7. The Basic Skills – Computing

Using computers

Are they necessary?

I remember reading an article written by an author who, though he had a computer, wrote all his novels on a collection of typewriters. He presented a number of considered reasons for doing so and some made good sense. I am writing this on a computer using word-processing software. My last typewriter rests in its original box in the loft and I have no plans for its reinstatement in my office. Though I was a somewhat reluctant convert to computers, the same arguments that persuaded me at the time still hold sway – why use a clay writing tablet when a parchment scroll is to hand?

As to whether they are necessary – that is a difficult question and it all depends on what you are wanting to do. If you are simply wanting to type words onto paper then a typewriter may be just what you are looking for. But if you are wanting a machine that will enable you to edit text in any number of ways, integrate graphics with text in a neatly published document, compose digital presentations for projecting onto a screen, file documents for immediate search and retrieval, etc. – then you will need a computer. In the video presentation we highlighted a number of advantages in using a personal computer. These include:

  • Word-processing – enabling fluid composition of text
  • Quality presentation – both on paper and on screen
  • Document storage and search facilities.

The other area in which computers become necessary is in the Internet department – although many other devices are also able to connect. Without access to a computer (or similar) you will not be able to access the Internet and take advantage of electronic mail and the World Wide Web. And though these things may not be essential for this course, you will find them jolly useful if you have them.

Using the Internet for research

Before we consider the use of the Internet as a research tool, it might be wise to suggest that this probably ought not to be your first port of call. It can be all too easy for students to rely all too heavily on what can be an all too convenient abundance of information whilst neglecting better material that has likely not been made freely available at the click of a button. Not everything committed to printed books is better than what you might find online – but much of it is. The good student will always be looking for resources that are as close to the source as is possible – and much on the web is third- or fourth-hand at best.

That being said, there is useful information available online. There is so much information on the World Wide Web that looking for something specific could be like looking for a needle in a haystack. There are literally millions of pieces of information on millions of different subjects uploaded by millions of different people. Your job as a researcher is to find the few bits that are of use to you.

Searching for what you want

Unless you are particularly familiar with a number of sites you have found to be useful, the likelihood is that you will be dependent upon a Search Engine such as Google, Lycos, WebCrawler, etc. These ‘engines’ work by trawling the Internet and compiling huge databases containing the locations of pages where virtually every word imaginable appears. My recent search for the word “and” using Google returned “about 25,270,000,000” results and took just over an eighth a second – impressive, though perhaps not terribly useful.

One-word searches often yield hundreds of thousands of results or “hits” and may generally be of little use. Simply adding a few additional, relevant words can greatly reduce the number of results.

An example

Using AltaVista, the following word(s) in bold were typed:1

  • assyria = 860,000 results (3,850,000)
  • assyria nineveh = 333,000 results (455,000)
  • assyria nineveh sennacherib = 80,600 results (76,300)
  • assyria nineveh sennacherib layard = 6,530 results (6,980)
  • assyria nineveh sennacherib layard relics = 22,500 results (729)

Search engines employ various techniques to build their databases and not all are as up to date as others. Most offer advanced search abilities beyond simply typing in one or more key search words and you would do well to learn the best way to fine tune your searches. Try to be as specific as you can be – after all, you are trying to communicate with a machine!

Another example

Using Lycos, the words and symbols in bold were typed:

