Allen’s personal comments

Research Strategies that Don’t Work: Index Pages

Most larger websites start with an index page (often called a home page), and students often cite these in either an annotated bibliography or on a Works Cited page.

That doesn’t work because index pages don’t tell you too much.

A person who looks at a website index page and claims to know something about the topic is like a person who walks into the Chicago Union Station and says they now know what it's like to take the train through the Rocky Mountains.

Researching Ashland’s Home Page

We will pretend that I am doing a research project on Ashland University and land on the Ashland home page ( I am doing this on August 6, 2021 (and that’s important because the Ashland page changes with the seasons). What can we learn about the university?

That’s it. That’s not much.

Some things we don’t know about AU from this page

Can you be an English major here? Are we accredited? How many of our faculty have won national awards? What about racial minorities—how diverse are we? There’s a lot of jargon here, for example “Equal Opportunity/Equal Access Institution.” What does it mean? And the list goes on and on…

Some things are misleading when you don’t dig deeper

“Test optional” probably does not mean you can sail through your chemistry course without taking any tests. Katie Nageott, who is now 30 years old, graduated from AU, but isn’t currently a student. The Theological Seminary is quite separate from the main campus, so undergraduates almost never have any interaction with seminarians. The “Correctional Education” program is a program the university runs at jails and prisons, though we do have a Criminal Justice degree. And on and on…

It’s not really a bad home page

In fact, it’s quite good (and much better than it was in the past), but it’s not trying to give you comprehensive information. It’s a doorway, so if you want to learn about that honor that Dr. Campo received, you need to click the link and read the article. The home page is really an advertisement for the university, so some items (such as the one about Katie Nageott) don’t say much more—to learn about Nageott’s athletic career, you would have to do some additional research beyond just looking at the AU home page. Some topics are well covered in the links. (Yes, you can become an English major here.) Others, for example, the racial diversity of the student body, would need more research elsewhere.

Bottom line

Good research always begins with a good question. If you launch yourself at the AU home page and only ask, “What can I learn about AU?” you get a very vague and unfocused answer. If you ask, “What does it mean that AU is an ‘Equal Access Institution’ and how compliant is AU with the standards?” you are on your way to a smart paper, but the home page is only a lightweight beginning.

Research writing requires work. Clicking on the home page web link is the first 90 seconds of a long process. In the Equal Access example, there will be legal definitions to wade through, and you would need to learn which of these AU is referring to. (Equal access for people with physical handicaps? Equal access for people with differing political/religious/philosophical viewpoints? Something else?) You will need to put in some time on research. The person who did an annotated bibliography by simply clicking on and commenting “This looks good” has done nearly zero work.

The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by Ashland University.

Revised 8/6/21 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: