Despite the fact that the Internet has become an obvious choice when doing research, like any tool, it has unique characteristics that offer both benefits and drawbacks.
Doing a search on the Internet can take just seconds.
On the Internet you can find information that has just been made available a few minutes earlier.
The Internet delivers not just text, but graphics, audio, and video.
The ability to click between Web pages can facilitate an associative type of research, and make it easier to view citations and supporting data from a text.
Despite its real and seemingly growing benefits to the researcher, the Internet still presents certain drawbacks. Among the most significant are:
The Internet is truly a potpourri of information, both a strength and a weakness. On the Net you can come across everything from a scholarly paper published on particle physics to a 14-year-old's essay on her summer vacation.
There are newswire feeds from respected press organizations like the AP and Reuters, as well as misinformation from a Holocaust denial group.
There are commercials and advertisements, and there are scientific reports from the U.S. Department of Energy.
All of this diversity makes it difficult to separate out and pinpoint just the type of information you want.
A traditional electronic database that you might search in a library may take a little learning and practice, but once you get the hang of it, you can become an effective searcher.
But on the Internet, even if you know all the ins and outs of searching, because of the built-in limitations of Internet search engines and the way Web pages are created, you'll only be able to search a small percentage of what's on the Net.
You also won't be able to easily distinguish the valuable from the trivial pages; and you can obtain unpredictable results.
The Web came into being in the early 1990s, and, consequently, most of the information available on the Internet postdates that time. However, this is changing as certain Web site owners are loading older, archival material.
Because search engines will return just a single page from a multipage document, you can miss the larger context from which that information was derived.
Web pages are notoriously unstable. They appear, move, and disappear regularly. This can be of particular concern for academic researchers, who need to cite a stable page for reference purposes.
Despite the size of the Internet, the vast majority of the world's knowledge still resides in print. So a search for information on the Internet in no way represents a comprehensive search of the world's literature or knowledge.
A good deal of what's on the Internet is "off-limits" to search engines and is not retrievable.
These off-limit sites include those that are accessible only to those who register, input a password, or pay a subscription fee. These include most of the major commercial fee-based databases and online services that have a presence on the Web (e.g., Dialog, LexisNexis).
Other "off-limit" sites include newspapers that require subscriptions or registration, professional association members-only sites, and so forth.
In all, you can see that researching on the internet can be a blessing or a curse for good research results. But doing some research on the internet can, at least, provide a good foundation for your researching endeavors.