Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tracking down the Loose Ends

Does this ever happen to you? You've located a relevant resource that you want to cite, but when you look for the name of the author--or maybe the date of publication--it's not there. Now what do you do?

Without information about the author, you have to rely on the reputation of the publisher. Without the publication date, you risk using information that is no longer current. The standard style guidelines (APA, MLA, etc.) allow for citing works without an author and/or a date, but this is risky. You really should try to find the missing information to be sure your source and content is credible.

Investigative searching is your best bet to track down elusive information. Start with the page you want to cite. Scour it for clues. An author's name or date is not always at the top or bottom of the page. Like most crime scene investigations, you don't want to look elsewhere until you have to. Careful reading is required.

If the page you are on turns up nothing, then you have to expand your search. Now the url and links on the page become important. Try truncating the url to navigate to pages closer to the root of the site. In the process you may find a directory that lists articles, including the one you want, including author and/or date information. Links on the page may do the same thing. Don't leave the site unless you have to. Again, look carefully for clues.

Following links (browsing) is a particularly challenging form of searching. If you get more than one link beyond a place where you detected any relevance to your search, back up and try another promising path.

If the site has a search engine, try entering the name of the article or any significant keywords from it. You may be surprised to find other references to the article on the site.

If you reach the point where the site is no help at all, conduct a broader search using a major search engine (Yahoo, Google, etc.). Query the name of the article or significant keywords from it. Articles often appear in more than one location on the Internet. You could find reviews or references to your loose ends.

If you've tried these options and still don't have a name or a date, decide if you should cite the work without them. Is the information good enough to stand on its own? What would be the consequences if this information were false?

To test your skills at tracking down an elusive author, try this challenge:

5 Essential SEO Techniques (Article is halfway down the page)

Whom would you cite? Look for the answer in my next post!

If you'd like an opportunity to sharpen your investigative skills, a new section of Web Site Investigator (WSI) starts August 11. > More information

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