Freelance Writer’s Guide to Internet Research

by John Soares on June 27, 2011

As a freelance writer, you need to practice good time management skills so you have high productivity, and searching the Internet without the right skills can waste a lot of your time without giving you quality results.

So let’s examine the best methods for ferreting out exactly what you need from that huge mound of cyber-data and deciding if what you find is credible.

First, Get Clarity on Your Search Terms

You must be clear about what you want to find. The more you know exactly what you want, the more precise your search terms will be, and precise search terms lead to precise search results.

So decide what you want to find and then make a list of relevant search terms, usually in the 2- to 4-word range.

The Search Engines

Google currently ranks as the number-one search engine, and its dominance will likely continue for the foreseeable future. Yahoo and Bing are the two main competitors to Google, but they lag far behind in terms of number of searches performed.

The search features of most search engines are very similar. Here are a few of the most common commands for returning more specific search results:

• AND (all letters capitalized). Lions AND tigers gives only results that contain both words. This is the default setting for many search engines.

• + symbol. Using the + symbol means Google will only return pages that contain the exact word you have after the + symbol; synonyms will be excluded.

• OR (all letters capitalized). Lions OR tigers brings top results that contain only one of the terms. However, lower results may contain both terms.

• NOT (all letters capitalized). Lions NOT tigers gives only results that discuss lions. All pages that contain information about both lions and tigers are excluded.

• – symbol. Using the – symbol before a word will exclude all results that have that specific word.

• “Quote marks.” Put a search phrase in quote marks and the search engine will return only searches with that exact phrase. For example, “John Soares” in Google returns 64,600 results, while John Soares without quotes returns 10,500,000 results. (I’m happy that 3 of my websites plus my Twitter account are on page 1 of both searches in Google, along with 2 of 6 pictures.)

Most search engines have a link you can click after your initial search that will allow you to apply more advanced search techniques. In Google, click on “Advanced Search” just to the right of the main search-term entry field.

Also look for a link that helps you refine the results. In Google it’s “More Search Tools” and it allows you to filter the results in many important ways. The one I use most often is to restrict results to a certain time range, especially if I’m looking for recent information.

Determining if Internet Information is Credible

Determining the credibility of information on the Internet is a major problem. However, the main news organizations and networks, plus the major newspapers, all have extensive websites. You’ll also find academic information at university sites.

The .edu designation signifies an educational institution. Always be clear exactly what institution it is, though; it’s much better to cite information from an Ivy League university than from a fifth grade class in Wichita, Kansas.

The .com designation typically indicates for-profit websites, so information they present could be motivated by self-interest. However, many .com sites, such as newspapers and news organizations and networks, have fairly reliable information.

The .org designation should specify non-profit organizations. These often have a specific agenda, so carefully examine their content for bias, plus some businesses will use .org even though it’s misleading.

For all information, apply your critical thinking skills regarding the source and the likely validity.

Suggestions for Highly Productive Internet Searches

1. Use multiple search engines if you find that your favorite doesn’t give you the results you need. The different engines have different methods for determining the relevance of a website and deciding what a website is really about.

2. Stay focused. It’s very easy to click on interesting but irrelevant links and wind up wasting 5 minutes or 5 hours. Remember why you are on the Internet and what you need to accomplish

Your Take

Any tips to add? How do you do your research on the Internet? How do you stay focused?

Freelance writers who specialize make much more money than those who don't. My short and focused course Find Your Freelance Writing Niches: Make More Money for Less Work guides you through all the key steps you need to take to discover the specialties that will take your freelance writing income to a much higher level. Click here for all the details.

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anne Waymn June 27, 2011 at 8:13 AM

I’ve also had some luck with some wikipedia articles… the good ones have links about the topic.

My approach is to use wikipedia as an overview knowing it may not be even close to accurate, and checking the links.

I actually like wikipedia even though it’s questionable. I’ve had good luck with it.
Anne Waymn recently posted…3 Questions About Writing For Magazines

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2 John Soares June 27, 2011 at 9:28 AM

I will often go to the relevant wikipedia article first. Most Wikipedia articles are quite good, and usually the sources they list at the bottom of the article are solid and useful too.
John Soares recently posted…8 Ways to Increase the Joy of Writing

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3 Tammi Kibler June 28, 2011 at 2:52 PM

I like when Wikipedia offers background on controversial topics. Checking there first has alerted me to suspect information I then encountered elsewhere.

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4 John Soares June 28, 2011 at 3:39 PM

Many Wikipedia articles are written/edited by multiple people, and that sometimes helps to ensure that controversial topics are well-covered.
John Soares recently posted…Freelance Writer’s Guide to Successful Interviews

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5 Eric Soares June 27, 2011 at 9:33 PM

Great post, John. Very useful and practical info.
Eric Soares recently posted…Sea Kayaking Retreats

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6 John Soares June 28, 2011 at 6:43 AM

Thanks Eric. And using these techniques saves so much time.
John Soares recently posted…How to Make the Most of an Online Conference, Course, or Seminar

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7 Kristi Hines June 27, 2011 at 10:00 PM

I have gotten terribly distracted by wayward links during research. Then I got into the habit of accepting that I will visit them but bookmarking them instead of spending a lot of time there.
Kristi Hines recently posted…How to Get More Facebook Likes for Your Website and Fan Page

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8 John Soares June 28, 2011 at 6:43 AM

It is so easy to get distracted when doing research. I try to stay disciplined, but when I come across something interesting but not directly relevant, I actually paste the URL into a specific Word document for later viewing.

