at least clarity on the basic terms and the most important literature prevails. As a result, the entire work process is turned on its feet, making it far more effective.

While some topics are characterized by a lack of citing sources, others find the flood of publications a problem that can quickly overwhelm new entrants. Especially when the subject is extensively researched but controversially discussed – as is the case in certain areas such as education or energy policy – many interest groups seek to strengthen their position by providing free, science-based publications. These professionally published publications hide their ideological intent, but choose the facts so that the reader himself should come to the desired conclusion.

Another problem is the topicality: Political decisions, social developments and technical innovations mean that literature quickly becomes obsolete. Even non-updated websites may provide incorrect information.

A first approach to an unknown topic can quite well be done via a portal like Wikipedia – after that, however, the respective introductory literature should be consulted. Otherwise there is a risk of unnoticed influence.