Benjamin’s gaze fell on his weekly schedule. “My God!” he groaned, “in four days I have the paper on the Visigoths and I don’t even have a concept yet!”
When he complained about his time crunch to his best friend Christian, he just said, “Look on the Internet! I’m sure there are ready-made papers there! I know a great address!”
“But I can’t just copy someone else’s paper! If the teacher finds out…”
As Benjamin sits at home in front of his computer and types in his friend’s “super address,” his disappointment is great when he finds only a paper on the Ostrogoths under the keyword “Visigoths” – and that was simply a chapter copied from an old textbook. He knows a few other collections of papers, but he doesn’t find anything here either, but comes across the same Visigoth paper twice.
When he wants to switch off the computer, he has the idea to search for the word “Visigoths” with a search engine. Although it returns over 500 links to pages containing the word, almost half of them are no longer there (the famous “Error 404”), and the others concern only book titles or directories. Disappointed, he shakes his head and sets off on a grouse hunt …
It is possible to be luckier than Benjamin and find a ready-made template for a paper, because there are about two dozens of paper collections on the Internet. To be on the safe side, you should take a look, but the probability of finding a good, thematically appropriate paper is low. Besides, in the meantime teachers are getting more and more familiar with the internet 😉
The most difficult thing is always to get started. Once you have some pages on the topic, it is usually easier. It is rather rare that you find a productive website by chance. Before searching the internet, you should get a first overview by using a normal paper reference book. Here it is a question of collecting terms from the environment of the topic. It can be very helpful to search not only for the term “Visigoths” but also for their kings “Alarich” or “Roderich”. Such encyclopedias are also available on the Internet.
One records all steps of the search in writing, whereby the open window of a word processor is of good service, into which one copies texts or addresses. A sheet of paper sometimes does the job as well. It is obvious that you bookmark the Internet addresses (“URLs”) of all found pages!
For some topics there are hand-sorted internet directories (portals), which have a tree-like structure. So you start with “Science”, work your way through the subdirectory “History” to the page “Middle Ages”, where you will find a collection of works or links if you are lucky.
For school topics, some educational servers are also recommended, where you can find ready-made teaching units on a topic. These are structured similarly to the portals and are quite extensive. The quality of such compilations depends on the person in charge. But if you have found such a good site, you will get a lot of information (and work) in one go.
A search engine is useful if you can already narrow down your search. Computers are terribly stupid, and search engines are no exception. A search for “Visigoths” will almost certainly bring up the catalog pages of libraries with specialized literature or links to announcements of lectures that someone gave three years ago. Sometimes, however, such pages can be used as a starting point, for example, if you discover a researcher who has been working on the topic for decades. Sometimes you can even write them an email and ask for documentation.
You have to learn how to use search engines, especially you should use the help that is usually called “professional search”, i.e. link several terms together or exclude some terms. Each search engine has its own peculiarities and it pays to study the help pages well.
So-called meta search engines are only recommended if you already know a relatively large amount and, on the basis of the usually brief information, only select those sources that are promising. The more you already know about something, the easier it is to find something about it.
If you have a lot of time until your presentation, you can also ask for hints in newsgroups or mailing lists, but you need luck to find someone who knows the topic and is willing to send you sources or material via email. It is always worth a try! Here it is important to be pre-informed and to ask a specific question. The naked “Does anyone have a paper on the Visigoths?” is taken by many groups as impertinence and has little chance of a positive response.
There are many different ways to find material for a paper on the Internet today, and there is hardly a topic on which some friendly contemporary has not compiled information. However, as with a book or an encyclopedia, you can’t be sure that everything is correct, because anyone can offer their data on the Internet today, regardless of whether they know anything about a subject or not. So it always pays to find out something about the author of the pages. In addition one can give few references. In contrast to other sources, on the Internet you usually have to judge the credibility for yourself, and in most cases it will be necessary to compare sources.