Whether you are a blogger, technical writer, copywriter, journalist or anyone in-between, learning how to use the Internet for research is critical to your success. Online research gives credence to your writing. It proves to your readers that you are not just making stuff up in your writing. But, how do you use the Internet effectively for research?
Online research is not mere Googling or casual Web browsing. Anyone can Google, but few can draw meaningful results from the abundance of material posted online. Fortunately, you can learn how to use the Internet effectively. Here are eight tips to help you nail your online research each time.
There are two basic types of research you can do: Soft research and hard research. Hard research is used for looking up factual, scientific, objective topics where statistics, numbers and other rigorous evidence is required. Soft research is used for opinion-based topics, such as something trendy mentioned on the news. Soft research is, of course, easier to do than hard research. Knowing exactly what kind of research you want to do beforehand enables you to narrow down where to look for that information.
For example, if you want opinion pieces on some current event on the news, you can head straight to newspapers like the New York Times to find what you want. If, on the other hand, you want hard statistics on some aspect of the U.S. population, you can go straight to websites like the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics (BLS), or you can search for relevant reports like the United States census reports. The more exactly you know what you are looking for, the easier it will be for you to find it.
Think about the topic you are researching and come up with different ways of expressing the same idea in less than four or five words. For example, if you are trying to find out everything you can about NSA spying; NSA spying is an obvious keyword phrase you can list down to start with. However, you should not stop at that. Expand your keywords list to find more pertinent information on the topic. For example, you could expand your keywords to include phrases like Impact of NSA spying US or NSA spying in Europe and so on, depending on the information you seek. Just take some time to clearly define your primary keywords on paper or in your head.
Enter your primary keywords in Google, enclose them in quotation marks and then hit search. Quotations allow you to refine your search in Google and find the exact word or set of words (keywords) you are looking for. For example, if you want to find out all you can about the world’s fastest animal, you will probably type into Google the keywords: the world’s fastest animal. In this case, Google brings up about 42,600,000 web page results. However, when you enclose your keyword phrase with quotations, Google returns just about 2,360,000 search results that contain the exact keywords you used. This number is still large, but you get more refined search results.
The minus sign or a dash (-) is another way to filter unwanted words in search and refine your search results. For example, if you are searching for information about jaguar the animal, typing into Google Jaguar will return a huge number of web pages many of which are about Jaguar the luxury speed car. However, if you type into Google the keywords jaguar -car, the search engine will filter out pages about cars and bring up the pages you want about jaguar the animal. Google has more search modifiers like intitle: that help you refine your search and make searching more effective. Read more on these modifiers on Google Guide and Google search operator page.
Google may be your favorite search engine, but it is not the only search engine out there. Sometimes you will get better results researching your topic using specialized search engines. For example, some websites for one reason or another prevent Google from indexing their pages. Some of these websites have quite useful web pages, but the pages only exist in what is known as the ‘invisible web.’ Try searching your topic on the invisible web for information you may be missing. Use specialized search engines like SearchMil, SearchEdu and iBoogie. You may be pleasantly surprised at what you unearth in the invisible web.
After you have searched, you will get a page full of results. Skim through the little line (or two) of text just below each web page link to find out what the page is about. This will help you save time and avoid clicking on irrelevant pages. It can be frustrating and time-wasting to wait a minute or so for a webpage to load, only to find it is not helpful. Give preference to pages with URLs ending with .gov, .edu and .org for hard research as these tend to be more authoritative, non-profit-making sources. Websites ending in .com are commercial in nature and may not be entirely upfront with their information.
Every time you come across an interesting link, bookmark it! Even if you are not sure how exactly the link is important, bookmark it anyway. A link can easily be deleted from bookmarks, but stumbling upon an especially useful link does not happen often. Create a new folder for each topic you are researching and bookmark links in to their respective folders. This way you can easily retrieve the links you need for each research topic.
Go through all your bookmarks and sort them according to relevance and credibility. Not all information you find online will be accurate, up-to-date or relevant. Highlight any important bits or parts of links you do find useful. Draw from the useful links and write down some notes in preparation for putting them together in your own written piece later. If you find a page has too many disrupting advertisements, spelling mistakes or unusual pop-ups, fonts and colors, be very careful about trusting the information in it. Delete any links that are not useful and credible enough for your purpose.
Keep safely the details of authors, URLs and titles of web pages you decide to use or refer. You will need these details to give credit to your sources later in your writing. Giving credit to your sources helps protect you from possible plagiarism complaints, proves to your readers you did your research and ultimately helps build your reputation.
See Also: How to Write Quality Product Reviews.
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