The Computer Revolution/Databases/Limitations

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Limitations of Databases in Research – The Complete Story and Whole Truth[edit | edit source]

It is not uncommon in today’s classroom for an instructor to receive a final research paper from the majority (if not all) of his/her students based solely on information gleaned from the Web. There is no doubt that in our “plugged in world” this medium provides such quick and easy access to information. There are few instructors who now request papers wholly documented from references outside the internet world – but there are a few of the “old guard” – and they have their reasons, or more appropriately, their suspicions of the information available.

Before you submit that next paper, it maybe wise to recognize that there are limitations to the on-line data. This understanding may serve you well in seeking out alternative sources or conducting further checks on the information that has been provided. The following sections outline five limitations of using databases for research purposes.

First, can you be sure you have the whole story? There always seems to be “more than meets the eye.” Even in printed works there is generally no all-encompassing coverage of a topic in one particular source, therefore, there is a need to consult many works. However, despite all efforts, there is still the feeling that the “more you get to know, the less you think you know.” So, a word of caution in using any and all sources of information, including databases for research, is to be cognizant of the fact that you may not be getting the whole story. “Databases are only a foot in the door … [with] many facts or facets of the topic … not in the database” (Williams & Sawyer, 2007, Using Information Technology: A Practical Introduction to Computers & Communications, Montreal: McGraw-Hill Irwin, p. 467).

Let the truth be known! However, it is not easily revealed on one’s computer screen nor is it guaranteed by accessing an on-line database for information for that term paper. Who put the information in the database in the first place? Was it checked or verified by experts? Unlike juried journals, databases may not have been subjected to quite the same rigor or scrutiny and, as a result, may not be as accurate as it could be. This does not mean to say, however, that the written word (juried or otherwise) is any more truthful. It is simply necessary to undertake some type of verification of facts and figures before inclusion in a research paper.

Accept the fact that no one source is the answer to your research prayers. As Williams and Sawyer (p. 468) point out, “one database service doesn’t have it all.” Be sure to consult many on-line sources and compare the content and coverage of each potential source. This, too, is a necessary part of real world research and undertaking literature reviews in an attempt to garner background knowledge and information from books and journals or other published and unpublished materials.

If you know the right word, you can go a long way, but what if you don’t know the best one? Just as it is ill advised to use one source, so too is it bad practice to use one keyword or search word in your attempt to find information on your selected research topic. Using more than one, however, still does not guarantee the best outcome(s). As the old adage goes -- “garbage in, garbage out (GIGO)” – lends itself to this point. Knowing the best or crucial word or words to input into the database will help you attain the best results, but use incorrect terminology and you may be in cyberspace for a very long time with little or nothing of value to show for your efforts. Unfortunately, one’s research work often begins with one’s interest, not one’s intimate knowledge. One has simply embarked upon the research journey in search of information and details. At this level, therefore, how is one to know the topic or subject area sufficiently in order to actually input appropriate keywords or search terms. Furthermore, and in keeping with the issue of getting the whole story, if you do happen to stumble across an appropriate term, you may still miss something in your search.

Another limitation of notable significance when using databases for research is that of historical inclusion. Although a great many people undertake more current research topics, there are many still interested in history. In other cases, researchers wish to “fill in the blanks” so-to-speak by understanding the historical background or significance of their chosen topic. In many cases, researchers are picking up the story or research from the last known or published stage, while others are simply doing historical research. Beware that databases do not necessarily reach too far back in history and, in fact, may only encompass the more recent past (e.g., two decades or less).

Are you interested in researching your genealogy? Have you checked the available databases lately to see what you could come up with? If so, was it accurate according to your records? Was it complete and up-to-date? No! Well, you have just experienced some of the limitations of using databases for research on a very personal level.

Finally, do not be discouraged with databases and their limitations. The printed word, too, has its drawbacks. Some things never get printed and/or published or become lost (possibly) forever. At least computer databases are available and provide a wealth of information – maybe too much – but beware of its limitations and use the data/information wisely and appropriately.

Data Integrity[edit | edit source]

Data integrity is one of the most important aspects of a database. It is essential for the data to be accurate in order to generate quality information. Many businesses make important decisions based on data obtained from their information systems, which includes databases. Data validation is a process of ensuring accurate data is entered into the database by assigning input masks and validation rules to fields and tables within a database. This prevents errors when invalid data is supplied, by showing an error message on the screen and not allowing the invalid information to be entered until it is valid, according to the specification of the input masks and validation rules. The stricter and numerous the rules, the less likely it is to have invalid data in the database.

Data Security[edit | edit source]

Data security is a big issue to think of when creating a database. Since databases are usually used by many different people, they are susceptible to security problems. Hackers can get in the database and steal people's personal information. One way to the protect the database is to implement a database activity monitoring program which will detect and report any possible threats in real time. Although there are other tricks to protecting your data. One simple one is to just save your work as you. Another good way of protecting your data is by protecting your computer, what i mean by this is Use a secure operating system which requires users to be 'authenticated'. As an added benefit these operating systems also restrict what individual users can see and do on the system. The best way to probably protect your data is to perform regular maintenance. What i mean by this is learn how to use the utilities that diagnose your system for problems. It is a good idea to run a disk-scanning program, defragment your hard drive, or whatever else your system might need. These utilities can prevent little problems from becoming big problems, and will keep your system running at top speed. If you need help with a big problem IST has a Hardware Repair Service.

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