Over the past 20 years, the internet has quickly become the main tool for research. In a time of nearly unlimited access to information, knowing where and how to look is an important and powerful skill to have.
Searching for something on the internet has become so mundane that few of us give it much thought anymore. As search engines become increasingly smarter and more efficient, typing in a few words will usually be enough to lead you to the desired information.
But if you are not just looking up factoids on Wikipedia to win an argument with a friend over a pint, you may know that internet research can also be quite frustrating at times. Them more niche or specific your topic of interest is, the harder it can sometimes be to find the answers you are looking for.
In this article, we'll cover some useful tips to help you become a true wiz at navigating the digital waters of the world wide web.
First things first: DO use search modifiers. Some of you might roll your eyes at this tip but you'd be surprised how many people have never heard of this concept. If you are one of those people: Instead of just typing in keywords or phrases into search engines, you can (and should) use search modifiers to refine your search. For example, putting a word or phrase in quotation marks ("") forces the search engine to look for that exact word or phrase. Using a minus (-) in front of a term, meanwhile, will exclude that term from the search results. The classic example here is if you wanted to look up facts about jaguars the animals you could type in something like jaguar -car to exclude all search results related to the car brand.
There are many, many more of these modifiers and it is well worth your time to find a good list of them and save it for later use.
DON'T mistake ads for search results. The first results at the very top of the page are typically reserved for websites that pay for this advantageous placing. This doesn't mean that these results are per se "bad" or "useless" but you should keep this monetary aspect in mind before clicking on one of them. The same also goes for sponsored content on websites. While ads need to be clearly marked as such, a surprisingly large number of people still have difficulties differentiating ads from actual content.
DO make use of specialised search services. While internet search engines will usually be your jumping-off point for any query, you might want to use more targeted search methods depending on the topic you're researching. For example, let's say you want to look up the definition of a word. While typing in *word* definition into a generic search engine will work for most commonly used words, you might run into difficulties with more niche terms. Looking for an (English) slang word? Use Green's Dictionary of Slang. Looking for a highly technical term used in EU institutions? Use the EU's IATE terminology database. A lot of these services and databanks are available for free and they can make your life a whole lot easier.
And here's another pro tip, free of charge: So many people forget about libraries. Public libraries are one of the best things we as humans have ever come up with. And a lot of them have amazing digital offers. For anything to do with Luxembourg, for instance, have a look at eluxemburgensia.lu, a digitisation project by the National Library. So, in short: Go get your (free!) library card and live your best life!
DON'T be fooled by effective SEO. Search Engine Optimisation is one of the most ubiquitous internet buzzwords and many companies spend ridiculous amounts of money on it. By constantly adapting the wording on their sites, businesses ensure that they are among the top search results. In a way, this comes back to what we said about ads earlier: Having good SEO does not mean that the result is automatically useless – but it is something to keep in mind. Don't settle for first page results and dare to dig a little deeper.
DO make use of bookmarks. Whenever you come across a site that has a lot of useful information on a certain topic or that offers a service that can help you with your research, your natural instinct should be to bookmark it immediately. Ideally, you'd also not just bookmark it, but place it in a folder with other related websites. The internet is a vast ocean of information, and it is very easy to get lost in it. But when you start organising the information you find, it will slowly turn into a highly efficient, and very powerful tool.
DON'T lose focus of your end goal. It is very easy to get distracted and/or bogged down while researching something online. Whatever your topic is, make sure that you are aware of what you are actually looking for. And if a particular search method doesn't amount to anything, don't hesitate to try something else. Try different wordings for your query, switch between different search engines, or approach the topic from a different angle altogether. Keep your research dynamic and varied and you are almost certain to find the information that you are looking for.