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Subject: Information Research FAQ v.4.6 (Part 2/6)

This article was archived around: 06 Apr 2002 06:54:09 GMT

All FAQs in Directory: internet/info-research-faq
All FAQs posted in: alt.internet.research, sci.research
Source: Usenet Version


Archive-name: internet/info-research-faq/part2 Posting-Frequency: monthly Last-modified: Feb 2001 URL: http://spireproject.com Copyright: (c) 2001 David Novak Maintainer: David Novak <david@spireproject.com>
Information Research FAQ (Part 2/6) 100 pages of search techniques, tactics and theory by David Novak of the Spire Project (SpireProject.com) Welcome. This FAQ addresses information literacy; the skills, tools and theory of information research. Particular attention is paid to the role of the internet as both a reservoir and gateway to information resources. The FAQ is written like a book, with a narrative and pictures. You have found your way to part two, so do backtrack to the beginning. If you are lost, this FAQ always resides as text at http://spireproject.com/faq.txt and http://spireproject.co.uk/faq.txt and with pictures at http://spireproject.com/faq.htm This FAQ is an element of the Spire Project, the primary free reference for information research and an important resource for search assistance. Do visit the assisting website http://spireproject.com and our All-in-one search page http://spireproject.com/spir.htm *** The Spire Project also delivers a 3 hour public seminar called *** Beyond Boolean: exceptional internet research. This is a *** fast paced demonstration supported with webbing, reaching beyond *** the ground covered on our website and FAQs. Please visit *** http://SpireProject.com/seminar.htm for synopsis and venues. *** Register you interest and we will try to come to your city. Enjoy, David Novak - david@spireproject.com The Spire Project : SpireProject.com and SpireProject.co.uk NOTE FOR RETURN READERS: previously, we prepared this section by converting work originally prepared in html. This became unproductive so we have limited the internet links in this FAQ and direct you to the more lengthy articles prepared in html. All the required links and search tool forms reside in other parts of the Spire Project, like the websites and free shareware (http://spireproject.com/spire_latest_version.zip). Searching Specific Formats. Section 4 On the second year of his training, Shakh began to piece together the many rules and guidelines to understanding hieroglyphs. He had thought the lessons would end once he learned the glyphs but no, there were long and convoluted rules governing the translation of sounds into glyphs. Simple rules govern the placement of glyphs on the wall - certain glyphs lose their meaning when placed apart. Then, there was the art of writing. The glyphs had to be the right size and shape. If you were about to finish the line, you could squish certain glyphs just a little to make room for the next glyph. If you did not plan well, you would leave the line hanging, a word unfinished, a sentence incomplete. Then Shakh started to learn hieratic - shorthand glyphs for less formal situations. It was all very complicated and cumbersome. Shakh did not like the technical nature of writing. So much to learn and still so far from writing clear, interesting results. His seasons in training went very slowly. The Nile rose then fell then rose again. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - A great deal of dull information must be comprehended, absorbed, internalized. Nothing spectacular. Nothing of particular interest. Just a mass of rules and guidelines to help you move within the world of information. On the third year of medical school the aspiring doctor begins to memorize a vast linked-array of drugs, symptoms and afflictions. The next three years are spent developing this mental array; refining, building, adding experience, so that one day a doctor may look at a symptom, think of possible afflictions or drug reactions, then proscribe drugs or call for further tests. The whole process of learning this array is intensely dull. In the first part of this FAQ we explained in detail how an information search involves first selecting a suitable format (book, webpage, news, interview ...) then searching a few important tools that help us find information in that format. The first format we will look at is the humble book. Books Links and forms at http://spireproject.com/books.htm Shakh arrived in Edfu on a small boat in the company of his father. It was a short walk from the dock to the Edfu temple complex. A fantastic sight. A noble sight. The temple included a vast library of books and manuscripts - a warehouse of knowledge about Egypt. Not that there were many manuscripts in total. The time and expense it took to create even a single copy made the library a prohibitive expense open to only those in certain need. This was not a public library, but an elitist library, open only to those who could justify the gifts required to enter. There it was, open before them, long shelves of scrolls arranged by rough topic. Amazing indeed. Shakh shivered slightly in the cool air. This would be his life for the next few years. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Books have such meaning to us as a society. We have a vibrant emotional connection. Books exude a solid proof of value to a larger community. They are important resources but the additional awe is amazing to behold. Try ripping a chapter from a book you own in public. The stares and discomfort is almost tangible. Some book-lovers get upset about slight creases in books, treating books as if they were important museum quality manuscripts - something to hold with awe and treat gently. Being a book writer is similarly impressive. It is a mark of an expert. A knowledgeable expert. A knowledgeable expert we should listen too, should pay money for the chance to listen to, should pay, listen and carefully not crease their work. This attitude is silly. A book is a package of information, prepared along certain guidelines, with a purpose. In research we look for books on a topic that may help us answer a question. These books tend to be large, lengthy, detailed, verbose, heavy. Books are not good at describing cutting edge developments. They generally summarize popular consensus. They avoid criticism. When searching, they can make horrible resources. Books are also large and physical creations. They must be stored. They stick around. They have a limited shelf life but libraries are forever over-stocked with dated publications of limited use and value. They are also long - troublesome things to read. Books come in different flavors. There are the books by industry insiders who tell the truth, rip the facade about a particular industry. Such books make brilliant resources. There are also books by journalists, prepared without insider knowledge, more of a novel of a newsworthy situation. Such books tend to the verbose, circumstantial, light on facts. Certain questions simply beg to be answered by reading a book. Such questions are usually general, introductory, timeless. For such questions a stack of news articles would lack cohesion. A collection of articles would be too precise, not give you the larger picture. Such questions need the 100 pages of description, pictures and the considered framework that books embody. Finding a Book As an information format, there are certain tools and resources you need to be aware of to effectively search for books. Thankfully, many of these tools have emerged on the internet. These include: - A database of the free books on the internet from projects like the Online Book Initiative and Project Gutenberg. Includes many copyright-free classics (but not ebooks - a different concept). - Three government publication databases for the US, UK and Australia. The US and Australian databases are