Dear [Your Name]

Mitchell Kapor once said that "Getting information off the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant". It's also been said that "There's a statistical theory that if you gave a million monkeys typewriters and set them to work, they'd eventually come up with the complete works of Shakespeare. Thanks to the Internet, we now know that isn't true." Now given both those comments, where does that leave the academic researcher?

Many academics are sceptical about Internet sources. And truthfully, often they're right to be sceptical. It doesn't have to be that way. The Internet is neutral in and of itself. It simply transmits information, just as a book, a journal, or even a TV does. It could be excellent information or total junk. The secret is to know the difference. That means knowing your way around reliable academic sources on the 'net. And that's what this issue of the Dissertation Bulletin is about.

As promised a number of weeks ago, Dr Erica Cosijn is back with an article on "Open Access (OA) and Other Free Resources on the WWW". I think you'll find this a particularly interesting bulletin, especially if you're having a hard time accessing a good academic library. The piece covers all academic fields, so you might have to spend a while reading (and clicking) to find the resources most useful to you, but it will be worth your while.

If you know of any other reliable and peer-reviewed sources freely available, please do let me know. In the meanwhile, enjoy, and good hunting!

Dr Erik Hofstee

PO Box 78069
2146 Sandton
Fax: 086 501 1755


Open Access (OA) and Other Free Resources on the WWW
by Dr Erica Cosijn, University of Pretoria


In the past, the full-text of scholarly journal articles was only accessible through the journals in which they appeared (subscription or interlibrary loans). With Internet, however, you will often find that good-quality published articles and books are available, free of charge. There are two main reasons for this:
These articles and books can often be found through Open Access repositories, digital libraries and subject gateways. This article looks at what these are, and gives some examples of each. The links should be live: if you have any problems accessing any of the sites, let us know and I will try to find them. They tend to move around!

Open Access Repositories

OpenDOAR and DOAJ below are both directories of Open Access resources. Directories contain lists of sources and resources (not the resources themselves!) and are a very useful starting point when looking for OA resources in your field of study:
HighWire and TextArchive are examples of general (covers all disciplines) Open Access sites:
Below are some examples of pre-print and e-print archives and Open Access repositories and publishers in specific areas:
Digital Libraries and E-Books

A digital library is a collection of information in digital format and an e-book is the digital equivalent of a traditionally printed book. There are thousand of initiatives all over the world to create digital libraries and to make e-books available. We will limit this discussion to those that may have some value to you in your research.

Some general digital libraries that cover a variety of fields are:
Some subject-specific digital libraries are:
Use a general search engine, like Google (http://www.google.com) to search for digital libraries in your field of research. For example, type:

"digital library" history

into the Google search box to find digital libraries dealing with the subject of History. Note: "digital library" is in quotation marks because it is a phrase. If you do not put quotation marks around phrases, Google will interpret it as a Boolean search: [digital AND library]

Subject Gateways on the Web

A gateway is a website that serves as a single point of entry to many types of information sources and resources. If you put all the information contained within, and linked to from a gateway, it is a vast collection. It is therefore important that, when you use a gateway, you should take time to explore it to its full potential, and also to take care not to loose your way in the navigation process.
Google Scholar

Google Scholar (http://scholar.google.com) gives access to scholarly literature. General search engine databases are created by harvesting any site that has a link from another site, and as such, the information found using a general search engines should always be viewed with caution. Scholarly information, on the other hand, has been peer reviewed and is generally trustworthy.

The goal of Google Scholar is to make peer-reviewed papers, articles, abstracts, books and theses available and to help you identify the most relevant scholarly research. If you have to find academic material on the web, you should seriously consider using Google Scholar rather than Google.

For interest's sake, try the following: Search for the phrase "cellular phones" on Google (http://www.google.com) and do the same on Google Scholar (http://scholar.google.com).

This is what you should see: On Google over 5 million websites were found. These are mostly commercial sites dealing with cell phones - specifications, sales, etc. The relevant websites found are displayed on the left-hand side of the screen. The column on the right-hand side of the screen are "sponsored links", in other words, the owners of these websites paid Google to display their information on the results screen. An interesting fact about Google is that, although over 5 million sites were found, only the first 1000 results can be accessed.

