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Insight issue #58 22 August 2016

Searching in the digital age: how to succeed without really trying

The volume of digital information accessible has increased rapidly over the past few years – a 2013 paper stated “90 per cent of all the data in the world has been generated in the last two years.” Locating the most relevant and credible literature in such a saturated environment can be challenging.

Saving effort from the start

Digital libraries proactively curate content from around the Internet to provide research guidance and structured pathways to quality material. Researchers can tap into the value-added services of online databases and repositories, including direct access to information, with very little effort.

With the researcher in mind, NCVER has recently created a new approach to enable easier access to digital material in VOCEDplus, its international tertiary education research database. The newly developed VOCEDplus Pod Network provides instant access to selected research and a multitude of resources in one convenient location. The themed pages called Pods save time and effort by presenting quick access to relevant, quality resources and prepared subject searches reducing the burden of filtering through huge lists of search results. With just a few clicks, researchers can collate and read research, watch presentations, and view statistical resources sorted by key VET-related themes.

Explore the VOCEDplus Pod Network at

Other strategies for finding information online

The internet provides ever increasing choice of online information and users may be experienced at using search engines such as Google, but being ‘skilled’ at finding quality, credible research is another matter.

To be effective and efficient at finding online information, sound strategies are needed to find the proverbial needle in the haystack. There are a number of search techniques that can be utilised to find relevant information.

Search strategy

A 2013 study found that “nearly three quarters (74.6%) of the respondents were using simple search the most.” Using advanced search features, such as Boolean operators (using words like ‘and’, ‘or’ and ‘not’ to link search terms) and field searching, can reduce the number of results and produce a higher success rate of locating relevant information.

Considering a number of websites pay to secure a high spot on search results listings – statistically the top result receives by far the most click-throughs – researchers need to be aware that only viewing the first few results pages may not be conducive to finding quality information.

Site evaluation

To find valuable information, websites and material should be assessed to eliminate bias, inaccuracy, and irrelevance. Researchers can use the CARS checklist (Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonableness, Support) to separate the high quality from the poor quality.

The deep web

Also known as the 'invisible web', these resources generally sit behind firewalls and paygates; they include the contents of databases and catalogues. Using multiple and specialist search engines – such as Google Scholar or Digital Dissertations – can enable access to the content of these databases, especially grey literature – material which is not traditionally published but still highly valuable.