comprehensive. The UK database is incomplete. The complete database is commercially available - The book databases of large online bookstores is incomplete but useful as a fast search of current books. Some include background information. I use Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Borders and the UK Internet Bookshop (of the WHSmith bookstore chain). - The largest libraries of the world, like the US Library of Congress and British Library hold more than 20 million publications stretching back many years. The online book catalogues are not good for the latest books, but are brilliant at earlier works. - Local libraries and state libraries are noteworthy as finding a book in their database also means you have found access to these books. - The definitive resource is the collection of national Books-in-Print databases like [US] Books in Print, Australian Books in Print, French Books in Print... These databases are commercially available online, as print directories (yuck) in libraries and often from publicly available to search from good bookstores Book Databases Information about new books is organized in a collection of national "Books in Print" databases. This information is publisher-verified, includes forthcoming titles, and is naturally updated far faster than the library and bookstore catalogues. Books in Print, produced by Bowker, delivers publisher-verified information on US books. British Books in Print is produced by Whitaker & Sons, delivers publisher-verified information on UK books. Further national book indexes include Australian Books in Print (Thorpe), Canadian Books in Print (University of Toronto Press), Les Livres Disponibles/French Books in Print (Electre), Italian Books in Print, German Books in Print and others. All these directories are available as print directories (not particularly convenient), as a commercial database (through database retailers), for subscription (bookstores frequently subscribe) or through Global Books in Print (through not really global, is a group of book databases). With regards to the print versions, there may be recent editions in your state library but don't bother. The directory is not user-friendly as you must page through each month's subject categories. A more convenient alternative access point is your favorite large bookstore. For about Au$4500/year, many bookstores subscribe to Global Books in Print on CD-ROMs, or a national 'books in print' database. There should be no cost for searching, but ask for the date and the database name so you have a clearer idea of what is being searched. Further Book Resources Book Reviews are a viable tool in a book search. The tools mentioned above will give you very little information indeed - mainly title, author, format and price. You will usually want more than this before you buy a book. Book reviews are published in a range of book-related journals and newspapers. These are compiled into a commercial database of Book Reviews, like the Book Review Digest by H.W.Wilson or Book Review Index by Gale Research, or individual book reviews from the like of the New York Review of Books (http://www.nybooks.com/nyrev/). A state library may provide access to the Book Review Digest Database. Online book reviews are further discussed in Locating Book Reviews (http://www.lib.monash.edu.au/hss/guides/fsreview.htm) by Monash University Library. Barnes & Noble, and to a lesser degree Amazon, have additional information in their book database. Since it is free, it makes for a fine immediate alternative to searching book reviews. Future developments in book-related discussion groups holds out more promise in harnessing the opinions of a book-reading public. Quality issues remain (and the anonymous musings listed in Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble There are also book finding services with specialty book databases - like a database of second-hand books. Books on Demand is a directory of out-of print books available for reprinting (and includes price and order information.) Strategy Obviously title searches are not effective tools to discover new books. Not all books on Vincent Van Gogh include Vincent in the title. Subject searches, work well only if you can grasp the indexing. Apply these effective search techniques: 1) Browse the subject listing and select the subjects which interest you. 2) Read the subject listings off a book you know interests you - then search for other books in those subjects. 3) Search for other publications from suggestive authors (especially when the author is an association). Library catalogues, like LOCIS can illustrate these techniques. Let's say a title or subject search lands you with one of the books listed in LOCIS. This catalogue lists the applicable subject titles. Looking at books placed in the same subject category works well. A word about Book Types. Just as internet information comes in different qualities and formats, books also come in different styles and flavours. Books written by industry insiders are characterized by personal stories and expert wisdom from an author telling all the secrets. These books are worth looking for, and the short bio may give a clue. Books written by Journalists have a different flavour, slightly more newsy with less factual than, let say, Government books (far more factual than most), and frequently updated books (far more current than most). Try to find the style of book suited to your needs. Information Theory The book industry has reached a kind of plateau where fairly definitive databases exist for listing books. There are databases for government books, out-of-print books, second-hand books, current books. The internet has changed some elements of this mix, as business models try to support moving existing databases to free access, and others use this change to try to present more definitive databases. Book reviews have never properly been used by the book industry, so the big change appears to be a move from book titles (as in most book databases and library catalogues) to rich information (like Barnes & Noble) which includes reviews and readers comments. ___________________________________________________ The Article links and more at http://spireproject.com/article.htm Articles hold a definitive value, a statement of quality and currency. Sometimes articles are long, unique and informative works. Sometimes articles are short, simple, trite; a rehash of common knowledge. There is a range of ways to access articles - though none are particularly inexpensive. We also have difficulties paying copyright - so most paid research assistance is restricted to certain, more expensive tools. In all, articles are cumbersome, cumbersome and time-consuming to work with. They can also be brilliantly rewarding. There are three difficulties with article searches: 1_ Finding the articles which interest us. 2_ Getting our hands on a copy. (Many articles you locate may be impractical to access in person while electronic access can be expensive.) 