Researching and Writing in the Digital Age

Since the advent of the internet, how we find and process information has changed vastly. Anything a person may be curious about is only a few simple keyword searches away. However, because of how many sources and articles may be categorized not everything pertinent will instantly appear. Using the web for research requires a new skill set in finding sources that is different from traditional methods commonly used by historians. While ideas about locations are the same, which archive or website to go to, this concept of keyword search might cause historians to think differently about their sources. With the power of keyword search a user can effectively comb through hundreds of sources using their computer to find what matches the searched keyword. But just because you think a certain keyword is important for a type of source you are searching for doesn’t mean others in the field will. Depending on how the source is filed online and what keywords are attached to it, the perfect source for a topic may be online but is missed because the uploader and searcher have different ideas about keywords. It may also be that while one might expect to find specific keywords in research documents, they were never used. The same situation is plausible in physical sources as well. An archivist may have a different way of organizing things and because of one changed word, or unusual filing habit, a document could go overlooked. In the end, both ways of conducting research either through the digital or analogue can lead to missed sources so it is always important to think of sources in different ways to maximize search results.

There is also the inherent issue of the quality of sources uploaded to the internet verses those kept in an archive. The archival sources have generally all been verified by professionals and are known to contain important information. However, many times analogue sources don’t have the same categorization that digital sources get. With most digital archives, metadata is included that helps to further define what the source is. For analogue sources, the equivalent is generally a box number, followed by a folder number, all wrapped up under a library tag.

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