The internet in some ways is not unlike the oceans of the world – they are vast; they are filled with wonderful and engaging creatures, many of which are elusive and difficult to discover; they can be murky, at times, unfathomable, and, far too often, replete with irksome and pernicious flotsam. So, in the context of academic research, simply popping a few keywords into a search box and hoping to get worthy and reliable returns is a bit like driving over to Myrtle Beach and hoping to find a seahorse…it might happen, but it seems dodgy.
If we really want to find that seahorse – or that solid academic resource – we’ll need a more systematic approach. We’ll want to know something about where to find our quarry, its haunts and habits, and what kinds of tools we might use to study it safely and efficiently. And, we’re going to need to somehow disengage our attention from the ocean’s immensity and focus instead on those more specific and subtle habitats likely to harbor the object of our interests. We’ll need to intentionally manage the web.
When we’re engaged in academic research, the sorts of materials that we’re looking for on the web are often the same sorts of materials that we’d otherwise pursue in print form – that is, digital renditions of scholarly books and articles, government documents and pamphlets, trusted news reports, archival resources, conference proceedings, and so forth. This is generally because there’s a significant correlation between a strong editorial presence, including peer-review, and a reliable, responsible publication. In an academic context, that’s usually what we're after.