3_ Copyright permission, (which can be potentially simple or exceedingly expensive). Of course, the main stay of article research is photocopying an article directly from a journal. Find a library nearby which holds the journal then read or photocopy it then and there. This process can be improved by using the online library catalogues (to see if they hold the journal) and by searching a database of library holdings (often available for free by asking or calling a librarian at your state library). As you could expect, some commercial businesses will undertake this work on your behalf, for a fee. The difficulty with this process, of course, is this does not help you discover what articles will interest you - this only works if you have a useful bibliography to work from. In recent years, a concerted effort has been made to bring you full text articles electronically. Commercial databases in general have moved from being strictly bibliographic to many full text articles. A system of full text articles on CD-ROM has a brilliant future. Up to 500 journals are updated frequently in this inexpensive format. (Most Research Libraries have this station.) Some of the commercial full text databases have emerged online too. Northern Light presents this. Unfortunately, the better quality articles are not included in these databases. It is not an absolute rule but to date, many of these commercial databases are filled with regional business papers, newspapers or similar middle to low quality publications. There is another system for accessing articles, which comes to us from a very long time ago. Inter-library loans are a system worked out between libraries so articles can be exchanged between libraries. Naturally you need the assistance of a library - and a great deal of patience. Such requests can take over a month to arrive. Lastly, there is always the option of direct purchase of periodicals from the publisher. Commercial Services Carl Uncover service (fatback articles). CARL (http://www.carl.org) is one of the great library groups in North America established a service to provide articles by post or fax. Carl promises to fax articles provided you use their system to check one of their many libraries has the required document. Northern Light - online database of articles Northern Light (http://www.nlsearch.com) is a search engine of both the web and their own database of articles available for purchase. The rates are cheaper than Carl (up to $4.00 per downloaded document) and the articles are delivered over the internet (not faxed) but the range is smaller. Information Theory Many of the databases will begin to offer their services either as a pay-per-view, or through reasonable direct subscription methods on the internet. This has been predicted for years but depends on the emergence of a fine way to purchase cheap items on the internet: digital money. No effective digital money has emerged yet, and most databases will either wait, or try one of the existing incomplete methods. Essentially, critical mass has not yet arrived, and it now appears that the true fall in price of information is waiting on an effective digital money. In preparation, magazines and newspapers are purchasing all the rights possible - especially the electronic rights. More appears on this topic later. ___________________________________________________ Webpages Links and forms at http://spireproject.com/webpage.htm Webpages are often of unknown age, of only guessed at quality and potentially the easiest information to retrieve. There are many points of entry to web resources, but search tools differ. Try to match your search tool to your question. To start, you will need to learn something of the different tools - described below - and four basic search techniques: Boolean, Proximity, Field Searches & Truncation. Global Search Engines Altavista (http://altavista.com) includes a very large, fast search engine. It allows for Basic Boolean AND + NOT - OR | Proximity " " ~ (near - within 10 words of each other.) Several Fields: title:"Spire Project" domain:gov url:edu link:cn.net.au and Truncation/Wildcard (*) Of import, Capitals matter with Altavista. All-the-Web (http://www.alltheweb.com) is important because it is large - really large - with a flexible search facility. Allows Partial Boolean + - Simple Proximity " " and Several Fields a title field search normal.title:spire url field url.all:.au link text and link url fields normal.atext:spire link.all:cn.net.au All-the-Web is not case sensitive. The same database supporting All-the-Web supports Lycos. Inktomi (via http://hotbot.lycos.com) provides its substantial web directory through other companies, in this case, HotBot. also allows searches by region, by date, and more. Debriefing (http://www.debriefing.com) is our meta-search engine of choice. Use this to find names & named websites. Accepts Partial Boolean + - Simple Proximity " ". Capitals matter. Google(http://www.google.com/) is a new style of search engine which ranks sites with more care and concern. This works well for sites you know a little about in advance. Unfortunately, has no useful field searches. Allows Partial Boolean + - Simple Proximity " ". Unfortunately, No Truncation not even for plurals! When searching for a topic with precise descriptive terms, use a broad search engines. Always place the Boolean +symbol before each search word (like this: +word1 +word2) to insist all words appear in the results. Quotes keep words together ("word1 word2"). These two simple steps dramatically improve results. Keep adding words and search limits until the number of hits is reasonable. For more global search engines, there are numerous lists to consider like the W3 Search Engines page at the University of Geneva (http://cui.unige.ch/meta-index.html#INF) and the Industry Research Desk (http://www.rbbi.com/links/sengine.htm). Meta-Search Engines & Google If you know something of the destination already, like a title or company name or full name, try using a search tool that excels in finding named websites. There should be little difficulty in finding such sites with either Google or a Meta-Search engine, but don't get excited and use these on other occasions. Categorized Lists When searching for information that lends itself to a particular category or topic, start with resources which group information in categories. With few exceptions, these resources index websites, not webpages. Also, keep your search words simple as these are small databases. Yahoo (http://yahoo.com) is the largest of this type of directory tree; the definitive site. Accepts Partial Boolean + - Simple Proximity " " Truncation * and Several Field t: (for titles) u: (for urls) and a date field through a form. The Open Directory Project (http://dmoz.org) is a Netscape effort to, presumably, mute the strength of Yahoo. It is very good, and very similar to Yahoo. Looksmart (http://www.looksmart.com) is another significant directory. For an alternative, try the World Wide Web Virtual Library: Subject Catalogue (http://vlib.org/Overview.html), a distributed network of subject lists, not nearly as dominant as Yahoo, but far more "scholarly" shall we say. This virtual directory has been around many years, previously famous from www.w3.org. Reviewed Sites When seeking specific fields of study, when topics are clouded with many similar, low quality sites, start with resources with a greater degree of personal attention. Peer review and vetting produce resources with more quality but limited coverage, better suited to this situation. Also, keep your search words simple. The Scout Report (http://wwwscout.cs.wisc.edu) is one of the oldest and most highly regarded e-newsletters introducing new internet resources. Residing at the University of Wisconsin, the Scout Report describes research, education & topical sites. The Scout Report Signpost provides a quick search of previously featured sites. BUBL (http://www.bubl.ac.uk) is a British site which reviews internet resources then indexes by Dewey decimal number. I prefer their Dewey presentation but the collection is not large (though the largest of the library projects I have seen). The Argus Clearinghouse (http://www.clearinghouse.net) is a vast collection of internet guidebooks. We can search the titles & descriptions, but then click on the highlighted keywords to find related guides. I suspect Argus is not successfully keeping pace with internet development. AlphaSearch (http://www.calvin.edu/library/searreso/internet/as/) is similar to Argus. This one indexes important nexus sites and should be browsed. The Britannica.com (as in Encyclopedia Britannica http://www.britannica.com) has been remolded as a free guide to books, periodicals, web and their encyclopedia. This encyclopedia is perhaps the