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