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Learn how to do internet research most effectively
Only a few years ago, to research a topic we needed to drag ourselves to the library, search for our topic on a slow bulky computer, borrow as many books as we had the strength to carry (to avoid a second trip) and then research as quickly as possible to avoid a late return fee, all while skipping over all the pictures of pee pees and wee wees.
In light of that, it seems like we're currently living in a science fiction novel. That mobile phone in your pocket is a gateway to almost limitless information in a matter of seconds.
But with such instantaneous access to mountains of new data, do we know how to effectively filter through it when researching a topic?
In this post, we'll outline some helpful tips for researching on the internet to help you identify the most trustworthy and information rich resources.
Identifying credible sources
The wonderful benefits of living in a fast paced, information rich age comes with a significant caveat, there's a lot of garbage on the internet.
That social post about the 10 anti-aging secrets doctors are desperately trying to hide from you, isn't something you should stake your health on.
And it's probably best not to smear that ancient hair loss remedy you read about in some blog all over your head.
While it might seem laughable to consider such obvious pseudoscience as trustworthy, other sources do a better job of concealing their phoniness.
Google does its best to push discreditable sources down the search results ranks, but it's not perfect. Many fraudulent sources still slip through the filter and make it to the first page. So you still need to manually discern the good sources from the bad.
Here are some questions to ask when scrutinizing a website source:
Is the source peer reviewed?
A very important question especially when researching health topics. Peer reviewed articles are evaluated by at least one other person with similar qualifications to the author. The best peer reviewed articles are those evaluated by a scholarly board comprised of experts in the subject area being discussed.
Every peer reviewed document prominently displays its peer reviewed status because it establishes credibility. You should, therefore, have little trouble locating a 'peer reviewed' statement within them. This is usually displayed in the 'about' section of the article or digital document.
Here is an example of a peer reviewed evidence statement for a journal:
There are also specific search engines you can use that only showcase peer reviewed documents, a few of them are listed below:
Even though these databases should only display peer reviewed sources, you should still always look for a peer reviewed statement just to be safe. Also keep in mind that a peer reviewed statement doesn't make a document an objective source of truth, the reviewers themselves could have biased motives. So, if possible, you should always try to verify the credibility of each reviewer.
How will the author benefit from their resource?
Many online articles are written with the sole intention of generating lots and lots of traffic. The more traffic an article generates, the more revenue the author can make.
The primary way an author can generate revenue from a high traffic article is through Google Adsense.
When a Google Adsense code is embedded into a website, visitors see personalized ads based on their search history. That's why if you've recently searched for weight loss diets online and then read an article about walrus migration patterns, you'll see weight loss ads all over the article.
It's safe to assume that a website resource infused with ads is more concerned about generating ad revenue rather than spreading the truth.
The obvious culprits are the websites that force you to flick through multiple pages to read a short article. They do this to expose visitors to as many ads as possible.
Ads are not the only indicators of questionable motives, sometimes web articles include links to third party affiliate deals which could include products (both digital and physical) and other business services. When visitors click on these links and then proceed to purchase the offering on the other side, the author of the article earns a commission from each sale.
There's nothing wrong with including affiliate links and many credible authors use them to earn an honest income without resorting to ostentatious display ads. Honest authors, however, include a disclaimer in their articles to notify visitors of their use of affiliate links.
Is the content still relevant?
It would be pretty embarrassing referencing an article about the eating habits of the Loch Ness monster when it's already been proven to be a hoax .
You should, therefore, take great care to check whether or not the subject you are researching has recently been disproved. A red flag that this might be a possibility is the date the article was written. You should prioritize sources by recency.
Google usually displays the date each article was last updated and prioritises the most recently updated ones to ensure web users are accessing the most relevant information.
If you cannot see the date of publication in Google's results, it's usually displayed within each article by the author's name.
Broaden your research keywords
You will only locate the resources you are searching for, so if your search terms are narrow, your research will be heavily limited.
One the best internet research methods is to discover as many different keywords related to your core topic as possible to create a broader and more detailed picture of the subject you are researching.
This keyword broadening method is also used by SEO writers to help them create information rich resources that rank for multiple keywords.
Here is an overview of the process.
Search for your primary phrase in answerthepublic and make a list of all of the relevant questions web users are asking about the subject,
Here is a snippet for the search term "eating chocolate"
You can also find a list of prepositions to identify possible ways you can brand out from your central topic.
List all of the questions and prepositions that are relevant to you in a Google sheet.
Next, head over to Google and search these phrases and keywords. At the bottom of the search results you will see "people also asked" section, add any relevant phrases to your spreadsheet.
You can also find search phrase variations by using Ubersuggest . The great thing about Ubersuggest is that it also lists popular web content that contains your search phrase. You can then read through these articles to find further relevant search phrases and research springboard opportunities.
The end goal is to have a Google sheet filled with search phrases that form an overall framework for the research article you will write.
In an adjacent column provide links to all of the resources you will use to explain each of your listed search phrases. Follow our guidelines listed above to ensure your resources are trustworthy.
As you write the article cross off every search phrase you write about. When you've finished you'll have a highly researched and information dense article that you would have otherwise not ended up with if you only didn't broaden your keyword search terms.
Hire a freelancer to do your internet research for you
As you may have noticed, internet research is no walk in the park, it takes time and meticulous effort. If you don't have the time (or the patience) to perform your internet research, hire a freelancer to do it for you.
You don't have to worry about breaching any plagiarising laws, your freelancer will just gather all of the information you will need, it will be your job to put it all together at the end.
In the context of our opening example, think of a freelance researcher as somebody you hire to go to the library for you. They pick up all the books you need, stand in line for you, and then drop off the books your house. In the case of internet research a freelancer can do more than just list all of your resources, they can also add notes to justify their resource choices and even include suggestions on how you could best craft your final piece.
We're living in the most advanced age of human history and if we don't take advantage of the innovative resources that can help us work more efficiently, we're wasting the privilege of living in such an era.