best. FAQs can be searched from an FAQ database like the one at http://www.faqs.org WebRings list sites by topic. Each webring is maintained by a volunteer at an uninvolved site using standard software. The primary sites are currently Webring.com and bomis.com Specialty Tools For issues with a particular government, url or language origin, consider using tools designed with this in mind. * Altavista can be limited to specific domains (gov edu au) with their "domain:domainname" field search. "url:url-segment" is also useful. Read the Altavista Fancy Features for Typical Searches. * GovBot (http://ciir2.cs.umass.edu/Govbot/) as developed by The Center for Intelligent Information Retrieval (CIIR) is a search engine which indexes exclusively a great number of government webpages, a unique resource. * Altavista also allows for a field search by language. Searching for a Japanese site? Consider searching only webpages in Japanese. * Purely regional search engines may also be the answer. Aussie.com.au, for example, is a search engine indexing only Australian websites. There are fine lists of regional search engines and directories like SearchEngineCollossus, Search Engines WorldWide, SearchEngineWatch and Yahoo. * Topic-specific search engines, a new arrival, has a very promising future. Ideally you will find a search engine like ChemGuide (http://www.fiz-chemie.de/en/datenbanken/chemguide/)covering over a million chemistry related pages. Search Engine Guide (http://searchengineguide.com) and Gary Price's Direct Search. (gwis2.circ.gwu.edu/~gprice/direct.htm) list topical search engines. * Lastly, there are some commercial databases aimed at the software and internet industries. Consider OCLC's NetFirst (articles from magazines describing the internet). Conclusion For many of us, searching the web is simply typing words into a search engine. I hope I have shown there is more to it than this. What may not be clearly evident from a brief overview of resources is that each resource has a particular difference, a particular focus, a particular angle that helps us answer certain questions faster than other tools and searches. Yes, in the simple world of Yahoo and Altavista you pay no attention to the specific differences between alternatives - you are left with the worst of these two tools. Your results are general, timeless and imprecise. Contrary to myth, global search engines are not the best place to start most of the time - just some of the time. On other occasions, start with a directory, a meta-search engine, a guide, an FAQ... We should be able to identify which tools excel at locating what kinds of webpages. (There is no simple search of everything.) There are more insights into effective internet research. Information clumps; Information is not established in isolation but instead develops in context, is reinforced, and becomes a trend. The publishing motivation & promotion purpose can help us rapidly judge the content of a website. The webpage address can tell us a great deal about both the website structure and the type of publisher. Once skilled, you can segment and search the most promising areas of the web quickly and efficiently. If you do not quickly find your answers there may be other, more appropriate resources. Consider asking for help in an appropriate discussion group, or reviewing printed literature instead. The Web is only one resource among many. If your primary interest is Search Engines, consider reading A Higher Signal - To - Noise Ratio (http://www.dpi.state.wi.us/dpi/dlcl/lbstat/search1.html) by Bob Bocher & Kay Ihlenfeldt, Sink or Swim: Internet Search Tools & Techniques (http://www.lboro.ac.uk/info/training/finding/sink.htm) by Ross Tyner and The Search is Over (http://www.zdnet.com/pccomp/features/fea1096/sub2.html) by Adam Page. For even more, read Searching the Internet (http://wwwscout.cs.wisc.edu/toolkit/searching/) a publication in the Scout Toolkit and browse Search Engine Watch. Strategy Searching the web is more skill than most of us acknowledge. The web is a manifestation of the demon professional researcher's work with all the time in the commercial information market. There is constantly the fear you have missed that single important site with everything. Consider the researcher's motto: Someone, somewhere, probably knows the answer. But how long do we search for gems, and where do we look? To decide, we must learn about internet structure and organization. Why is information published on the web? Why is it promoted? Let's review the reasoning behind effective internet research. There is so much more than putting words into search engines. #1 Motivation We can make some very astute generalizations about a webpage very quickly if we can judge the reason it was published. Not only is this an important step in analyzing any information, but this tells us a great deal about the contents of the webpage. Yes, merely determining a site belongs to an association actually specifies the quality, motivation and type of information we will find. Associations either publish what is termed 'brochureware' (promotional material), or if well advanced, present research work previously restricted to the association library: important research studies & the like. Commercial interests have much more difficulty delivering useful resources. The importance of projecting a corporate image comes first (lots of 'brochureware'), and service descriptions come second. On occasion, commercial interests will support a worthwhile service tied closely to their own service - thus banks present interest rates - bookstores present their book database. The certainty with which we can make these judgments will astound you. Corporate websites never publish "changes to patent law". They simply don't have the motivation. Only an individual would publish this, most likely not on the web but though a mailing list. Information is not distributed randomly. Consider Format, Preparation, Motivation and Promotion. Consider this, then Visualize the information you seek. #2 Promotion We can make further snap judgments about web information from the way you get there. Promotion is very difficult on the web, and it is hard to find poorly promoted information. The tools you use to reach information pre-determines the type and quality of information you will find. Search engines index webpages indiscriminately. Advertised websites must have a pay-off. Directories focus on established websites (not webpages). Link pages also link to established websites but put more thought into the selection of resources. Both usually focus on general sites. For specific or current resources, we need to move to mailing lists or active nexus point. Yes, when we find a webpage through the Scout Report (a prominent resource discovery newsletter), we can assume the webpage has a high quality of information, is reasonably current and has a general appeal (within the interest of the newsletter readers). Let's put this in reverse. If we are looking for a recent document by a prominent library committee, we will not find it through Altavista, Yahoo, or normal link pages (except accidentally). We may find it through specialist newsletters, active nexus points, or through mailing lists. #3 Visualize When an artist begins to paint, they visualize the image. They already have a concept of the finished result. Internet research is no different. We start by building a vision of the information we seek. Who would publish it. What is their motivation? Who would promote it? Where would I find it? Information Clumps. Information is created, nurtured, develops, gets transplanted, gets arranged and becomes visible through a process which brings similar information together. Your understanding of this process, including motivation and promotion, must guide your search of the web. Only then will we know where to look, and quickly know if the answers are on the web. ___________________________________________________ News links and more at http://spireproject.com/newswire.htm Shakh was invited to travel with the army on the conquest of Nubia. The Egyptian army was not in need of further soldiers but there was a need for a witness. Shakh would write the official chronicles of the army's exploits. He would be expected to send a simple diary on papyrus back to the palace and then to compose numerous descriptions for memorial walls. He may also be consulted for paintings on the pharaohs tomb. It was a fine offer, and he relished in the prospect of increasing his value exposure. The war was not swift, nor was it entirely one-sided. In the end, superior numbers had its effect and Nubia was once again reunited with Greater Egypt. Reporting was initially a challenge, since very little happened from day to day. Slowly, Shakh got a handle on the process and focussed on the grandness of the venture. Two years after floating up stream, Shakh was able to do his finest work, the parade of captured soldiers past the Pharaoh's representative. