A Brief Guide for Students

by Grover Furr

(version 4, 10/30/95)


Problem: You have a research paper to do.

You CAN do ALL of these things and more -- TODAY -- IF you know how to use the Internet!

This short manual will show you exactly how.

If you are still interested, read on!


The Internet is a great help in doing research! Just about any research project can be done more easily, or better, or both, through using the Internet tools which you'll learn about here.

You don't have to be an "expert" to use the Internet for your research project. As soon as you know how to log on to your account, how to send, read, save, and make files out of e-mail messages, you'll be able to use the Internet to help any research project.

This guide discusses the major Internet tools of use to researchers: LISTSERVERS; USENET NEWSGROUPS; and the WORLD WIDE WEB (WWW). It also discusses the use of FILE TRANSFER PROTOCOL (FTP) and how to find materials on a given subject through an ARCHIE search.

This manual also shows you how to TELNET to research libraries, to build up a bibliography of books on any subject you want to research, and to locate scholarly journals.

This booklet is for basic use. It's aimed at those of us who want to know "only enough" about the Internet to help us in our research. It's an INTRODUCTION to using the Internet for research. Once you have used it for awhile, you will probably want to go far beyond what you read here.

But even if you don't, you can do BETTER research, and do it FASTER, just by using what is in this little manual.


The Internet has its limitations, like anything else. Here are some of the most important.

The Internet is no substitute for a good research library!

More and more scholarly (and other) journals are being published in "electronic form." But most research journals can only be found in a good library. And scholarly books are exclusively in libraries.

Most very valuable research resources are published "for profit," and therefore are not available for free over the Internet. These include:

"What's left?" you might wonder.

A lot!
The sections below will give you some idea of how the different Internet features can be used to make your research easier and better. Once you understand how they can help you in your research, you'll want to know how to access and use them.

On the other hand, if you are not convinced that the Internet can help you in your research, you won't be very motivated to learn about it. So I've put the discussion of how each feature can be useful to you in your research first. Instructions on how to use them come afterwards.


Mailing Lists (sometimes called "Listservers", after the most popular mailing list software program) are organized around a certain topic or subject matter. The "posts" on the Mailing List come in the form of e-mail messages. Once you have subscribed, all the posts are emailed to your account. Every subscriber can post or reply to other posts. You can save the posts you want, and delete those you don't.


Many students find Mailing Lists to be the single MOST useful Internet feature for research purposes.

Academic Mailing Lists (often called "lists" for short) exist in many academic areas. More are being created every day. Many or most of the subscribers are researchers -- experts -- in that subject or field.

Here's an outline of how you can put a Mailing List to use in a term paper project (specific instructions on how to do these things are in the following section):

Things you might want to ask include:

You can also ask these experts bibliographical questions, such as:

In short: the Mailing List gives you a chance to "pick the brains" of a number of specialist researchers! So ask any questions that you WOULD ask if you could personally interview an "expert" in your field.


"Netiquette" (from "Internet" plus "etiquette", or rules of polite behavior) refers to an informal set of rules for good behavior on Internet. Others will respect you more, and you will be more likely to get the information and help you want, if you follow good "netiquette".

Some informal rules to be aware of on Mailing Lists include the following:

So, do some preliminary research BEFORE posting your question! Pick a topic -- don't ask others to pick it for you. Do as much reading as you can -- in your textbooks, in encyclopedias, and in whatever bibliographies you already know about -- so that you know enough to ask pertinent, intelligent questions.

Remember, this is important! If you appear to be ignorant, and therefore appear to be "asking someone else to do your work for you," you just won't get as much help as you WILL get if you appear serious and hard-working.

As you get more "expert" in the subject you are researching, you can go beyond merely asking questions about your topic. You can "join the discussion" on the "list", exchanging opinions with other interested researchers.

Be cautious at first, and don't post too frequently. Read much more than you post, and post your questions carefully. You'll get a lot of valuable guidance this way!

A final "netiquette" rule: ALWAYS be polite and respectful! Even on an academic "list" you will occasionally run across somebody who is rude or obnoxious in some way. Do NOT respond in kind!