And I give myself an hour or so a week to just look at stuff that’s entertaining or interesting but not directly related to any of my interests.
John Soares recently posted…How Multitasking Hurts Your Productivity

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9 Karen@MicroSourcing June 28, 2011 at 3:15 AM

.edu websites are some of the most credible sources of information, as well as all the major news outfits like BBC, NY Times and CNN. One good way of verifying data is cross-checking multiple sources on the same subject.
Karen@MicroSourcing recently posted…MicroSourcing’s PR Department Launched

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10 John Soares June 28, 2011 at 6:39 AM

Karen, I really like your suggestion about cross-checking data using multiple credible sources.

I love .edu sites. I probably use them more than most other people because of my freelance writing specialty, but many of them have vast amounts of top-notch information.
John Soares recently posted…8 Ways to Increase the Joy of Writing

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11 Tom McGuire June 28, 2011 at 12:21 PM
12 John Soares June 28, 2011 at 12:33 PM

Thanks Tom. Writing it reminded me of my college teaching days.
John Soares recently posted…When Editors Don’t Respond to Your Queries

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13 jasmine June 29, 2011 at 1:15 PM

Cool, Thanks John. I didn’t know these few features involved in searching google. They will be extremely useful, I’m a little surprised I didn’t know them all…..I knew about “+” but not the rest.
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14 John Soares June 30, 2011 at 6:29 AM

They really help narrow a search down so you get the most relevant results. It’s also really important to choose the right search terms.
John Soares recently posted…House-Sitting and the Location-Independent Freelance Lifestyle

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15 Doreen Pendgracs June 30, 2011 at 12:42 PM

Good post, John. As writers, we spend much of our time doing internet searches. But I must admit, I’ve made some amazing contacts as a result of searches and Twitter. Found your site as a result of the Writers Daily iPaper.

Hope you’ll visit my writer’s blog. We have some terrific conversations there.
Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…PWAC conference in Montreal

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16 John Soares July 1, 2011 at 9:33 AM

Glad you made it here Doreen. I’ve also made serendipitous connections with some great people when I found their sites through Google searches.

And I know those daily papers work well for a lot of people. I know I show up in a at least a few a week.
John Soares recently posted…8 Ways to Increase the Joy of Writing

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17 Gene Burnett June 30, 2011 at 2:47 PM

Thanks John, I didn’t know about those AND, OR, +, – , and NOT commands. Very helpful.

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18 John Soares July 1, 2011 at 9:34 AM

They’ll save you a lot of time Gene.
John Soares recently posted…Time Management and Television: The Real Costs of Watching TV

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19 ela July 1, 2011 at 4:09 AM

Oh ..so have to CAPITALIZED the word AND and OR if I want to have both words in my search…
Great post…brilliant info..
ela recently posted…Dating Chat Rooms

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20 Alex July 1, 2011 at 1:43 PM

Not too much to add apart from, maybe using Google Translate to instantly turn that article into a multi language one and impress your ‘boss’ even more .

Apart from that I came over because I saw your comment or link on Kikolani I think and I was =like ‘there’s a familiar face’

so I thought I’d pop over and say g’day!

G’day :)
Alex recently posted…Welcome to Backlink Friday! Hows about some luv .gov?

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21 Monica Ray July 2, 2011 at 6:34 AM

Thanks for the tip about using “Not”, that’s a new one for me and one I’ll start using immediately :)
Monica Ray recently posted…Earn a Living Following Your Passion

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22 Steve@Internet Lifestyle July 3, 2011 at 8:07 AM

John,

Some great tips man! As great as the internet is sometimes finding, “just the right” information can be like hunting for a needle in a haystack (buried under 1,000 more haystacks)

Your tips are wonderful for narrowing down that search!
Steve@Internet Lifestyle recently posted…Google I Love You! (Google I Hate You)

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23 lizbeth July 3, 2011 at 11:17 PM

Great post. I’ve learn much from it. Besides, I always turn to wikipedia if I have some doubts.
lizbeth recently posted…Teaching Kids about Money

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24 Trish Jones July 4, 2011 at 7:41 PM

Freelance writing is not easy because you have to do some things that others cannot…This is to make your writing very inspirational and motivating too…
Trish Jones recently posted…How to Control Excessive Sweating

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25 Pinar Tarhan July 24, 2011 at 7:44 AM

This was also one of my favorite sections in your book. Internet search can drive you crazy, especially if you are after something very specific and google refuses to understand you, and/or shows results from 2008!

I use these tips, but I do forget using other search engines. Damn, Google:) It has become so much of a habit…
Pinar Tarhan recently posted…10 Things You Need to Do After You Sent That Awesome Query Letter

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26 John Soares July 25, 2011 at 4:59 PM

I rarely use other search engines. Probably 99.9% of my searches are on Google.

Knowing the methods for narrowing your search is crucial and saves lots of time.
John Soares recently posted…Write Faster: 12 Top Tips for Freelance Writers

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27 antonette August 2, 2011 at 7:25 PM

I have been searching for a post like this. I never really quite understood why sometimes, searching seems to be a lot of trouble no matter how good my keyword is. But, you have enlightened me with HOW to do it effectively. The use of AND when you want both of your keywords to be in the article is my favorite and I actually tried it before I comment on this.
antonette recently posted…MacBook Air Sets New Notebook Standard

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28 John Soares August 3, 2011 at 5:50 AM

Glad this post helped so much. Sometimes just learning one small trick can make a big difference.
John Soares recently posted…Freelance Writer’s Guide to Landing and Scheduling an Interview with a VIP

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