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - News articles are typically light and biased. Do not believe a news item is a great critical analysis of current events. Most news is produced under time restrictions, for prompt consumption. In research, news often proves particularly useful for locating information about individuals or businesses. News is also critical in creating a timeline of events, in recording events of regional/national/international importance. News prepared by individual reporters is collected together by large news organizations, then delivered to other news organizations around the world. Your local news organization does not have a reporter in Iran, but rather buys the story off a newswire, then packages it in your evening news hour or morning newspaper. You have probably heard of: United Press International (UPI), Reuters Global News, Agence France Presse, Associated Press and Xinhua Chinese Newswire. These very large organizations make their information available to you in a variety of ways. News collects in commercial databases of past news, some single source, others, large multi-source databases. Current news is also packaged into large multi-source systems delivered by email or newsgroups. Many newswires are available online free of charge. Free News Critical to the changes on the internet is the emergence of free access to text news. Individual newspapers present news free. Newswires present news free. News sections to larger sites like Yahoo present news from many sources, free. News-only search engines will help you find information from a great many sites with news. The process of finding current news is about as slick as imaginable. Here are a few players in the market: * Yahoo News (www.yahoo.com/headlines/) is leading this field with web delivery of current news from Reuters, Associated Press, and others. Yahoo also includes a free search for one week's news. * Voice of America Newswire (VoA and now voanews.com) delivers news in English & many other languages. * The Washington Post (www.washingtonpost.com) offers their own current news for searching, as well as the Associated Press wire, each searched separately for the past week. * Fox News (www.foxnews.com) presents current news online (both current events and sport news). CNN news (www.cnn.com) is another searchable site. Both repackage some newswires and present them online. C|news (www.news.com) does this too. * Newsbytes (www.newsbytes.com) is a newswire solely on computer topics, computer, telecom and online world. InternetWire and other specialty newswires also present news from their website. * United Nations Radio: The World in Review is one of many news shows with the transcripts online. Unusually, the Vatican's newswire is not free online. * Obviously many more exist - and thankfully we don't need to create a list or manage the sources. The Spire Project has a clickable map of English language newspapers. There are definitive lists of global newspapers like Gary Price's http://gwis2.circ.gwu.edu/~gprice/newscenter.htm#International http://dailyearth.com and http://ipl.org/reading/news/ Commercial Resources The commercial segment of the news market is obviously being squeezed by the copious quantities of free news online. There are, however, still some viable markets, principally enterprise solutions (companies are willing to pay for slight improvements), past database access, and surprisingly the Wall Street Journal (US$49/yr). To these markets we have Clarinet and Newspage. World News Connection is US Government service presenting translated news (quite a gem) as a searchable database. Unusually, prices start at US$25/7days - yes one price for the news! Of course news alerts can be arranged from the commercial news databases through the database retailers, and each newswire like Agence France Newswire, Canada Newswire, Xinhua News and Associated Press all are unique databases, and all stretch back many years. Further databases like Newswire ASAP and what used to Global Textline are massive databases of multiple newswires and newspapers. I recall at one stage Textline had over 4 billion pages. Conclusion News articles are typically light and biased. The sheer quantity of news in the large news databases make this a useful resource to fall back for any tightly focused research topic. I once discovered an obscure scientist working in a unique field from a small 3 paragraph article in a local farmer's newspaper in England (Global Textline Database). Newswires and News Databases are just two elements of a large industry which extends to the your local newspaper and to further specialty databases. Most newspapers maintain their own local news database, and some make this available electronically. A manual clipping services may also be the option - certain firms manually page through local papers looking for advertisements or articles. While on the topic, certain newswires like Business Wire and PR Newswire essentially distribute certain types of news for money. Yes, anything in these newswires is there because the company paid for it to be there - $500 and up most likely. Other newswires earn money in the reverse process: from the media who read or publish their work. Associated Press or Reuters are created from news organizations. Others like Voice of America (VOA) are alternatively funded, but with reasonable reliability. There are also a range of focused newswires such as Newsbyte (computer issues), PR Newswire (product releases), and Middle Eastern newswires. Further newswires can be found at Yahoo. Strategy I can think of four ways to use this information for research: 1) As an alternative to your evening news or morning newspaper. Online news is available 24 hours a day, in more detail, from respected news organizations. 2) Search past news to locate information unlikely to emerge in journals or magazines. News includes a great deal of local detail and personal information unlikely to be found elsewhere. 3) As a historical record of events, perhaps the basis of a timeline. 