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How to research a topic online

Online research is an important skill, whether you're working on an academic paper, writing a blog post, or just trying to learn something new about your potted plants. But it is not always easy when handling a complicated or niche subject.

Organize your information early on

Organizing your information can help you save time and it can save you from forgetting or missing out on something you've learned from your research. You should keep a link to each web page you visit from the beginning to the end of your research. It is best to write down some information for each link so that you remember why you saved them and what kind of information you can take away from them. You should also save all PDF files or images related to your research, as you can use them as valuable primary sources.

If you need to organize a lot of data across multiple devices, consider using a note app such as Evernote, OneNote, or Google Keep. They are all great for keeping track of web pages, PDF files, photos and anything else you need for your big project.

If you are just trying to print out a short essay or learn something about DIY woodworking, then you probably don't need to take a dedicated notable app if you don't already use one. You may find it easier to cut and paste web pages into a Word or Google Doc file and save all PDFs or images to your local or cloud storage device. Just make sure you keep your files organized and notes for all your sources.

In the end you usually only use a handful of links that you save. But if you publish a blog post or write an essay, you must be able to double check and quote all your sources. Otherwise, you can stop creating much extra work for yourself later.

Begin wide and gather much information

When you are researching, it is tempting to dive straight into the first exciting thing you find. But you should try to start as broad as possible. Otherwise, you may miss some fascinating tasks and end up with a poor understanding of your topic.

Therefore, you should try to find much information about your topic, more than you think you need. A good way to start broad is to search Google for general terms related to your topic. If you examine the difference between sunflowers and tulips, you should learn some information about each flower before going deeper.

Of course, Wikipedia is also a great place to start your research. You can use Wikipedia to find very general information about your topic, and you can use it to find related topics or primary sources that may be useful when you go deeper into your research.

Decide what is important and narrow things down

Once you have collected a wide data byte, you have to review everything and decide what to focus on. Not only go first, which sounds interesting to you. Try to find some new relationships between the different pieces of information you have collected.

Let's say you're investigating a writer, like Mark Twain. You found in your broad research that he was in the civil war and that some of his stories take place in the antebellum south. On their own, the two modes of information are boring and difficult to care for. But when you put them together, it is clear that there can be a tantalizing relationship that is worth a little in-depth research.

It is okay to investigate a relationship that seems obvious or well known, especially if you write a blog, do personal research or do a rudimentary story paper. But if you want to find something unique you need to think about how to limit your research.

Optimize your Google search

Okay, you're ready to do some more in-depth research. Now then? If you look at something that is typically unique, you may have trouble finding some good search results on Google.

Therefore, you must use some Google Search Operators to make the most of your Google searches. There are many search operators that you can use, and they are all pretty simple. But there are some that are especially useful for doing online research.

If you need to look up exact phrases or names on Google, you can put them in quotes. For example, if you search for the phrase "mole people" on Google, you will find only pages that contain the word "mole" followed by the word "people."

  "Mole people" 

The idea to start broad and then limit your search also applies to search the web.

For example, if your search for "mole people" contains too many results related to New York, you can use a minus sign to exclude these results. Here's what it would look like:

  "Mole People" - "New York" 

Note that we also used quotation marks around "New York" in that search because we want the entire wording to be excluded.

If you hit a point in your research where you won't find any new sites to visit, you should try to replace your Google search. Try to use variations on the same search terms and change which search operators you use. Sometimes the slightest change in your search can give you very different results.

Go beyond Google

Sometimes Google's expertise is not enough for you. If you work on a completely academic paper or write a deep-dive blog post, you may need to look through magazines, academic papers or old books. You know, "primary sources."

Some websites, such as Project Muse and JSTOR, are an excellent resource for magazines, academic documents, and other primary sources. You can usually access them through your university or public library. There are also some free options for these sites, such as Google Scholar and SSRN.

But if you write a deep dive on dairy products you have to find some old catalogs, magazines, magazines and posters. Google Books is an excellent resource for this type of material.

You can also use Wikipedia to find some primary sources. At the end of each Wikipedia article there is a "References" table. This table tells about the sources of all information in the article. If you encounter a juicy piece of information while reading a Wikipedia article, there is usually a small number that links to the reference table.

It is good to look at all these resources because they usually come up with different results for the same search. They also tend to have built-in advanced search features that are useful for unique or niche topics.

Double check your research

Once you've completed your research, make sure all your information is accurate. You can save yourself a lot of heart by double checking all your research before writing.

Go read all your sources, because there is a chance you misinterpret what they say. Of course, you are not the only person who can mislead a source, so it's good to check out all the quotes you find on a website.

You should also consider how you used Google to investigate your topic. If you included any offsets in your keywords, there is a chance that the information you collected will reflect that phenomenon. Try searching on Google with a variety of search terms and Google search operators.

There are also factual control websites that you can use to make sure your information is accurate. Websites like Factcheck.org or Snopes are pretty amazing; just use them as your only factual control resource.

What happens if you find conflict information?

Sometimes you spend a lot of time double checking all your research and you will realize that things do not seem to set up. In this situation, it is tempting to stand by some tasks that may not be completely factual. After all, it is much easier to follow incorrect information than to redo your entire research process.

But you should never write or publish any information unless you are sure it is correct. If you encounter conflicting information when researching a topic, go back to the drawing board or try to spin the pieces of contradictory information at your service.

For example, if you find many conflicting eyewitness accounts while researching the Titanic, then you can quickly turn these conflicting accounts into an exciting piece of information. You can even go back and do an in-depth study of who made these eyewitness accounts, and how they formed the public's opinion on Titanic's sinking. Hey, it can be a book.

Image Credit: 13_Phunkod / Shutterstock, fizkes / Shutterstock

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