Using the Internet

When I was a university student computers, in the sense that we have them now, basically didn't exist. When they started to come into use, in the late 1970s, they were more or less just glorified word processors with e-mail and a calculator and not much more. The internet didn't really get started properly until the mid '80s, when I was in my 30s.

So, when I was younger none of this technology existed. But I have adapted. I can see how important it is, and I have learned how to use it and get the best out of it.

But it's different for you. When computers started to develop, today's generation of university students hadn't even been born. All your life, there have been computers. So, when students say they don't know how to do a basic keyword search, or they don't understand what an exact phrase search is, or they've never heard of Google Scholar - when they say these things I'm shocked.

If I said I didn't know how to use a microwave oven, or a mobile phone, you'd think I was pretty strange, wouldn't you? You'd be wondering which planet I'd come from, and how I possibly managed to live in today's society, right?

Well, I have the same kind of reaction when students show that they really have no idea about how to use the internet. This is the information age, and if you don't know how to use the internet to research information you aren't really prepared for the age you live in.

Strict words, perhaps. But I can't overemphasise the importance of this. If there's one practical thing you really should make sure you master during your years at university it's the use of a computer and, especially, the internet.


Even though Yahoo! is still big in Japan, I'm sure everyone has heard of Google, and if you want to function in English and internationally then there's something you need to know: Google is your friend!

The default setting for Google in Japan is Japanese-language Google. The first thing you need to do is switch to in English. This is because, if you use the Japanese version, you will get results focused on Japan. Try it. Do a search for "Shakespeare" on Japanese Google and then do the same search on English Google. Can you see how the results look totally different? The simple way to get to Google in English is to use the following URL: ("ncr" = no country registered).

OK, yes, for some things Japanese Google might be as good as English Google, or even better. If you want to find out about the Muromachi period in Japan you will get more specialised information more easily by using Google in Japanese. And if you just want to get some background information on Shakespeare, then Japanese Wikipedia is good enough. But if you're writing an academic paper, information from Japanese Wikipedia isn't good enough; you need more specialised sources, and English-language Google is the best place to start looking.

Of course, you may sometimes want to refer to a Japanese source, and Japanese Google may sometimes be appropriate, but I recommend you to get used to using Google in English, and that's what I'm focusing on here.

Search Options

i) Simple Search

The first thing you need to do is be able to do a simple search - and I really do mean "simple"! Just type something in at the search prompt and search for it. Nothing could be simpler.

But, of course, it's not so simple after all. The first thing is that you won't get any results if you make a spelling mistake, especially if you get a person's name wrong; Google will try to catch spelling mistakes, but if you are searching for the "bard" of Avon (another name for Shakespeare) and you type in "bird" Google won't notice a mistake because both words exist.

The next thing is that your search resutls depend totally on what you put in at the search prompt. For example, you might be interested in feminism in Shaekspeare's period, so you enter the two words, "Shakespeare" and "feminism". You get a huge amount of results, and some of them are clearly going to be useful, but the skilled researcher will not be satisfied.

A good researcher will notice, for example, that some websites that talk about Shakespeare and feminism use words like "sexism" and "mysogeny", which have a meaning that is almost opposite to feminism. So a good researcher will go back to the search prompt and add those words.

By adding some words at the search prompt, and taking others away, good researchers keep on hunting until they find the information they are looking for. Some people are good at this, and others aren't, but everyone will get better with practice.

So even a "simple" search is not necessarily simple!

ii) Advanced Search

The next thing to notice is Advanced Search. Here, you can choose different search options. One of the most useful options is the exact phrase search, which is the second search box. Suppose you are searching for Shakespeare's play, As You Like It. If you search in the first search box, you will get a huge amount of results (over three billion in August 2010, and rising daily!), but if you search in the second box you get a smaller number (it's still over a million, but it's much less than last time!).

This is because the first box gives you every website that includes these four words in any position, but the second box only gives you websites that use them joined together as a phrase. Google is intelligent enough to give you some of the exact phrase results first, so you don't really notice so much difference between an exact phrase search and a simple search.

Advanced Search becomes much more useful when you combine it with a simple search. Suppose, for example, that you were working on feminism in Shakespeare's period and you wanted to consider it in connection with As You Like It. You would enter "Shakespeare" and "feminism" in the first field (to get web pages that mentioned those two things), then you would enter "As You Like It" in the second field (to get web pages that mentioned this play as well as "Shakespeare" and "feminism". Try it!

iii) Research Links

Once you have mastered the basics of "surfing" the internet, you will need to start working with some of the main databases. For further information on these databases and how to access them, and - very importantly - how to quote them in research papers, see my page on web links.



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