4) Current Awareness and Alerts so articles come to you as they are reported. News stories by email will become a large industry over the next two years. Information Theory Just how inexpensive can news become? US$25 gets you access to past translated news! VoaNews.com keeps a searchable directory back a month for free. Many newspapers still have extensive archives of news, though they hope to one-day charge for them. In a way, no-one is making money from news. It is only worth the advertising revenue for distracting you from reading the news - and that is falling too. With the freedom of moving information through the internet, several free services will send you email when an news article matches your interests (an Alert). The future will see much more "compile your own" newspaper - especially since it could conceivably be compiled at minimal to no expense depending on the technology (frames anyone?) An intriguing lawsuit recently stopped TotalNews (a news only search engine) from displaying news articles in a frame. If allowed to speculate for a moment, News-for-Pay may also become a viable businesses. Perhaps this is just being cynical of journalistic standards and the accepted standards of promotion. Perhaps it is also recognition that Businesswire and PRWire are just two of several newswires where you pay to have your news included. Obviously news today is biased towards advertisers (through advertorials) and promoters. Perhaps this will become automated some day - like Yahoo's "we will look at your site right away for $200". Naturally, the links and many of the forms to news resources discussed here can be found at http://spireproject.com/newswire.htm and also our All-in-one page: http://spireproject.com/spir.htm ___________________________________________________ Theses and Dissertations links and more at http://spireproject.com/discuss.htm Theses and dissertations are professional papers completed for higher degrees. That is to say, they are long, dense and often very esoteric and convoluted. Trouble is, most theses and dissertations have no more than 12 copies ever - one always to the University Library, one with the author, but others scatter to the wind. All University Libraries hold a copy of past theses undertaken at their university. This gives rise to the unfortunate but necessary pastime of searching each local university library for relevant theses. The advantage here is masters and occasionally honours theses are indexed. Most often, just undertake a keyword search then add "thes*" (truncation of theses or thesis). Electronic Theses Databases: Dissertation Abstracts Online, produced by UMI, delivers abstracts to most every doctoral dissertation/thesis in North America, some master's theses and some international theses. This is the definitive site to search, though you will need the help of your library to see more than the abstract. Some libraries will have subscribed to Dissertations Abstracts OnDisc - the CD-version of this database. The [British] Index to Theses with Abstracts is a print directory by ASLIB. This publication is also available as a database, available for site licenses through Theses.com (www.theses.com). This source is quite comprehensive as can be seen with the University List. Several other national databases do exist. Here in Australia, a list of theses was maintained from 1966 to 1991. The Gale Directory of Databases also lists THESA, a database of French theses, and Dissertations and Theses of the ROC (Taiwan). The Australian Education Index (1978+), produced by ACER (Australian Council for Educational Research), is a directory listing citations and some abstracts to Australian work in education. Also available as a commercial database, AEI is bundled into Austrom, a common collection of Australian databases. Digital Archives of Theses In theory, some theses should be available on the internet, particularly theses lodged electronically. There is a push for universities to accept electronic thesis submission, and to build digital archives of theses. The embryonic National Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations (NDTLD - www.theses.org) is just one such a project. There is a distributed and sequential keyword search to participating universities through its not particularly functional. In theory, this is an incremental improvement to searching library catalogues. Conclusion Getting a thesis can be very difficult. You will need the help of a document delivery through a library and many theses will not be available to borrow. You can also buy theses. Read Obtaining Copies of Dissertations (http://www.library.yale.edu/ref/err/disscops.htm) by Yale University Library for more. For an alternative look at theses, consider Locating Theses (http://www.lib.monash.edu.au/hss/guides/fstheses.htm) by the Monash University Library. A note on developments in this field: some Theses abstracts are emerging online already. Projects like the LA Theses Database (Landscape Architecture Theses Archive) have much promise but poor coverage. Full text theses presentation also have promise with the US Department of Education funding a National Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations and Virginia Tech starting to request electronic submission of all theses. UMI (the producers of Dissertation Abstracts Online) has backed this move with a direct delivery service of electronic theses to US libraries for $26, but only theses held in their digital archives are available. Eventually, large digital Theses archives will be the norm, but until then, very little will happen in this field. A thesis is a tightly constrained information package, produced in the university environment with limited appeal. For economic reasons, we should not be surprised theses databases are incomplete. The emergence of theses archives sounds interesting - a good use of the internet - but does not represent a financial opportunity that could be explored without government assistance. Consequently, this small area of the information sphere is government grant-driven. ___________________________________________________ Patents links and more at http://spireproject.com/discuss.htm A patent discloses certain facts about a commercially important invention in exchange for certain rights to exploit the invention. This is a little simplistic, but explains why patents are factual, unique from other research resources, and a little vague in certain specifics. If you have never seen a patent before, see a sample US patent , Australian patent, and this brief description (http://www.ipaustralia.gov.au/patents/P_home.htm). There are three primary resources involved in patent research. Firstly, we have the free internet resources. Secondly, we have the national patent agency resources. Thirdly, we have the commercial patent databases. Free Patent Databases The concept of free patent databases has surely come, and while many countries are only slowly moving this direction, the movement is inevitable. * The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) provides a US Patent Bibliographic database at patents.uspto.gov with full use of fields, date and abstract text searching. Choose between their Boolean search, advanced (field) search or by US patent number. They also maintain a fulltext [US] Aids Patent Database and other resources. * The IBM's Patent Server is a public service providing a different patent database of US Patent abstracts. The IBM service is similar but different from the USPTO service - certainly not less powerful. * The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) maintains the Canadian Patent Fulltext Database from '89. This database is on par with the US Patent Database, with perhaps even better searching technology. * The Japanese Patent Office (www.jpo-miti.go.jp) has a searchable database of Japanese patent abstracts, including patent number, title, inventor, company, and abstract of the patent. Patent Authority Services Patent libraries are an important and cost-effective patent resource. * IP Australia (www.ipaustralia.gov.au) (formerly the Australian Industrial Property Organisation (AIPO)) has a patent library in each Australian state capital. Each library provides free access to the APAS database (Australian Patent Abstract Search) and includes a complete microfiche copy of all Australian patents and the Australian Official Journal of Patents, Trademarks & Designs (the official Australian patent gazette). Most offices also hold US Patents on microfiche! Staff will help you use the APAS database, arranged for free text searching by International Patent Classification. A particularly useful service by IP