  • Henry Layard = 27,200 (24,438) results – all pages listed by this search 
 engine containing both words were found
  • “Henry Layard” = 16,700 (3,432) results – all pages in which the exact
 phrase was found (note the quote marks). Be careful with a search like
 this that you do not exclude results that might be useful – Sir Layard had 
 another name …
  • Henry Austen Layard = 18,600 (7,038) – pages containing all words
  • “Henry Austen Layard” = 1,030 (88) – pages containing exact phrase,
 but his real name was …
  • “Austen Henry Layard” = 75,900 (2,239) – pages containing exact 
  • “Henry Layard” discovered = 7,600 (904) results – all pages in which
 the exact phrase in quotes plus additional word were found
  • “Henry Layard discovered” = 243 (30) results – all pages in which this
 exact phrase was found
  • “Austen Layard” discovered = 1,710 (111) results
  • “Henry Layard discovered” -Assyria = 157 (12) results – all pages in
 which the exact phrase was found and which did not contain the
 additional word (note the minus ‘-’ symbol)
  • Henry OR Layard = 33,900,000 (26,713,275) results – all pages
 containing either word – and why would we want that?! But note …
  • Henry or Layard = 24,100 (11,597) – all pages containing all three words
 (the lower case ‘or’ is here included as a key word to be found).

The above example may appear rather drawn out, but it should help to illustrate the versatility of most search engines and the importance of inputting the correct search criteria. Generally it should make no difference whether or not a word is capitalised – unless it appears in quotes where Upper Case search words exclude lower case results.


It is not unusual to find a result from Wikipedia near to the top of the list of results for your search, and it is almost equally not as unusual to find students resorting to this online encyclopaedia as a prime, if not the prime reference tool. Beware!

Although there might be many good articles and much useful information to be found here – it is not as reliable nor is it as authoritative as some would like to believe. Of course, that could also be said of plenty of material that has been committed to print. The main issues with Wikipedia® include:

  • Entries can be added and modified by anyone, regardless of their experience
 and qualifications.
  • An entry you read may be incomplete or in the process of being updated at any
 time. If you were to cite a certain phrase from an entry, there is a reasonable
 possibility that it may be altered by the time your tutor looks it up.
  • Eventually most factual statements ought to be correct, having been subject to
 wide public scrutiny over time, but entries are still subject to temporary
 ‘vandalism’ from time to time.
  • Interpretations of facts are subject to a wide range of undisclosed bias,
 including that of Wikipedia’s own moderators.
  • Significant omissions are not uncommon, both in subjects addressed and within
 existing articles.
  • It is generally not possible to identify authors or editors, preventing the student
 from properly weighing and citing a reference.
  • The authors of entries often fail to cite their sources, making it difficult to
 determine the credibility of the material. Where sources are cited, they ought to
 be checked wherever possible and preferably used in place of the secondary,
 Wikipedia article.

All this being so, and much of this might be applied to a number of reference works, Wikipedia can be a good starting point for some of your research. It cannot be a primary source, but it can be used as a quick guide to get a general idea about a subject.2

Weighing up the evidence

As a student, devoted to the pursuit of truth, you will want to ensure that the material you use is both reliable and useful. This is equally true of information you find in places other than the Internet. You might want to ask the following questions:3

Who put this information here?

The source of the material might give you a clue to its reliability. A site maintained by a university or government organisation might be more reliable than one maintained by an individual – but not always!

How old is the material?

Sometimes the age of information is important. If you need current statistics then check the age of the material you have found. As a rule of thumb, in most fields anything more than five years old is probably out-dated. But a site which deals with historical information may not need up-dating as frequently as one which is all about latest political or social trends. Just because information isn’t regularly changed doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it, but you need to be aware that your information is not necessarily the most recent.

Who wrote the information? Who is responsible for it being here?

The status of the writer is often of considerable importance in deciding the reliability of information. You can probably assume that material written or otherwise provided by a known expert in the field is likely to be more reliable. Resources provided under the auspices of a recognised institution might be considered reliable as well. But what about student pages on a university server? Just because you have never heard of the author of the page doesn’t mean that the information is inaccurate or unreliable, but it does mean that you can’t take it
at face value. You might have to do some cross-checking, either elsewhere on the net, or with books or articles.

Why is this material here?

Who put the material on the Internet and why? Think about whether they might have some reason other than pure helpfulness for posting information. Many special interest groups have web pages, and while this doesn’t necessarily
mean the material is unduly biased it is something you need to think about. All sorts of groups now have web pages on the Internet, and obviously all of them have a message they are trying to get across. Think about what is being said, and why the material is there.

