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Posted at 10:04 AM ET, 11/12/2009

Teen: Writing a research paper without the Internet is hard

By Valerie Strauss

My guest is Adam Turay, a 17-year-old senior at South County Secondary School in Fairfax County. He is editor-in-chief of his school paper, The Courier, is a member of his school's "It's Academic" team and plays guitar and keyboards in a rock band. His last guest appearance on The Sheet was about Facebook and the different cultures between teen and older users.

By Adam Turay
In May of this year, I was a junior in high school. That is to say I was overworked, undernourished, beleaguered with homework, and perpetually exhausted. It was late, and I was trying to put together the first draft for a research paper.

The assignment had an important stipulation, and it proved to be an unexpected roadblock; along with the essay, I was supposed to turn in a detailed bibliography and I couldn’t use any electronic sources.

This turned out to be much harder than expected. I was so used to information being just a few keystrokes away that reverting back to the antiquated medium of “the book” was actually a little challenging. At a little past midnight, I was stuck combing through pages of tiny print, sorely missing the Ctrl+F function. Simply put, I wasn’t used to doing research out of a book the “old-fashioned way.”

People look things up online like it’s second nature. Between Google and Wikipedia, it seems like the answer to any fathomable question anyone can be find online within a matter of seconds, and this has probably made everyone a whole lot lazier.

Spending an afternoon at the library with print encyclopedias seems almost outdated, and that’s almost regrettable. There’s something more authentic about doing research that way.

Studying over the Internet is very distracting; there are so many different ways to get sidetracked that it almost seems inefficient. If I learned anything from staying up until the early morning, it’s that there are actually a few merits to those dusty old encyclopedias.

That’s not to say that I’ve stopped using search engines lieu of textbooks, because I haven’t and you shouldn’t either. Internet research has so many advantages over the print encyclopedia that it’s no wonder the latter has turned virtually archaic.

Honestly, outside of situations like my aforementioned assignment, there are few foreseeable circumstances in which one could actually say encyclopedias are more efficient than their online alternatives.

It’s always important to use discretion when weeding out sources, (even the most reputable sources can prove erroneous; the Wikipedia-John Seigenthaler Fiasco is a prime example, but the Internet has created a sort of search engine culture, where knowledge is widely accessible, and this is probably for the better.

By Valerie Strauss  | November 12, 2009; 10:04 AM ET
Tags:  Internet, books, studying  
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Adam, some would say (and I would agree) that neither conducting on on-line search nor consulting an encyclopedia counts as doing a research paper. Google and wikipedia can give a student a great start in gaining some grasp of the issues s/he is planning to address in a paper, but only reading entire chapters (or entire books) and being able to consult journal articles can get you even close to confidence that you're not missing the boat.

Posted by: jane100000 | November 12, 2009 11:00 AM | Report abuse

It isn't so much the mode of research (electronic v. paper bound) that matters, but rather the types of sources one uses. Wikipedia isn't to be avoided because it is articles can be changed easily; it is to be avoided because it is by nature a tertiary source. The same is true for the World Book or the Encyclopedia Britannica. In order to do true research, you must, at a minimum, use secondary sources, but preferably primary sources. If all you're using is an encyclopedia, then you have more problems than just dealing with the horrors of no Google.

Posted by: Rob63 | November 12, 2009 12:53 PM | Report abuse

Adam, I am a public high school History teacher at a very impoverished school in Buenos Aires City outskirts. My school has no computers, no library, no TV sets and no DVD players. My students cannot afford books or photo-copies, so I spend part of my meagre salary in photo-copies for them. What I mean is you must never give up trying something valuable.

Posted by: esvazquez | November 13, 2009 7:16 AM | Report abuse

Why were you doing it after midnight? How late was it? When was it due?

Posted by: ericpollock | November 14, 2009 9:00 AM | Report abuse

Maybe he spends too much time on Facebook?

Posted by: ericpollock | November 14, 2009 9:04 AM | Report abuse

He was probably doing it after midnight because that was the first moment he had for it. Students spend close to 8 hours a day in school (figuring in commuting and lunch)and, if teachers follow recommendations, have two to four hours of regular homework, (some of which is busy work assigned specifically so they will have homework). In addition, they are told by guidance counselors that they have little chance of getting into college without extracurricular activities. Those who genuinely love sports have no alternative to 2-hour a day practices. And many need a part-time job to earn money for these colleges they are exhausting themselves trying to get into. Then there's a certain amount of time needed for bathing, eating, etc.

Most students arrive at college and are absolutely amazed at how much free time they have compared to high school.

Posted by: opinionatedreader | November 18, 2009 9:34 AM | Report abuse

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