Digital Research

Considering I’m still coming off of my 11-year school hiatus, I find that when it comes to research, my first instinct is still to seek physical sources such as books and original documents. However, there is an abundance of information available on the Internet. I am forcing myself to expand my horizons as almost anything these days, including social media posts, videos, and photographs, can be used as a source, depending on the argument.

That being said, in general, the Internet is a valuable first stop when beginning research. The Internet will give you general background information on your chosen topic as well as an idea of how well-documented it is. If a basic query yields a lot of results, that means that there is a fair amount of information available and there will probably be a fair amount of printed information as well. If there are scholarly websites that reference the topic, that’s a bonus. If a basic query yields few results, that means that sources will be harder to find and research will require a good deal of digging through sources such as books and scholarly databases. In this way, the Internet can be a barometer to gauge how much information is available on a certain subject.

Something to keep in mind is that because anyone can put anything on the Internet, it’s important to always consider who has created the source. With digital history sources, such as archives or online exhibits, I would thoroughly investigate what person or organization had put together the website before using it as a credible source. Another thing to consider is that when using digital archives, the context of the document or article is lost as well as any information that can be gained from handling a physical document. However, digital sources can be more easily searched and quantified, which can make up for not being able to deal with the original source.

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