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Developing students' Web searching skills : Exercise 3

Exercises 3 and 4:

Exercise 3: Where did Arthur C Clarke go to University and what was his first degree? What was unusual about the awarding of his doctorate?

There are many dozens of fan sites dedicated to Arthur C. Clarke.  Most contain similar information and many plagiarise and cross link to each other and to key Science Fiction Web resources.  Many contain the information required and are not difficult to locate.

The intent here was to demonstrate the strategy of ‘surfing’ – once a network of such interlinked sites has been found, following links from one page to another to locate specific information.  However, intelligent use of search terms would speed this process up.  Searching on terms such as ‘Arthur C .Clarke’ will certainly locate a number of appropriate sites and surfing will eventually locate the information required but more thoughtful construction of the search terms such as ‘+”Arthur C. Clarke” +degree +university’ may lead directly to the information.

The answer to the first part could be found on many of the fan sites (Kings College London, in 1948: a 1st in Maths and Physics).

Most took a simple but effective approach by searching on ‘”Arthur C. Clarke”.

Arthur C Clarke is almost exclusively referred to in this way rather than as Arthur Clarke or including his middle name in full.  This student’s aim to cover these eventualities, which was good practice.  Unfortunately the student simply mispelt the name of the author. 

‘I tried to search using (Arthur NEAR Clark) on ixquick but the search did not yield any results. ‘

Two students took a different approach and located an online version of the author’s curriculum vitae with ‘Arthur C. Clarke, curriculum’  or Arthue C Clarke +CV.  These were successful although the CV was incomplete and did not mention his doctoral award and so did not provide the answer to the second part. All the students were successful.  However this did show that these students thinking about the nature of the information and what sort of resource might hold it. – a principle aim of the workshop.

The answer to the second part could be found on a smaller number of sites and about half the students were successful in finding it either by surfing or using a term along the lines of ‘“Arthur C. Clarke” +doctorate.’.

‘Fifty years after Clarke invented satellite communication, he was awarded an honorary doctorate at the University of Liverpool. The colorful ceremony in full academic regalia took place simultaneously in the afternoon in Liverpool and at night in Sri Lanka. The audience in Liverpool watched Sir Arthur C. Clarke, with the dark blue Indian Ocean behind him, on a large screen at the front of the auditorium. At the same time, Clarke watched the proceedings in the auditorium. (The ceremony had been briefly delayed by a disastrous satellite explosion out in space that very afternoon, but a substitute system worked fine.) The half-hour ceremony was riveting.’

Exercise 4:  Get as comprehensive a listing as possible of the publication of Arthur C Clarke’s books

While at first glance is a continuation of exercise 3, the correct approach is quite different. 

Searchers may get lucky (see below) and find links in the amateur pages to one of several exhaustive bibliographical database driven sites but a better approach would be to look for Science Fiction databases such as with search terms such as ‘+”Science Fiction” +database’ and then search for this Author.

(1) I actually found this information accidentally when searching with ‘“Arthur C Clarke” biography’ for exercise three: It is often the case with internet searching that excellent information is found when it is not expected.  I came across a site called ‘fantastic fiction’ that I actually found fascinating and will use again.  I don’t think a more comprehensive bibliography than the one found at can be hoped for. Also it has cover images and short summaries of content or plot.

Several students did perform a separate search for exercise 4 with the term

‘”Arthur C. Clarke” +bibliography’ and found a range of amateur sites that included bibliographies.  However, these are largely not complete and do not therefore fulfil the requirements of the exercise.   Consequently most of the students were under the impression that they had completed exercise 4 when only two had actually done so.

Two students correctly identified this problem:

‘In terms of Arthur C. Clarke exercise I encountered my first problem. I found that different biographic sites contained different information’

‘Later I searched for a complete list of Arthur C. Clarke’s books, though I am not sure if I found a complete list because it was not titled, ‘complete list.’

The following quote illustrates the choice of appropriate language.  Rather than the language of academia ‘Publications’, it is the language of the layman ‘Books’ that was successful demonstrating that a little forthought about what kind of Website would contain the information helps to determine the words used in the query term

‘Using Google again, I typed in ‘Arthur C.Clarke+Publications’.  This wasn’t very helpful and I tried to refine it further by adding ‘+List’.  It was a much simpler search that gave me the information I needed: ‘Arthur C. Clarke+Books’.’

Search terms
  • “Arthur C. Clarke”
  • Arthur C. Clarke cv
  • “arthur c clarke” +academic
  • “Arthur c clarke” +publications
  • “Arthur c clarke” +books
  • “Arthur c clarke” +awards
  • :“arthur c clarke” + bibliography
  • Arthur C. Clarke +bibliography’
  • Arthur NEAR Clark
  • Arthur. C. Clarke doctorate award
  • “Where did Arthur C. Clarke go to university?”  (Ask Jeeves)