Computers are such normal parts of our lives that we often overlook the transformational effect they have had on society. In scientific and social scientific research, computers opened up new opportunities regarding how data can be processed to yield valuable information and knowledge.
Before you start research, you often want to quickly learn about possible issues or topics of study by searching available sources of information. Nearly all academic journals are available online, and many are organized into online databases. Government agencies often have demographic or economic information online you can use in your research.
Computers store vast amounts of information. You can quickly and efficiently organize and search information, making for easier retrieval than paper storage. You can store your raw data in multiple formats. Some researchers conduct their research online, often through the use of surveys.
Computers began as powerful calculators, and that service is important to research today. Regardless of the amount of data you have, you can do more with it with a computer's help. Statistical programs, modeling programs and spatial mapping tools are all possible because of computers. Researchers can use information in new ways, such as layering different types of maps on one another to discover new patterns in how people use their environment.
Building knowledge through research requires communication between experts to identify new areas requiring research and debating results. Before computers, this was accomplished through papers and workshops. Now, the world’s experts can communicate via email or webchats. Information can be spread by virtual conferences. Knowledge from marginalized groups, such as African scholars, is now more visible.
Researchers can take computers anywhere, making it easier to conduct field research and collect data. New areas of research in remote areas or at a community level are opened up by the mobility of computers. Social media sites have become a new medium for interaction and information.
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