So you think you can Google. I’m sure you can, but googling does not necessarily equal researching. You might be a writer at How Stuff Works and you might have to write an article explaining how Sun spots affect the Earth. Or, you might simply be a college student with a written assignment due in a few days. Whatever the reason for your research is, you should be aware that you are not casually browsing the internet if you are researching.
Hard or soft?
Before you start, you should know what kind of research you are doing. There are two types of research:
- Soft research;
- Hard research;
Soft research is used for opinion-based topics, for example a cultural topic and is easier to do. Hard research is used for scientific and objective topis, ones where you need numbers, statistics, facts and measurable evidence. Of course, it is harder and more time consuming. You might have to do both, so About.com says there are three types of research: soft, hard and a combination of soft and hard.
Define Your Keywords
If you know anything about SEO or PPC advertising, you will know how important keywords are. Say you are trying to find everything you can about how violence on TV influences children. “TV violence influence children” is an obvious choice of keywords, but try to expand on that. You could use “media influence theories” or “direct influence of media violence” or “children affected by TV program”… Take some time to think about your topic and use difference ways to express the same idea – you might find some great articles or works if you do that!
Use Multiple Search Engines
As much as it pains me to say this (because Google is my best friend, of course), Google is not the only search engine out there. Try different search engines and different websites to make sure you are not missing a crown jewel of your future collection of sources. Experiment a little bit with the visible web. Once you are done with that, see what invisible web (websites that have chosen not to be searched by Google) has to say about your topic, using Surfax or US Government Library of Congress.
Bookmark, Bookmark, Bookmark!
I can not stress the importance of bookmarks enough. Create a new folder for every topic of research and every time you find an interesting link, bookmark it! First of all, making sure you have different folders helps you navigate through your bookmarks and though it might be a little bit more effort in the beginning (to switch from one folder to another while bookmarking it), it will be worth it. I promise.
Even if you are not sure about something, bookmark it. Links can easily be deleted from bookmarks, but stumbling upon something great does not happen often.
Read your material. Its sources, too.
Of course, you will have to go through all of your bookmarks. Use this time to delete links you find irrelevant. Sort through them and mark the important pieces or parts. While you are reading, click on the links and sources from the article – those are a great source of new information and it gives you a possibility to reflect on what you have read.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Did the article present the correct data?
- If there are discrepancies between the article and sources (one or more), were they intentional and with malice or simply a product of authors misunderstanding of the topic?
- Did the author come to an objective conclusion?
- Do I agree with the author? If not, how does my opinion differ and why?
Answering these questions will help you write your assignment, so it might not be a bad idea to take notes (if you are not using pen and paper, you might wanna try Evernote).
Cite when writing!
Citation is one of the most important parts of your work. Many students fail to understand that there is no shame in using and referring to someone else’s work, quite the contrary! If you see a sentence you absolutely love, feel free to use it, simply attribute it to its original author and give him/her the credit they deserve. If you are using information you could not have gotten on your own (for example, population of a certain city from Wikipedia), make a footnote saying what your source was.
For a blogger, writer or a journalist, this is especially important because it is a way you can protect yourself. You are proving to your readers that you are not making up the information, you are simply passing it along. That will help you build your reputation and get out of potential law suits.
Get in the habit of linking to a website or creating a footnote every time you refer to one of your sources. If it seems excessive, it will always be easier to erase some references than to add them. Also, this way you should be able to create your bibliography very easily.