Jan Knight Widen Your Horizons: Research with Non-Text Sources
Jinfo Blog

Tuesday, 25th June 2013

By Jan Knight


Reviewing FreePint's collection of articles on non-text sources, Jan Knight finds that valuable information can be gained from sources as diverse as social media's blogs and tweets, non-commercial publishing sources in grey literature, and emerging innovations such as visualisation and graphical representations of datasets and statistics.


By virtue of calling a group of research sources “non-text”, there is the potential implication that text sources are the norm – or at least how most of us may obtain information, and that the sources that are “left over” are considered more unusual. However, it’s not only the newer social media resources that have made the category of non-text more interesting, but the emerging technologies that allow users to interact with this content whether it be in marketing or in research. Something that is becoming more and more obvious is that the more that we market, sell, inform or share information, the more information there is available to be found by those who do research.

Grey Literature: Far From Dull

I would imagine that unless you’ve spent a lot of time hanging out with, or being, a librarian, the term “grey literature” conjures up images of something quite nasty, possibly something old and tattered left in a drawer, or worse! However, in Beyond the Pale: Researching Non-Text Resources and Grey Literature, Cindy Elliott defines and discusses grey literature in such a way it gives it a whole new life. Not all grey literature is non-text but some is. It can be thought of as information that is produced by a diverse set of sources (e.g. government, academics, business) but that is not controlled by commercial publishers. A few examples are conference proceedings, memoranda, unpublished research studies, datasets, technical specifications, and even blogs and emails.

There are a number of tools that can help users find information from these non-traditional sources and as you can read in her piece, there are many that overlap with other articles in this grouping. Considering grey literature as part of your research strategy is a must whether it be a tweet about a conference or information from a clinical trial.

Blogs, Tweets and Graphs

Using Third-Party Tools to Mine Social Sites for Competitive Intelligence brings to our attention that the advent of Web 2.0 with its blogs and multiple social media sites is making it easier for users, whether they be customers or researchers, to interact with information, making it a two way street. Aileen Marshall provides information on tools ranging from job posting sites like Indeed and SimplyHired, to website traffic tools like Compete and Quantcast and then discusses social media research tools like Hootsuite and TweetDeck along with visual presentation research avenues such as YouTube and SlideShare.

Statista is an information product that I recently reviewed and in Statista: Stats Galore and More, I discussed how it impressed me with its diversity of topics, its sources and of course, its graphical representations of data which come in the form of charts and tables of various types. The product serves corporate business clients and academic institutions as well as media agencies and marketing departments and does an excellent job of providing both a search interface as well as results pages that are intuitive, consistent and clearly laid out.

Statista has taken a number of diverse sources, some text and some non-text and aggregated them into these series of visual graphics. It has done an excellent job in making it easy to quickly grasp what the data is telling us. It also lets you sign up for a free Statista Chart of the Day which invariably, in my case, takes me off on all kinds of detours not related to anything I’m supposed to be working on!

Start-Ups and Scientific Data

Scientific data is, of course, again both text and non-text and sometimes it helps to have this type of data “translated” into understandable everyday language or to be able to identify just what’s happening in a particular area of science or technology. Yulia Aspinall, in Data Visualisation with AuthorMapper - Making Sense of Scientific Data, informs us of a free tool, AuthorMapper, a data visualisation tool for the scientific and business community. Users can view the geographical location of authors, subjects or other keyword searches based on data from the Springer Journals and Books and SpringerLink.

The tool can be used to aid researchers to identify scientific trends and patterns and provides an interactive experience that can be put to use for a number of purposes even outside of the academic realm. The ability to identify scientific discoveries and technologies and map their connections is invaluable in the entrepreneurial world of start-up companies, especially in the emerging technology areas and thus AuthorMapper is not just for scientists anymore.

Non-Text Sources Provide Essential Soundbites

Reviewing these articles and many others that FreePint authors have written about within the category of non-text sources is enough to make me think that they are not just the “leftovers” that one might think. They are becoming increasingly  important to be aware of and keep up with as we all become accustomed to digesting data that is potentially shorter (think tweets), audiovisual (think YouTube), and succinct/bulleted (think SlideShare). If people are talking and writing in soundbites, we must to some degree be researching in them too.

FreePint Subscribers can log in to view FreePint Report: Research with Non-Text Sources now.

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