Outline and Notes from "Peeling the Onion: A Workshop on Research"

Peeling the Onion: A Workshop on Research

January 27, 2013
Park Slope Food Coop

Are you frustrated by how long it takes to find useful information about a given topic? Overwhelmed by the Internet and all the data out there? Unsure when to trust a source? Unable to translate your information needs to concrete queries?

Learn about the current information environment and how to navigate its layers for more fruitful searching sessions. Whether you're a student, a community activist, an independent journalist, or just someone who wants to be more efficient, come for research tips and tricks (and bring your own to share)!

Quick list of links: tinyurl.com/cooponion

PDF version of handout attached below.

Expressing Your Search Query

adapted in part from Finding Information on the Internet: A Tutorial from UC Berkeley

  • How much do you already know about the topic?
  • Is your research for yourself, for an assignment, for a friend or relative, or for another purpose?
  • What unique words, distinctive names, abbreviations, or acronyms are associated with your topic?
  • Should you use popular/layperson words or technical/academic terms?
  • What other words are likely to be in any online documents on your topic?
  • What synonyms, or variant spellings might express your topic?
  • Can you think of any extraneous or irrelevant documents these words might pick up?

Evaluating a Web Resource

  • Accuracy?
  • Authority?
  • Objectivity?
  • Currency?
  • Coverage?
  • Who wrote and published the information online?
  • Why was it put online?

The Current Information Landscape


These categories have blurred lines, but here's one way to think of the Internet:

Open Web

  • Organizational and other standard websites, such as those for a school, a business, a newspaper, or our Coop.
  • Blogs, consisting of posts in reverse chronological order and ranging from casual projects and personal opinion to sophisticated journalism.
  • Databases, such as the Census and the Internet Movie Database.
  • Images and video. Major collections of these formats are YouTube and Flickr.

Social media

  • User generated content and networking, such as Facebook and Twitter. Some content is on the open Web, some requires an online relationship (e.g. “friending” on Facebook) to view.

Fee-based Web

  • Periodical indexes, which are collections of newspaper, magazine, and journal articles.
  • Other databases, such as the business directory ReferenceUSA and the test preparation resource LearningExpress Library.
  • Google Scholar, which searches online academic journal articles and whose results are often behind a paywall.

Other parts of the Internet

  • Email lists and discussion groups, some of whose posts can be found via Google Groups.


  • Library catalogs, including the joint catalog WorldCat which collects information from libraries all over the world.
  • Full text books, which can be searched online through Google Books.

Magazines and journals

  • Some may have articles available on the open Web (check their websites), but content is also often available in periodical indexes through your library.


  • General search engines, such as Google and its alternatives, including DuckDuckGo.
  • Specialized search engines, such as the health search engine Health on the Net.

Library Services

  • Subscription databases
  • Ask a Librarian services, including phone, email, and chat reference
  • Archives
  • Interlibrary loan

Notes from the 1/27 workshop:

14 people came!

People had great questions and comments throughout, including:

  • How can I find non-US, English-language news and other sources? (We suggested Global Voices Online, among other ideas.)
  • How can I do more comprehensive web searches for a person, to make sure that I'm finding even the smaller sources? All of the same results come up at the top of the results list.
  • What about Wikipedia?
  • Don't you have to register your copyright on something you wrote?
  • How can I prevent someone from taking my name off my work and redistributing it?
  • Did JSTOR change its policies after the Aaron Swartz incident?
  • How can you trust that a .org is really a nonprofit?
  • How can I really make Twitter useful for following an issue?
Peeling the Onion January 2013.pdf58.05 KB