06 September, 2009

Google Research

A brief post I wrote for the Ethos blog.
You've probably been told at some point in your debate career that the last place you want to research is google. I certainly have. And to some extent, that's true. If I were to type in say "carbon tax" into the google search bar, I'd get over 5 million results, & sorting through that would be impossible. While a straight up google search might not be that effective, there are several google tools that I've found extremely useful for research, & I'd like to talk about a few of them.
Custom Google Search
Google custom search allows you to create your own search engine & decide what sites it will search. You've probably had the experience where, while you're researching, you come across this one great site that seems to have articles on almost everything. Unfortunately, you never have time to look through all of the articles, & probably close the tab & forget about it eventually. With google custom search, whenever you come across a site like that, you can just add it to your search engine, so results from that site will come up when you search for a topic it covers. Another great feature of google custom search is the collaboration function, which lets you to invite friends to add sites as well, which means potentially your whole club could be adding sites.
Google Scholar
Google scholar is a great resource if you want to get actual studies on a given issue rather that experts opinions. Before you begin using it, go to the advanced search option, & set it to search articles within a recent date range. Otherwise - in my experience at least - you'll get a ton of results, but many of them will be from too long ago to be useful for debate. Be aware that while Scholar lets you view many of the journal articles, some of them require access to databases like ScienceDirect or Jstor. It would be a hugemistake to just give up on these articles; academic databases such as these often archive some of the best available materials. Save the citations on a special document, & if at all possible, take an occasional trip to a local university library to look them up.
Google Books
There's a somewhat disturbing trend I've noticed in debate recently. Debaters are relying almost exclusively on online sources for their research. While I'm a big fan of the internet, some of the best authors on subjects like the environment are so great that they're able to get their work published in a book, which means that if you're only using online research, you're missing out big-time. Google Books is sort of a compromise; it lets you access books from the internet. As with Scholar, you probably want to change the preferences to limit the date range on the books searched. Also just like scholar, many books aren't free to access, but once again, make a list & look them up on your library trip. The books that are free to access require a special process to cut cards from. First, do a screen grab of the text you want. Then, follow the instructions outlined here to get that text into a format that you can use in a brief. It may take some time, but I can guarantee you it will be worth the trouble.

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