Date: Tue, 18 May 1999 23:47:42 -0400
Sender: The Internet TourBus - A virtual tour of cyberspace
From: Bob Rankin
Subject: TOURBUS - 18 May 1999 - Search Tips #3 - Ask An Expert!
Content-Type: TEXT/PLAIN; charset=US-ASCII
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TODAY'S TOURBUS TOPIC: Search Tips #3 - Ask an Expert
Welcome aboard! Today we have the final installment of a three part
series on Internet search tools and techniques, with Guest Driver
Tara Calishain. If you missed an issue, you can find it in the
archives. As always, please visit our wonderful sponsors, and thank
them for keeping the Bus rolling!
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Search Tips #3 - Asking an Expert on the Web
Yes! The Internet is a great research resource! Yes! The Internet
can put information at your fingertips that you used to find only in
the public library! Yes! The Internet gives you access to government
information, news sources, and academic institutions like never
No! The Internet cannot answer all your research questions!
Quite a curveball, huh? But it's true; the Internet cannot answer all
your research questions in and of itself. Sometimes it's because of
the volume of information involved; if you want a list of all the
youth organizations in the United States you'll probably have to check
out the Gale Directory of Associations at your public library.
Sometimes it's the age of the information; someday all the marriage
bonds issued in North Carolina between 1810-1900 might be scanned and
made accessible online, but it's not going to happen anytime soon.
But many times the Internet cannot answer your research question
because it's subjective. Instead of looking for information about
astigmatism, you're looking for advice on whether a 40-year-old woman
with high blood pressure could develop astigmatism. It's possible
you'll find that answer somewhere online, but it's more likely you'll
find only general information about astigmatism, leaving you to apply
it to the question in which you're interested.
In the case like this, you have to ask-a-human. Fortunately, the
Internet is not short of humans, and some of them are experts who
To get an idea of what kind of questions can be answered online, check
out the Ask-An-Expert Page at
You'll find individual links to several ask-an-expert pages, including
science and technology, medicine and health, library reference, and
"just out of curiosity" pages.
is another set of Ask-An-Expert links, though these are organized more
along the lines of school subjects (fine arts, history, etc.)
It's a little off-topic, but check out Learn2, the "Ability Utility," at
At Learn2 you can learn to treat a toothache, keep your food from bears
(lest they eat it and get a toothache, I guess) repot a plant, fix a
scratched CD, and a lot more. This site is a lot of fun. If you're
into the mechanics of things, check out How Stuff Works at
If you're still not finding what you're looking for, check out Pitsco's
Ask An Expert, which is one of the more famous expert resources online.
You can reach it at
In addition to Web site links, Pitsco also has e-mail addresses and
descriptions on its list of over 300 experts willing to field questions.
Now, by listing these resources I don't mean to say that the only
people on the Web of whom you should ask questions are denoted
experts. Part of being a good Internet researcher is KNOWING WHEN TO
GIVE UP! That's right, sometimes you've got to find someone who can
answer your question instead of finding the answer itself. If you
find a Web site that covers your area of interest, and you've got a
question, by all means e-mail the owner of the and ask. But keep
these things in mind:
1) Check the expert's Web site, when available, to make sure the
question isn't already answered in a FAQ. (Sometimes the FAQ will
say, "I'm very busy! Please don't send me questions!")
2) Make sure your e-mail address is enclosed with your message. The
expert won't be able to get the answer to you if they don't know your
3) If you're a teacher and gathering information for an assignment,
let the expert know. They might be able to point you to additional
sources of information.
4) The expert doesn't have an obligation to answer your question. If
you don't hear back from them, don't take it personally; they might be
very busy. Sometimes if you ask a question that's already answered in
their FAQ, they won't answer. (Another good reason to check the FAQ
before sending a question.)
5) Be sure to doublecheck any information they send you; don't assume
it's true because you heard it on the 'net! At the very least the
information an expert sends you should give you a lead into doing
further research yourself.
If these expert sites aren't what you're looking for, maybe you're
instead looking for help on a research question that's eluded you.
You're confident you can find something on the Internet, but you're
stumped so far. There are a couple of places you can find help with
specific research questions.
HumanSearch, now known as KnowPost, at
is a place you can ask questions, but apparently you have to answer
some, too. The idea is that you can both benefit from and contribute to
the Web site. Free registration is required to use the site.
KidsConnect is a service staffed by volunteer school library media
specialists, and is designed for K-12 kids. Students can submit a
question to KidsConnect and have an answer within two school days.
Visit KidsConnect at:
Hey, I've had a fabulous time being guest driver for the TourBus.
Thanks to everyone who wrote with feedback about these articles.
Happy searching! --Tara Calishain
MORE TARA STUFF
For more information, articles, research news, and the occasional
rant from Tara Calishain, check out ResearchBuzz at
A big thanks to you, Tara! We hope you'll come back again for another
turn at the wheel sometime. -- Bob Rankin
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