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Internet Research Guide
Part 2


Email, listservs, newsgroups, chat rooms

The Internet and the Web are not actually synonymous terms. The Internet offers more than just web browsing. Gophers, MOOs, chat rooms, Newsgroups, and listservs are effective research tools that are delivered research tools that are delivered over the Internet. While the Web is clearly the most powerful research tool you'll encounter, at least in your first few college writing and research courses, you may at some point want to draw upon other Internet-related resources.

Listservs or Newsgroups, for example, are best used for ongoing conversation. Users benefit most when they go in with some prior knowledge of the subject, and/or when they are able to participate and listen to debates and ideas in context over an extended period of time.

Email can be useful if you have very specific questions to ask of certain specialists who are recognized authorities or spokespeople in your field of study.

The important thing to remember, whether you are using the Web or one of the other tools the Internet makes possible, is that, despite the different media you might be working with, many traditional research skills apply. You need to evaluate critically and you need to be selective in compiling research in a thoughtful way.

Email
Finding email addresses
Listservs
Practice: searching for listservs
Newsgroups
Chat rooms

Email

Using email to conduct research can be highly effective but with a few qualifiers in place. First, if you are going to email an authority or expert in the field you are studying, it is only reasonable to limit yourself to one or two specific, clearly worded questions. Sending an email to your local health official regarding smoking as a general topic will not likely get you any useful information. You need to show that you've done some thinking for yourself and are not just looking for easy answers from somebody else. However, if you have formulated a good question, and if you ask it in a clear manner, there is no reason not to expect some kind of personal reply, especially from government officials who are likely very much interested in communicating with the general public.

Second, keep in mind that email—despite the fact that we often treat it as an informal mode of communication—is not entirely different from formal letter writing. If you are addressing someone you've never met before, remember to write your email as you would write a letter, with a proper address and salutation using appropriate titles (Ms, Dr., and so forth).

Do not use little symbols, like :), do not write in all CAPS, and remember that tone of voice does not carry over email, so sarcasm and irony will not always work. In fact, attempts at ironic humor are likely to backfire.

Remember that once you send an email, it is no longer on your computer (depending on the email program you use), so either save a copy for yourself or email it to yourself as well as your intended recipient (the latter is called cc'ing). Also, it is best to suppress any kind of personal signature or quotation, unless it is strictly business or school address information.

Finding email addresses

Searching for email addresses is best done by visiting web sites associated with your intended correspondent. For example, if you need a professor's email address, visit the web site of the school at which he or she teaches (these web addresses usually end in .edu). From there, you will likely find a university directory or even departmental directories. For elected officials try city, county, state, or federal web sites (these web addresses usually end in .gov).

You can also always try searching for people using one of the many "people finder" tools on the Web like http://www.whitepages.com.

Listservs

A listserv is a collection or list of email addresses. Any posting, or message, sent to the list goes to every email address, thus forming large discussion groups usually focused on a specific topic or organization. Some listservs include so many addresses that most subscribers (people on the list) end up doing more listening than posting. Listening but not entering into listserv debates is often called "lurking." Some people subscribe to a couple of listservs and find themselves with hundreds of messages a day in their inbox.

Listservs are ideal for experts in a field who want to keep in contact with other experts in the same field. It is important not to try to extract statements or ideas from listserv debates without actually getting into those debates or at least following them for some time; difficult issues of context arise. Even where authoritative voices are speaking, it is not good research practice to extract statements from an ongoing dialogue. While an extracted statement may seem to support your argument, it may be contradicted or changed by the author later on in the discussion

Practice: Searching for listservs

You can search for lists on various topics by sending an email message to this address: listserv@vm1.nodak.edu. You need only write in the body of your message: list global/[your topic]. For example, you can find listservs devoted to astronomy by writing list global/astronomy in the body of your message. Do not write anything in the subject line.

Think of a topic you are interested in and write to listserv@vm1.nodak.edu. How many listservs do you receive back? Which ones might you want to subscribe to? Remember that you might not find any lists devoted to your topic. You may need another word to use in your search.

  • Always be sure to save the instructions for unsubscribing to the listserv.
Newsgroups

Newsgroups are similar to listservs in that they collect postings or "news" (loosely defined) on a specific topic, but users must visit the Newsgroup to get information. It is not delivered directly to every user's computer as is the case with listservs.

The "Usenet Info Center Launch Pad" is a web site that lists a wide variety of Newsgroups:
http://sunsite.unc.edu/usenet-i/home.html

If you decide to use listserv or Newsgroup postings as part of your research, remember that in most cases anybody who wants to can join and contribute. Therefore, consider very carefully who the source for your "information" is. There is no sense in quoting an unknown source posted to some listserv, since there is no way of knowing what kind of time or thought has gone into that post. Newsgroups and listservs are best used as places to develop your ideas through discussion than places to necessarily find authoritative support for those ideas. In every case you need to evaluate the information you read.

Chat rooms

Chat Rooms are not useful for conducting any kind of research. While they started as a good idea (a virtual room, in which people could virtually meet and discuss whatever they wanted to, usually dating and sex), chat rooms have been taken over by salespeople and marketing strategists. Taking advantage of the anonymous nature of chat rooms, certain marketing groups now enter and say things like, "The new Britney Spears album is the greatest. You've got to get it." Or, "Brad Pitt is SO cute. You've got to see his new movie :) !" Some chat room users are confident that they can spot phoneys, but marketers are infinitely more clever, persistent, and insidious than the examples given here might suggest.

Chat rooms could be a good place for you to practice critical reading and evaluation skills given the volume of things said in them, but they are definitely not places to go for information or reliable opinion. Chat rooms are not even reliable sources for broad or "public" opinion, given the nature of marketing intervention.


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