Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Hot Topics on the Web: Strategies for Research. (off the Shelf & onto the Web)

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Hot Topics on the Web: Strategies for Research. (off the Shelf & onto the Web)

Article excerpt

Some of the pitfalls of research on the Web are highlighted and exacerbated when the type of research being done is for "hot," controversial, or debatable topics. Who to trust, where to find the information, and how to determine what is reliable are all questions that will present themselves. However, the resources available on the Web are well suited for addressing many of the challenges of hot topic research. Finding points of view for obscure and well-known advocacy groups, finding the most current legislation on an issue, and finding recent events related to the issue are all actually enhanced and made easier by researching a topic on the Web.

Knowing the pitfalls and benefits from the outset can make using the Web much more profitable for hot topics research. By using appropriate sites for topic identification, you can quickly build a useful collection of core sites. By knowing where to identify federal and state legislation, you can determine the state of current policy on a topic. And certainly, the Web is most likely to help with timely news and insight on advocacy groups that might provide no--or hard-to-find --printed materials on their positions.

The following strategies and sources will facilitate efficient use of the Web for hot topics research that results in a full, well-informed view of the topic.

Topic Selection

Some researchers approach the Web with a specific topic in mind, others with an assignment to write a position paper on a topic of their choice. Those in the first category may know nothing about a topic that has been assigned to them. The latter group may have no ideas for a topic on which to write. For each approach, there are similar ways to begin.

Researchers with an assigned or defined topic may either know nothing about their topic or have no sense of the context in which to frame an argument. These individuals may need to find an overview of their topic in order to identify and understand opposing points of view. Encyclopedias are great resources for this purpose. Online, of course, the most prominent is Britannica Online ( A keyword search results in a list of hand-selected Web sites that the editors have found to be informative and reliable, pointers to Encyclopaedia Britannica (EB) articles, magazine articles available freely online, and books that may be purchased. The EB article will include varying levels of objective information on a topic, relevant statistics, scientific insight into the topic, and, for broader topics, a bibliography of key sources for off-the-Web research.

Example: The coverage on the Britannica site for a research topic such as the death penalty includes pointers to those sections of EB articles that discuss capital punishment in a variety of legal systems around the world; informative abstracts and full text of selected newspaper and magazine articles from sources such as The Economist, USA Today, Christian Science Monitor, and National Review; as well as annotated links to a variety of Web sites. The researcher using this site would be able to efficiently construct an outline of opposing viewpoints and arguments as a starting point for further study.

Unfortunately, the publishers of Britannica Online have announced that they will revert to a proprietary, subscription-based format later this year. At this writing, it is not known how much of the current site will be available when this change occurs. There are, however, other free encyclopedia sources on the Web that also provide useful background and overviews of hot topics. Encarta ( from Microsoft provides encyclopedia articles, charts and tables, multimedia, and Web site links.

For those having a hard time selecting a topic, the ability to browse a list of controversial issues is useful. Both Yahoo! and Google provide excellent Web directories that serve this purpose. The Yahoo! "Issues and Causes" site (http://dir. …

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