Most people are aware of the common advantages of using a computer to conduct research---ease and accessibility being the main ones---but the disadvantages may not be so well-known. The immediate and often facetious answer to the question of disadvantages is usually "power outages." Far more complex and serious disadvantages to using a computer for research do exist, however.
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Plagiarism is a serious issue in both the academic and business worlds, and it is usually divided into two basic categories of intentional and unintentional. Intentional plagiarism involves the researcher knowingly taking the words and ideas of others and passing them off as his own. This type of cheating is usually easy to detect and comes with severe penalties. The penalties, however, can be just as severe for unintentional plagiarism, which comes from sloppy research techniques, which are easier to fall into when using a computer. According to Rutgers University professor Heyward Ehrlich, "Unattributed passages are included increasingly in papers that are 'assembled' rather than written."
Although every year more print documents are being archived online, many resources are still not available when using a computer for research. Most major magazines have their issues archived, but some only do so to a certain date, which makes more extensive historical research difficult. Also, when journals and magazines are archived, the article text is usually the focus, and sometimes a researcher is looking for illustrations, photographs and even advertisements for necessary information. When researching genealogy, the only option sometimes is to visit the print archives of a library, museum or historical society in order to find cemetery records, newspaper articles and other documents not available online.
Another disadvantage of using a computer for research is the time-consuming process of evaluating websites to determine if they are suitable resources. At one time, the researcher could rely on the credibility of a publishing company's name on the source, but today, the researcher must rely on her website evaluation ability in order to use computer resources that are reliable, accurate and trustworthy. Diana Hacker, a professor and textbook writer, notes how important it is to ask basic questions about a website, such as: "Is the author or publisher associated with a special interest group . . . that might promote one side of an issue?" or "Are alternative views presented and addressed?" These are questions a researcher must answer when using computer resources, if she wants to establish her own credibility. It is quite easy to find almost any kind of information on the computer; however, knowing which information to choose for research is key.
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