Scientific Communication for Natural Resource Professionals

Chapter 5: Fishing the Deep Web: The Search for Information

Linda Eells, Ruth Vondracek, and Bruce Vondracek


Researchers are adrift in the vast amount of information accessible today, often online and at their fingertips, from peer-reviewed articles published by society and commercial publishers to gray literature produced by state, federal, and international agencies, institutes, and nongovernmental organizations. An integral part of designing experiments, planning projects, and writing articles or reports is conducted through research of relevant published information. Thus, authors should comprehensively review and cite previously published literature on their topic. In the past, most literature was accessed by obtaining articles or reports from libraries. Today, most information is accessed through the Internet (including content provided via library subscriptions), and researchers have access to more information than ever, in part, because anyone with a computer can be a publisher (Collette 1990). However, the great wealth of information is often accompanied by a number of questions; for example, how to effectively search for information or how to assess the quality of an article or report. Many documents or content on Web sites masquerade as scientifically sound research but contain inaccurate, biased, and nonreproducible or non–peer-reviewed information. In addition to the quality-control issue, search engines have trained new researchers to simply type a phrase into a search box, at which point they typically receive a multitude of relevant and irrelevant links. This access makes it difficult to limit a search to the most relevant resources, or to obtain a manageable, browsable list of results.