In fact, the general rule is to NOT respond to rude remarks at all! Instead, send a private e-mail message to the list manager, whose name and address is always in the introductory message you will get when you first subscribe. Save this message; it will also contain other essential information about how to use the "list."


There are literally thousands of Newsgroups on Internet. You can use them in many of the same ways as the Listservers.

The Newsgroups are a real "bulletin board." When you access a Newsgroup, you get all the "posts" that have been made in the past period of time -- anywhere from a week or two to a month or more. You may see a small number of posts appear on your screen, or more than a thousand, depending upon your Newsgroup "reader" (the program that accesses the Newsgroups for you).


Newsgroups are more informal than Mailing Lists. Therefore, you don't have to be quite as careful about asking beginners' questions.

But, because they ARE more informal, very few of them are confined to researchers and experts. You'll find mostly "informed amateurs" on these lists. Often, or usually, they are very opinionated! Except on "moderated" Newsgroups, there may be some real cranks.

You don't have to subscribe to a Newsgroup, as you do to a "list." You'll find there are many others who, like you, are "dropping in" to engage in a discussion or two, get some information, and then leave. But there are always some "regulars" as well. It's the "regulars" -- usually people with a long-term interest in the subject of the Newsgroup -- who are likely to be the most helpful to you.

(NOTE: from the point of view of the Newsgroup, there are no "subscribers"; anybody can drop in and out at will. However, the newsreader software your computer uses will give you the option to "subscribe" to a Newsgroup, or even require you to do it, before you can read it. This feature is intended to have the newsreader "open" only those Newsgroups you are interested in, from among the thousands that your local newsgroup server carries. Your newsreader software will keep track of those messages you have already read, in those Newsgroups to which you are "subscribed", and keep all this information in a file called a ".newsrc" file.)

Some Newsgroups are "moderated" (as are some "lists"), to keep the discussion within certain limits -- for example, to remove insulting posts or personal attacks and threats, or obscene language. Most are NOT moderated, though. Sometimes "things get rough."

You can use this to your advantage when doing research in several ways.

Don't believe everything people tell you! This is good advice in any context, but especially important in a Newsgroup.

The strength of a person's conviction that they are right isn't necessarily related to the amount of evidence they have to support their views! ALWAYS ask for evidence!


If you are insulted or called names, do NOT respond likewise! Instead, ignore it. If you don't, it will be hard to steer the discussion back to serious matters.

It's best to politely ignore anyone who gets too aggressive or personal. People like this want attention. When you respond, it encourages them. If ignored, they'll either clean up their act or go away.

Once again, you can always e-mail one of the `regulars' or, on a moderated list, the moderator, to complain.

Ask questions; be polite; get a wide range of viewpoints and opinions; ignore insults and people who "rant and rave."

And always, ASK FOR EVIDENCE. You'll learn a lot!


The WWW is the most recent and, in many ways, the most important, of the resources on the Internet. It already contains millions of "pages", and is growing very fast. It probably won't be long before you can search AND access literally all documents on the WWW that you formerly had to use special commands or programs for, such as GOPHER and FTP. In other words, WWW "browsers" -- the programs that enable you to read the Web -- include built-in features which enable you to handle GOPHER and FTP as well. In effect, the WWW browsers are replacing the older programs.

More and more information is being "put on the Web" -- made available by being given a "Web address" (called a URL, or "Uniform Resource Locator") and, usually, graphics.

You find information on a given topic by using Web search facilities called "search engines," that work by "key words". Using them is very easy. A list of some of them can be found in the next section.

Unlike Mailing Lists and Newsgroups, the Web is not "interactive." You are not engaging in a conversation with others, but instead are "looking up" information that exists on some computer somewhere and has been made freely available to anyone who can find it.

Web pages are organized according to the "Hypertext" principle. Words and subjects are highlighted in some way, and "clicking" on them leads to other links.

This means that "browsing" the Web -- starting with some key-word searches, and then following a trail by "clicking" on likely-looking links -- is also a pretty good way to find whatever it is you are looking for.

Often you will learn about relevant Web addresses (called "pages") from the researchers you have contacted, or whose posts you have read on a Mailing List or a Newsgroup. Copy these Web addresses down and check them out when you have time.

