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Information Research FAQ v.4.7 (Part 2/6)

Information Research FAQ: Resources, Tools & Training
Archive-name: internet/info-research-faq/part2
Posting-Frequency: monthly
Last-modified: April 2002
Copyright: (c) 2001 David Novak
Maintainer: David Novak <>

                  Information Research FAQ     (Part 2/6)

            100 pages of search techniques, tactics and theory
          by David Novak of the Spire Project (

    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

    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 and with pictures at

    This FAQ is an element of the Spire Project,
    the primary free reference for information research and an important
    resource for search assistance.

    ***    The Spire Project also includes a 3 hour public seminar titled
    ***    Exceptional Internet Research. This is a fast paced seminar
    ***    supported with a great deal of webbing, reaching to skills and
    ***    research concepts beyond the ground covered on our website and
    ***    this FAQ. has a synopsis.
    ***    I am in Europe, seminaring in Ireland and Europe though I
    ***    will be returning to the US shortly, and South Australia for
    ***    a seminar this October.

    David Novak -
    The Spire Project : and

    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

                        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

    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

    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.

           Links and forms at
    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

    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 ( A state library
    may provide access to the Book Review Digest Database.

    Online book reviews are further discussed in Locating Book Reviews
    ( 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 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.)

    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
    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

    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
    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

    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 ( 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 ( 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.

          Links and forms at

    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 ( 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 and Truncation/Wildcard (*)
    Of import, Capitals matter with Altavista.

    All-the-Web ( 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 link text and link url
    fields normal.atext:spire All-the-Web is not case
    sensitive. The same database supporting All-the-Web supports Lycos.

    Inktomi (via provides its substantial web
    directory through other companies, in this case, HotBot. also allows
    searches by region, by date, and more.

    Debriefing ( is our meta-search engine of
    choice. Use this to find names & named websites. Accepts Partial
    Boolean + - Simple Proximity " ". Capitals matter.

    Google( 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
    ( and the Industry Research
    Desk (

    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

    Yahoo ( 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 ( is a Netscape effort to,
    presumably, mute the strength of Yahoo. It is very good, and very
    similar to Yahoo.

    Looksmart ( is another significant directory.

    For an alternative, try the World Wide Web Virtual Library: Subject
    Catalogue (, 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

    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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( is
    similar to Argus. This one indexes important nexus sites and should be

    The (as in Encyclopedia Britannica 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

    WebRings list sites by topic. Each webring is maintained by a volunteer
    at an uninvolved site using standard software. The primary sites are
    currently and

    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 ( 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

    * 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.,
    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

    * Topic-specific search engines, a new arrival, has a very promising
    future. Ideally you will find a search engine like ChemGuide
    ( over a
    million chemistry related pages. Search Engine Guide
    ( and Gary Price's Direct Search.
    ( 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).

    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

    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
    ( by Bob Bocher
    & Kay Ihlenfeldt, Sink or Swim: Internet Search Tools & Techniques
    ( by Ross Tyner
    and The Search is Over
    ( by Adam Page.
    For even more, read Searching the Internet
    ( a publication in the
    Scout Toolkit and browse Search Engine Watch.

    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

    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

    #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.

          links and more at
    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

    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 ( 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 delivers news in
    English & many other languages.

    * The Washington Post ( offers their own current
    news for searching, as well as the Associated Press wire, each searched
    separately for the past week.

    * Fox News ( presents current news online (both current
    events and sport news). CNN news ( is another searchable
    site. Both repackage some newswires and present them online. C|news
    ( does this too.

    * Newsbytes ( 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 and

    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.

    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

    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.

    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

    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! 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 and also our
    All-in-one page:

                         Theses and Dissertations
           links and more at

    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 ( 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 - 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

    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 ( by
    Yale University Library for more. For an alternative look at theses,
    consider Locating Theses
    ( 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.

           links and more at

    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

    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

    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

    * The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) provides a US Patent
    Bibliographic database at 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

    * The Japanese Patent Office ( 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 ( (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 ( 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) (
    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

    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 ( retails several patent databases.
    Thanks to Patscan (University of British Columbia), we also a guide to
    searching patents on Lexis-Nexis.

    * The Dialog Corporation ( 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

    * Derwent Scientific and Patent Information ( is a
    prominent publisher of Patent and scientific information including
    commercial databases.

    * Questel-Orbit ( also retails patent databases.

    * CAS/STN ( 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.

    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.

            links and more at

    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
    ( 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 (

    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

    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
    (, another economic consultancy, also publishes to this

    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
    ( has a very good list of
    firms which market research reports.

    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

    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 ( Australia
    (, United Kingdom (, Canada
    ( and United States ( 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

    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, 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

    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

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