This is an archive of a talk that I gave to post-graduate students at RMIT. It will not be updated. Dead links will be eliminated. Further information about this topic can be found in my tutorials.

The truth is out there...

This globe is as small as my forehead, yet so huge that its surface is enscribed with thousands, no, millions of images. It is miraculously suspended and will spin in response either to a deliberate turn or an accidental flick.

Jessica Anderson, 1978, Tirra Lirra by the River.

'Research via the Internet' provides an introduction to the Internet and the World Wide Web (WWW or Web) for students who may be unfamiliar with this medium. You can use the Web as a research tool - to access databases, to investigate library resources and find recent articles.

The Internet provides you with unrivalled access to people and information. Most of what you can find will be of no use to your research. These notes will help you sort the gold from the dross.

Using the Internet, you can gain access to:

Library catalogues

The great majority of research information is still printed on paper, bound into books and journals and catalogued by libraries.

Using the Internet from home or work, you can search:

Searching all the Victorian libraries at once.

COOL-CAT is a combined catalogue of Victorian academic, research and special libraries, including the State Library, operated by CAVAL (Co-operative Action by Victorian Academic Libraries). A full list of participants is available in COOL-CAT's on-line Bulletin Board.

To use COOL-CAT (and a lot of other library catalogues), you use a special computer program called 'Telnet'. Telnet is a free program. It can be downloaded, or you can take a disk to the RMIT computer centre and they will copy it for you. When you connect to COOL-CAT, it will ask you for a username and a password (see the hand-out for details).

Journal articles

Most of the information that you will want for your thesis will be found in scholarly journal articles. You can search for relevant journal articles in databases like Uncover, Current Contents and First Search.

Unfortunately, you can't search most of these from home or work. You will have to go to a computer lab on an RMIT campus or in an RMIT library. But remember, RMIT has seven library locations, covering Brunswick, Bundoora, Carlton, the City and Fisherman's Bend. One of those might be more convenient to you.

And don't forget, you can have interlibrary loan material faxed or posted directly to your home or work.

Search tips for databases

Every database has a different method for searching for information. Here are a few tips:


UnCover is a database of current article information taken from well over 17,000 multidisciplinary journals. UnCover contains brief descriptive information for over 7,000,000 articles which have appeared since Fall 1988.

UnCover Reveal is an automated alerting service that delivers the table of contents of your favorite periodicals directly to your e-mail box. The Reveal service also allows users to create search strategies for their favorite topics.

Drawn from UnCover's promotional material.

UnCover Reveal will email you an update on your search strategy every week. This is an invaluable service if you want to stay up to date. It might take a little while to get your search strategy right, but it is worth the effort.

UnCover Express is a service which will provide you with a fax or image of some articles on a fee for basis service. A quick check will show that it costs $US17- to have an article by John Jackson delivered to your computer. As it says on UnCover, "This article may be available in your library, at no cost to you."


FirstSearch gives you a lot of power when you search databases. For example, you can run several different searches and combine the results. You can email the results of your search to yourself, so that you can use them later. You can automatically organise interlibrary loan if the article is not available locally. And, of course, you can pay a fee to have some articles faxed or displayed on your computer.

OCLC's FirstSearch ® is an interactive online information system that gives you vital, timely information about books, journal articles, films, computer software, and other materials in your subject area. The FirstSearch service available on the World Wide Web is a product of OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc., a nonprofit membership organization serving libraries and educational institutions worldwide.

FirstSearch is very easy to use; no training is necessary. Just follow the instructions that appear on the screen.

Here are the basic steps involved in searching for information with FirstSearch:

  1. Formulate the search beforehand; write out your search terms before you search online.
  2. Once you are logged on to FirstSearch, select a topic (e.g., Education, General Science, Business and Economics) for your search.
  3. After selecting a topic to search, select a database in which to search. Each topic area has a number of databases associated with it. The FirstSearch Databases online help can provide you with information about the scope of each database.
  4. Enter your search. For example, type computers in the space provided on the search screen and click on the Start Search button to do a search for documents containing the word computers.
  5. Scan the list of results produced by your search. The results of your search are a list of records containing information about the topic you indicated. Click on a title in the list to view the full form of a record. Or click on the box next to the records you want to view to tag them to be saved for later viewing or printing. Use the NextPage and PrevPage buttons on the bottom of the screen to page through the display.
  6. View the full record. A full record consists of bibliographic information like author name, title, descriptors (subject headings), date, journal name, etc. An abstract is included with many records. Click on the E-Mail Record button to send a copy of the record to an E-mail address that you specify.
  7. Use the NextRec and PreviousRec buttons to display records before and after the one displayed.
  8. You may be able to order a copy of an article, see a full-text display of the article, print or E-mail the article, or see a list of libraries that have a copy of it.
  9. Perform other searches, as necessary, using the Start Search or Redo Search button.
  10. Simply click on the Exit button to end your FirstSearch session.

Drawn from FirstSearch's help pages.

World Wide Web

The World Wide Web (known as "WWW', "Web" or "W3") is the universe of network-accessible information, the embodiment of human knowledge.
Drawn from 'About the World Wide Web'.

