When we ‘research’ things now, we generally aren’t referring to spending time in a library – or even referring to spending time online accessing specific library or school research databases. The word ‘research’ largely refers to the act of typing words into your internet search bar and seeing what the Wise Old Web tells you. There is so much information out there, and while a web search isn’t necessarily a bad thing (and we’d encourage you to head back to the ‘ol library to see what resources they have to offer you), there are definitely some things you can to do get the best search results possible out of a simple web search.
Google is derived from the word googol, which roughly means a bunch. Specifically, it means ten raised to the power of a hundred (10100). While you don’t need to go quite that far, don’t forget to diversify your search by using multiple search engines. While the “big guys” (ie, Google, Bing) often turn up similar results, you may often find something different and insightful on one that the other didn’t offer you. Even if you’re a die-hard Googler, don’t forget that Google has a whole host of search tools (like Scholar) that can help further define your search results depending on what you need.
Don’t just skim the surface. We’re sort of led to believe that the ‘best’ search results are the ones on the first page. Companies pay tons of money to be featured on the top of the search results for this reason! Don’t be fooled – it is worth the time you spend sifting through the search results.
You need to understand what you’re looking for before you start searching. This might sound really basic, but if you’re hoping that the internet is going to dump a magical explanation of a concept or an assignment in your lap, you’re wrong. Start with definitions, if you need them, and use that to fully cultivate the idea of what you’re looking for before you type random things into your search browser. Search engines bring us a lot of information, but with even just a little bit of finagling, they can offer us *just* what we’re looking for (instead of a whole bunch of semi-related garbage).
Holly Clark wrote a great post awhile back on using modifiers to get the most out of web research. I won’t rehash the whole thing here, but the take home is: use things like quotation marks, dashes, two periods, country codes, etc to refine your search results and make them as relevant as possible to what you’re looking for. While you might not need them to get some search results, you can make your results many, many times better if you do.
Don’t forget to evaluate! Didn’t your mother ever tell you that not everything you hear is true? Well if she didn’t, I’m hear to tell you the sad truth: Not everything on the internet is for real. Seriously, make sure you’re taking a critical look at your search results. Are you looking at primary sources? Is the information recent, relevant, and verifiable? Does the article you’re reading spew facts and figures but make no mention of the research that supports those numbers? Who wrote the article? Is it trying to sell you something?
Hopefully you know this already, but a reminder never hurts: Give credit where credit is due. If you found facts somewhere, cite the source. If you’re using an idea that belongs to someone else – even if you’re expanding on it or amending it, cite the source. You wouldn’t want someone else to claim your work as their own, so don’t do it to someone else! There are lots of great tools out there to easily cite your sources as you find them on the web- so put them to use.