Australia is the delivery of copies of many foreign patents for AU$15. You will need the patent number, country and title for this. * The US Patent and Trade Mark Organization (USPTO) has the Patent and Trademark Depository Library Program (PTDL's) placing the CASSIS database (The USPTO patent abstract database on CD-ROM) and US patents around the US. The US patent libraries also hold the Official Gazette of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, The official US patent gazette. Importantly, the gazette is fully online and searchable from 1995. * The [UK] Patent Office (www.patent.gov.uk) provides for the Patents Information Network (PIN) which hosts patent information in the UK. The British Library is just one listed source of UK patents (further information online) and delivers some patent services. * The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) (cipo.gc.ca) produces the Canadian Patent Index (CPI). They also publish The Patent Office Record, Canada's official patent gazette. * There are many more national & international patent organizations like Intitut National de la Propriete Industrielle [France], World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and European Patent Office. Thankfully there are fine lists of patent libraries and patent websites. Commercial Patent Services One of the most invaluable resources in serious patent research is access to several of the very large commercial patent databases. * Lexis-Nexis (www.lexis-nexis.com) retails several patent databases. Thanks to Patscan (University of British Columbia), we also a guide to searching patents on Lexis-Nexis. * The Dialog Corporation (www.dialog.com) retails a collection of patent databases including: Derwent World Patents Index, Inpadoc, Claims/U.S. Patents and European Patents FullText. * CASSIS is the USPTO database. For a little more information on this, consider the Patent Guide to Using CASSIS, at the University of Michigan. * Derwent Scientific and Patent Information (www.derwent.co.uk) is a prominent publisher of Patent and scientific information including commercial databases. * Questel-Orbit (www.questel.orbit.com) also retails patent databases. * CAS/STN (www.cas.org) retails a collection of patent databases including Chemical Patents Plus for U.S. Chemical patents. In addition to the database retailers and producers, there is a lively industry of patent services. * The Patent Libraries will assist you with some services. IP Australia, for example, will retrieve most full patents from other countries for AU$15. Conclusion Until recently, the legal profession has had a complete monopoly on patent work. As you can see, this need no longer be the case. Casual researchers will find the free patent databases easy to use, and more experienced researchers should not be dissuaded from searching the commercial databases or patent libraries themselves. The very large commercial databases, like Inpadoc, are particularly easy to use. Of course, there are occasions when patent searches are critical, and experts should be sought. Certainly legal assistance is required if you are preparing to lodge your own patent, but patent data as a source of information is another matter. As an industry, patent research is still deeply entrenched in the high-price commercial database and database-centered services. I am mildly surprised the emergence of free databases like the USPTO's patent database has not led to a fall in the costs of the high-end databases (which remain some of the most expensive databases in publicly accessible). It appears this industry, as indeed several others, has no intent to drop the price of retail database access to a more supportable level. I can only predict this rests on economic grounds. Patent information purchases are price insensitive. ___________________________________________________ Statistics links and more at http://spireproject.com/stats.htm Statistics allow us to lie with confidence. Dense and factual, carefully interpreted statistics are also far more reliable than personal experience. The expense of collecting meaningful statistics limits the types of organizations involved in this work. This divide is also a very elegant way to divide this field. #1 National Statistical Agencies, #2 Government Agency Statistics, #3 Commercial Statistics, #4 Association Statistics. Statistical Directories Statistical Abstracts (statistical bibliographies and statistical directories) describe sources of statistics. Instat publishes "International Statistics Sources: subject guide to Sources of International Comparative Statistics" but I found this less than brilliant. A better link is Statistical Sources (by Gale Research), a basic and very large statistical abstracts directory. On the internet, US government statistics are well recorded in Statistical Abstract of the United States 1999 (http://www.census.gov/stat_abstract) a 1000+ page document made available online in pdf format by the US Census Bureau. Statistical Venues Many statistics appear regularly in journals, annual reports and newspapers. Specialty libraries, particularly specialty librarians, may be aware of additional statistics. If an expert goes through the effort to collect statistics, you are far more likely to locate them by undertaking an article search, (looking particularly for journal articles) and a book search. In both cases, limit your search to only the last couple of years or you will locate very old, dated statistics. A particularly sophisticated approach could be to ask BusLib-l (Business Librarians' Electronic Discussion List) since this is a mailing list of librarians. Use this resource sparingly, and only after having exhausted other avenues. National Statistical Agencies Most every country in the world has a single government agency dedicated to collecting, collating and publishing national statistics. Statistics Canada, Australian Bureau of Statistics, The US Census Bureau, The (UK) Office for National Statistics; we have a fine page on national statistical agencies (http://spireproject.com/bureau.htm). These organizations manage the census, watch the movement of money and goods in and out of the country, and undertake a wide range of other surveys. Finding these statistics is relatively straight forward, with several directories on the internet. Government Agency Statistics Most government agencies collect reams of data on the industries they monitor. Sometimes these statistics are published, sometimes you have to ask for them, only rarely are they considered private or unavailable. Here in Western Australia, the government departments for Tourism, Labour, Small Business and Big Business all publish top-rate statistics free to interested parties. Our Dept of Tourism keeps a directory of future tourism related projects. When government statistics are bound and published, try the government book databases. Remember MOCAT, AGIP and part of UKOP are free online. Again, some US government statistics are well recorded in Statistical Abstract of the United States 1999 by the US Census Bureau, online in pdf format. Association Statistics Valuable statistics only come from motivated sources, and associations are certainly motivated. Start with a list of likely associations, then call up and either explain you needs or ask for their price list for publications and statistics. For AU$25, the Australian Booksellers Association publishes a brilliant analysis of the book industry. Association statistics are financially informative, as the intended audience is association members. Commercial Statistics Statistics created for sale are frequent in the financial sector but exist in a number of further situations. Banks use more professionally prepared market reports such as reports by the Australian economic consultancy firm Syntec Economic Services, Guide to Growth, which examines Australian industries financially