On Google Scholar only about 30 000 results were found. You will notice that it finds researched and peer-reviewed articles about cell phones that are published in scholarly journals. Note that there are no sponsored links here - academic integrity should not be compromised by paid advertising.

A Note on Copyright and Plagiarism

OA publishing and articles made available though the Internet has had quite a serious impact on copyright issues. When a scholarly article is published in a journal, it is usually the publisher of the journal that holds the copyright of the article (sometimes jointly with the author). When the author of an article self-publishes the content in an OA repository, there are no subscription fees to be paid and the article is usually not copyrighted (meaning that there are no permission restrictions on the number of copies that may be made of the article). This does not mean, however, that anyone can use this work without any restrictions, since the author of the article still holds the rights to the intellectual content of the article. You need to be very careful regarding issues surrounding copyright and plagiarism. No matter where you get your information from, you always have to cite and reference sources correctly!

NOTE: If you'd like to respond to Dr Cosijn, or have some useful sites to add, please click here and I'll (Erik) make sure Dr Cosijn gets your input.

Comments, Suggestions and Questions

Editorial Comment

If you have any questions, please don't be shy to send them up. The chances are, if you're wondering, so are quite a number of other people out there. Anything to do with conceptualising, planning, structuring, researching, writing, editing or defending dissertations is fair game!

My questions are - is there a particular 'research aid' which you recommend, that you promote through your Bulletin and through your workshops with students? Is EndNotes the most comprehensive package available at present?

No, I don't recommend any particular research software, either in my workshops or in this bulletin. And as to promotion -- I promised that the bulletins would be free of advertising, and so they will be!

I am, however, a great fan of doing things as well and as efficiently as possible. That means that I do believe that some software can help researchers tremendously. Aside from the obvious -- word processors, spreadsheets, analytical programs etc. -- referencing software is probably the most useful tool out there for researchers.

In my experience it doesn't really matter that much which you choose to use, as long as you don't have to do the references and bibliography by hand. Both EndNote and ScholarsAid will do them for you. I've put ScholarsAid Lite up on Exactica's website (with the author's permission!) which will also the job, because
unlike most other referencing programs, it's free.

ScholarsAid also comes with a notes program (ScholarsAid Notes), but I don't recommend you use any software notes program - index cards work much better. They're quick, portable, you can shuffle them around easily and you don't need to boot up your computer to use them. You should be using them while you're doing research, structuring your dissertation, and while writing it. They're truly invaluable.

I'll devote future bulletin to referencing software. It's a huge time-saver that no dissertation-writer should be without! In the meanwhile, if you'd like to have a look at some other free high-tech toys useful to researchers, you can click here. It will take you to the free software page on Exactica's website.

Obviously there's a lot more useful stuff out there, but they tend to be commercial products. If you have any suggestions for useful (free!) additions to the page, by all means send me an email.

Can I get a cum laude for my doctorate?

Nearly universally, the answer to your question is no. It is true that doctoral dissertations, like Master's dissertations, can vary enormously in terms of quality and significance but traditionally they are not awarded cum laude. The reason for this is the assumption that if you are awarded a doctoral degree, the dissertation must per definition have been excellent.

So: Notwithstanding the great cynic James Dobie's opinion that, "The average Ph.D. thesis is nothing but a transference of bones from one graveyard to another", the combined voice of universities around the world says otherwise.

What are research instruments, and do I need them?

Put simply, a research instrument is anything that you use to get data. So yes, if you need to collect primary data (and you probably will), then you will be using research instruments. Those instruments can be just about anything: questionnaires, EEG machines, psychological tests, spectrographs, anything that you rely on to get your data.

The reason you need to discuss your research instruments in detail in your dissertation (method section!) is because unless your reader is convinced that your research instruments are accurate, they won't believe the data you collected is accurate. And if they don't believe that your data is accurate, nothing that you do with that data is going to convince them that your conclusions are accurate.

Research instruments are to be taken seriously.


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