You can use your WWW browser to access many FTP sites. Of course, you can also use the older FTP program as well. You can use the WWW to access GOPHER sites too.


A "Web browser" is a program that enables you to connect to Web pages by entering a specific Web address (URL).

The WWW can display graphics as well as text. Graphics-capable browsers like NETSCAPE can display these pictures, and also show specially-formatted text (different type faces, and so on).

For some research projects, graphics are vital. If you're studying Art history or photography, you'll want to see the images. Sometimes maps, charts, and graphs are essential to the content of the text which accompanies them. You'll have to use a graphical browser, like NETSCAPE, to get these graphics.

The disadvantage of using graphics browsers is that graphics files are very large. Therefore, it can take even a powerful computer several minutes to transfer a picture to your computer screen. Of course, the actual speed will depend upon the speed of your connection to the Internet.

But if all you are interested in is the text, you should consider either turning off the images (an optional feature on all the graphics-capable browsers), or using a text-only browser like LYNX.


For research purposes, you often need only the text. That's where LYNX comes in! Using LYNX, the text can be accessed much faster than text-plus-graphics can be retrieved using NETSCAPE even on a powerful computer.

All WWW pages that have ASCII text on them "support" LYNX. On WWW pages which consist mainly of ASCII text, you will get almost everything with LYNX that a graphics browser will show you (though not necessarily laid out in the same way).

Since LYNX is the most limited browser available, and many Web developers are "graphics people", very concerned with design, most WWW pages have LOTS more that what LYNX is capable of understanding.

But if the text is all you want, it will be enough to use LYNX or, alternatively, a graphics browser in "text only" mode, and you will get your information faster.


The WWW is basically a giant storehouse of information that can be searched easily, with the "search engines" which I mentioned above, and which are listed in the next section.


You can search the WWW to find Mailing Lists and Newsgroups that you'd want to check out for any given research project.

Many organizations have WWW addresses. Search for them on the Web. You can find libraries whose catalogs you can search interactively. There are other kinds of reference works available on the WWW as well.

Texts, especially works whose copyright has expired, can often be found through a Web search. Many newspapers and magazines have WWW addresses, and put some or all of their contents on the Web. have WWW addresses, and put some or all of their contents on the Web.

You can search for directories of all kinds, including of newspapers, magazines, texts, libraries, organizations, reference works, and so on.

There is a great deal of just plain information avaiable on the Web as well. Key word searches on the Search Engines can track this information down and put it at your disposal.

You can search the Web for files that can be downloaded by GOPHER or FTP. Many GOPHER and FTP files can be accessed and downloaded on the WWW as well. You can also search many (not all) FTP sites in a way easier, and faster, than using older search features like ARCHIE through the WWW; the next section shows you how.

The WWW is not interactive in the way a Mailing List or Newsgroup is. You usually can't post questions asking for specific kinds of information and expect expert or interested persons to reply. You have to take the initiative, and have some idea of the kind of information you want.

But this can be very useful! For example, do you want to find:

You can find, read, and download all of these, and much, much more, quickly and easily, on the WWW.

You can also find LOTS of other kinds of information on almost any conceivable subject. Want thousands of vegetarian, or low-fat, or quick, food recipes? How about maps of the states, or Canadian provinces, or foreign countries.

You get the idea.

MORAL: whatever you want to know about, whatever you are doing a term paper on, whatever you are just plain curious about,


Chances are good you'll find something good.


"The card catalog of a good research library is the best research tool there is." That's what my dissertation advisor -- a world-famous scholar in Medieval Studies and an expert in bibliograpy -- told us graduate students over a quarter of a century ago.

It's still true. Today, however, anybody with an Internet account, anywhere in the world, can search the collections of the world's major research libraries using a program called TELNET.

Most major research libraries have a "TELNET" address, and permit anybody to search their collections through the Internet. You can get a huge list of "Internet-Accessible Libraries", with their TELNET addresses and other information (how to login, etc.).

But it's sufficient to know how to access a few research libraries, and how to search the collections of nearby research libraries that you can travel to to use. This essential information is included below.