with forecasts. IBIS (www.ibis.com), another economic consultancy, also publishes to this market. Professionally prepared market reports are also emerging, with the full text immediately from the commercial information market. Each database retailer has several such databases, but often these databases are focused globally or in a different country. Sheila Webber (http://www.dis.strath.ac.uk/people/sheila) has a very good list of firms which market research reports. Conclusion Central to the Internet Revolution is the liberation of just this kind of information. Increasingly, we will see the publishing of such documents on the internet, but for the few statistics currently online, there is no effective search. You can only browse government websites. Away from the internet, you must either contact the agencies directly (in the hope they do collect statistics), look at the statistical directories or seek agency statistics in other documents: books, pamphlets, newsletters. Once you have proceeded this far, it is wise to stop looking for statistics, and begin again at sophisticated commentary - which is likely to include supporting statistics or references to statistics anyway. Seek expert guidance from others who would know of hard-to-find statistics. One approach to finding statistics is to reverse the process. Who would prepare the statistic? Statistics are created in a logical manner, in a very expected manner. Tourism statistics? - most likely undertaken by either the government tourism authority, a tourism association or the national statistical agency. There are few others who could even consider preparing tourism statistics. If you can think through the preparation process, you can usually identify who would have created the statistic. (Internet statistics are the exception - too many organizations are creating statistics of worth.) Let's move on to specific fields of statistics. National Statistical Bureau The Spire Project has a fine html article on the National Statistical Agencies (http://spireproject.com/bureau.htm). Australia (www.abs.gov.au), United Kingdom (www.ons.gov.uk), Canada (www.statcan.ca) and United States (www.census.gov) all have national statistical agencies. Each organization collects and publishes statistics on many facets of their respective countries. This article should simplify your work in searching, selecting and appraising these sources. Each statistical agency organizes their statistics in a distinct way. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has an annual Catalogue of Publications but also a search function, specialized statistical category guides and several periodicals on new resources. The UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) has a statistical overview, product catalog and a search. The US Census Bureau has a collection of very large publication catalogues, directories and periodicals. Statistics Canada has several searches, publications and a catalogue The two further elements to the statistical agencies are the statistical libraries and the unreported commercial statistics. The ABS has a dedicated statistical library within each Australian state, and collections of ABS documents within most public and school libraries. While the ABS documents within libraries are limited, the ABS libraries are very detailed with most every publication they create available for review. This is standard throughout the world. While publications are sold by each statistical agency, and the publication catalogues are available online, each agency has data they sell in other formats. CD-ROMs of popular geographical and statistical distribution have become very popular, as have small area population statistics. Some of these services are packaged and sold for specific purposes, like 4-site by the ABS used in describing business locations. Even further, statistics can be generated specific to your needs. This might include ABS import and export statistics for specific commodities, or specific results from any of their surveys. Lastly, Usinfostore.com presents a collection of economic indicators as time-series data. The statistics originate from several government agencies and is best considered as a value-added service: an intriguing beneficial trend? National Statistical Agencies are certainly not the only source of statistics. They are, however, some of the easiest to access. These agencies also have several traits that distinguish them from other information sources. Firstly, these agencies are legally required to disguise their statistics to protect the identity of specific businesses and individuals (with the exception of the Business Register). If there is only one or two timber exporters in Western Australia, the ABS will not give you timber exports from Western Australia. Specifics are found in directories like Kompass, commercial databases, or insider information (experts and articles by experts). Secondly, national statistical agencies have a tendency to be old. Most surveys are not completed annually, but rather every two, three or more years. Census data is older still. The analysis process also adds a delay. The ABS tends to take a year or more to collate and analyze statistics. For Legal and Accounting Services Australia we have '92-'93 statistics, and the '95-96 statistics are due to be released early Nov 1997. Certain statistics like National Indicators are rapidly produced, but most are not. Thirdly, national statistical agency publications are detailed - far more than most statistical publications. Commercial statistical sources often neglect supporting information like sample size and demographic breakdown, but expect these publications to include this and more. Publications may still require further analysis, and may occasionally come from inferior sources of information, but they are professionally delivered. There are several ways to search each agency: (1) Each agency has thoughtfully provided their catalogue of publications online. The links are above. (2) Each agency collects certain information for analysis. It is helpful to become familiar with the various surveys and information sources used by each agency. Besides the Census, the ABS conducts surveys of weekly household expenditure, agricultural land-use surveys, R&D surveys, and periodic surveys of various segments of the economy (like Legal and Accounting Services, Australia 1992-93). They also collect landing cards (tourism information), export and import documentation, regional hotel occupancy rates and more. Each statistical agency is similar. If the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has not yet conducted a survey of hospital occupancy, they will not have this information. (3) Agencies publish guides to information on a particular topic. They also publish various newsletters of recent releases and annual yearbooks too. National Statistical Agencies are not the only statistics, nor particularly the best. They are, however, often the best source for demographic data, widely used by government and frequently re-published in other government documents. These agencies also provide a range of sample and national summary data directly from their website. Online statistics have not yet been organized, so I rather expect browsing the website for free information will be unwise, unless you are looking for simple national data. ___________________________________________________ This document continues as Part 3/6 ___________________________________________________ Copyright (c) 1998-2001 by David Novak, all rights reserved. This FAQ may be posted to any USENET newsgroup, on-line service, website, or BBS as long as it is posted unaltered in its entirety including this copyright statement. This FAQ may not be included in commercial collections or compilations without express permission from the author. Please send permission requests to david@spireproject.com