Burrowing and searching

There are some fantastic research resources on the World Wide Web. There is also a lot of junk. The two different techniques that you will use to separate the two are:

Moving from a general term or subject area to a more specific area, often by following a tree structure.
Entering search terms and reviewing results provided by a full text search facility.

World Wide Web Virtual Library

The World Wide Web Virtual Library is an attempt to catalogue useful authoritative web sites.
The Virtual Library is a distributed responsibility WWW cataloguing project where each topic, or division, is maintained by volunteers -- experts in the field they are maintaining.
From the 'Database of the WWW Virtual Library.'

Burrowing through the WWW Virtual Library

The WWW Virtual Library provides a subject catalogue, which you may burrow into to find areas related to your topic.

Searching the WWW Virtual Library

It also provides a search facility, so that you may search for areas related to your topic. You might like to try both and compare the ease of use, feeling of control and time that it took you to find something useful.

Please note: You might draw a blank. Not all topics are covered by the Virtual Library or the World Wide Web. As well as developing a search strategy, you need to develop a strategy to stop searching. "On a clear disk, you can seek forever."

Advanced search techniques

There are many search engines that will search large portions of the World Wide Web. Four examples are:

Each of them have different search techniques. Each of them will provide different results. None of them are completely comprehensive or completely up to date. By the nature of the Web, they cannot be. They do try hard, though.

Evaluating and citing information

Now that you have found all this new stuff, how do you tell the good information from the bad? Because anybody can put information on the Internet, there is no guarantee that the information is factual.

It does pretty much guarantee that everybody has the right of reply, though. See David Irving's Reply to Jeffrey Shallit's "Lies of Our Times" for an example of the problems of evaluating information.

Two very good, brief guides to evaluating information are:


Because it is relatively new, referencing information found on the Internet can be difficult, too. Luckily, several academic journal editors and librarians have provided solutions to this problem. You will find a whole list of Electronic References & Scholarly Citations of Internet Sources in this section of the WWW Virtual Library.

Last time I checked, the Business Faculty required most citations to be in the form used by the Australian Government Publishing Service. Academic Referencing of Internet-based Resources is an article which addresses that particular citation system.

Now that you mention it...

Research does not happen in isolation. The whole concept of a university is built on the idea of a community of scholars - talking, thinking and working together. The Internet can provide unparalleled opportunities for joining into scholarly debate on your research topic.

Mailing lists and discussion groups

The National Library of Australia provides links to a Directory of Scholarly and Professional E-Conferences and Ozlists, a list of Australian electronic mailing lists.

Search or burrow through these to see if you can find a group of like-minded souls. If you do, you will have a resource that you can call upon for assistance, support and maybe even a job at the end of it all.

Most mailing lists require you to 'subscribe'. This is a matter of adding you name to the list of recipients - there is no charge involved.

E-mail addresses

Imagine that you have found a wonderful conference paper. It is intimately related to your topic, it is insightful and it was presented in Darwin early last year. You desperately want to talk to the author. How do you quickly get in touch with them?

If you know her name and her university or employer, it may not be to difficult. Let's imagine that the author is Margaret Jackson and you know that she works at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT). Often this sort of brief biographical information is included with an academic paper.

First, I would try to guess the university's (or organisation's) Web address. If you can't guess after three tries, give up (some of them are not obvious - Melb Uni and Myers, for example). The Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee maintains a handy list of Australian universities. A quick search on the Web will usually turn up a link to an organisation's Web site, if they have one.

Once I was at the university or organisation's Web site, I would look around for a link marked 'contact information' or 'staff directory'. What you want is a searchable database of staff phone numbers and e-mail addresses. More and more organisation's are putting these on line. They are invaluable.

Then write them an e-mail.

Giving something back

For some people, their research is their life. For others, it is a major part of their career. If you fall into one of these two categories, you might want to think about putting your research onto the Web.

Think about it. It's not difficult. It's not expensive. It can be very rewarding. And it can act as a 24 hour a day advertisement of your expertise in this area. If you aren't impressed with the quality of information already out there, or are dealing with an area that isn't well covered, you should seriously consider it.

If you are doing action research, and the people that you are working with have access to the Internet, a mailing list and a Web site can really help to keep the group focused.

If you want to set up a Web site, GeoCities will give you space for free. They will also show you where you can get an e-mail address for free.

The purpose of the free Personal Home Page program is to give people the ability to create a home on the World Wide Web that reflects their interests, hobbies and background.

GeoCities is an amazing place. More than a million people from all over the world have taken up residence in one of our neighbourhoods. The sites created by this group of GeoCitizens contain an incredible array of facts, opinions, entertainment and interesting information. We are very mindful of our role as stewards of these communities, and will do our best to ensure that GeoCities remains a positive contributor to the Internet community.

Drawn from the GeoCities membership information. GeoCities provides a huge amount of information and assistance to help you get your first Web page up.

Mailing lists

If you cannot find a mailing list that covers the area that you are looking at, why not set one up? RMIT will establish a mailing list, and there are services available on the Web that cost less than $50- per annum.

This document can be found at If you would like any further assistance, I can be contacted by e-mail -

Jonathan O'Donnell
Sunrise Research Laboratory
29 March 1998