Can I do a cross check?

Think about ways you might cross check the information you have found. You might have a look at another site with similar material, ask somebody who knows something about the topic, have a look at books on the subject. Use your own experience as well. If you have already done some research in the area you will already have some knowledge of the subject. How does this material fit in with what you already know?

Site design

How an Internet resource is designed may have a lot of influence on how you use it. A site which is always too busy to access, too slow to download or too difficult to navigate may not be worth your valuable time, no matter how useful and relevant the information is.

Though some might be dated, you may find the following sites useful:

http://www.etu.org.za/toolbox/docs/it/internet.html (these questions were adapted from this page) 4


Referencing electronic resources

Plagiarism has been discussed in Unit One and will be revisited in the last Unit of this Module. The implications apply to material sourced on the Internet as much as they do to printed material so it is important that you correctly cite your sources, even if you do not quote verbatim

In acknowledging the work of others you find on the Internet, you need also to provide sufficient information to enable others to precisely locate the same information for themselves. You need to include as much of the following information as you can:

  • the author or editor’s name
  • the title of the article or section
  • the full title of the complete work, journal or website
  • the date on which the document was published or posted
  • the full URL (do not be tempted to abbreviate this)
  • the date on which you accessed the material

Your bibliographical entry should follow this format:

Author or editor, “Article/section title”, Title of complete work, journal or website, page(s), (Date published/posted), [Medium] Organisation <address of electronic source> (date accessed)

For example:

Snelling, Dr. Andrew, “How Old Does the Earth Look?”, Answers in Genesis, Article Archives, 1 (12 May 2009), [Website] Answers in Genesis <http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2009/05/12/how-olddoes-earth-look> (18 May 2009)

Your footnote should follow this format:

Ref. No. Author or editor’s surname, “Article/section title”, Title, Year: page(s) [Medium]

For example:

Snelling, “How Old Does the Earth Look?”, Answers in Genesis, Article Archives 2009:1 [Website]

And your short footnote (if cited for second or subsequent time) should follow this format:

Ref. No. Author or editor’s surname, Title, Year: page(s) [Medium]

For example:

Snelling, Answers in Genesis, Article Archives, 2009:1 [Website]

Please refer back to Advice on How to Study by Distance Learning for a reminder on citing e-books, online journals, e-mails, etc. The most important thing is to record the information and be consistent in doing so.

Some conclusions

Like so many other things in life, computers are merely tools to enable us to pursue higher things. They are useful for editing text, presenting documents and storing files. They also enable us to access a wealth of information on other computers all over the world. 

Use them wisely. Take advantage of all they have to offer for the Bible student. But don’t allow them to assume a role of master in any capacity – they are mere servants!

  • Back up often – the cost of an external hard drive is minimal compared with the inconvenience 
 of losing your valued files.
  • Think about removing or shutting down those things can so easily interrupt your work.
  • Use the Internet wisely – and avoid all those things that ought to be avoided.
  • Make use of but don’t rely exclusively upon your spell-checker – there is know excuse four 
 pour spelling!
  • Save your work – save a document as soon as you create it and save often … SOS (Save Often
 Silly – and of course one is only silly if one does not save often!)


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  1. These results were obtained on 29th January 2013. To illustrate the changeable nature of the World Wide Web, results from 2009 are included in brackets. Since these notes were written AltaVista has closed but the point remains the same whichever search engine you 
  2. You might find it useful to read the introductory article “Wikipedia:About” found on the Wikipedia site at: 
  3. The following questions are adapted from information supplied by the Department of Education and
 Training in the State of Victoria, Australia [Website].
  4. All websites on this page were checked and working on 10/8/2016. This is with the exception of AltaVista which was purchased by Yahoo! in 2003 and shut down in July 2013 – the domain now redirected to Yahoo!