Web research and Internet research can be a legitimate method of research. In fact, thousands of people across the world work as online researchers. When you take into consideration the fact that the Internet has grown to be a repository of public information, the idea of using it for research doesn't seem that odd.
Most students use it to find information about all kinds of educational topics. Businesses use online search to find out candidates and to dig up more information about the candidates. Market research professionals use the Internet to find new ideas and to check facts.
When you use the Internet as a search tool professionally, you run into a number of problems. The most common problems are:
- Inability to find certain information, and
- Factually incorrect information. These things can mar the quality of your research. Here, we take a look at the best practices of web research that help you find useful and factually accurate information.
Identify the Right Tools and Resources
The most obvious search tools are Google, Yahoo and Bing. You can use these search engines to find what you want. But, if you are looking for data related to a specific topic, it might be a good idea to find a respected resource that collects and distributes data specific to the topic under research. Subject directories like Google Directory and About-dot-com may also be great sources of information.
Enter the Right Search Terms
While search has gotten a lot better over time, it all still depends on the keywords you enter. The skills of entering the perfect word for search is essential. For example, if you are looking for information regarding business number that let customers call a company for free, you need to enter the popular terms.
Entering â€˜free numbers' won't give you as good results as â€˜toll-free numbers' would. In case you are not able to find information on a topic, it is a good idea to enter synonyms and similar terms to get varied results.
Check Credibility of the Website
If you have worked as an Internet researches for a while, you will have an instinctive ability to distinguish bas websites from good ones. For example, when you see a badly designed website with errors, you will automatically hit the â€˜close' button as you know that the information from such a website cannot be trusted.
Another way of checking the credibility of a website is by taking a look at its About Us page - it will give you details about the organization or people behind the website. Most of the times, you can trust website with .gov, .edu, and .org extensions - such websites are owned by institutions and usually provide good information.
Validate the Information
Let's say that you have found a reliable website and it has the information you need. Don't be hasty and don't be sloppy. Even if you are sure that the information is genuine, you need to validate the information. Now, use the result as a search term and check if there are other reliable websites saying the same thing.
Once you find more than one source giving the same information (make sure that none of the two is a copy of the other), you can be sure about the information. In case this is not possible and you really need to validate the information, you can email the website admin and request validation or the address of the person who authored the information.
Keep the Time frame in Mind
One of the most common errors made during Internet research is using outdated data. Most information is time-sensitive. If the information you are looking for is of the kind that changes over time, it is best to take the data from a source that has been updated recently.
Cite the Sources
It is a good practice to cite the sources from where you have gathered the data. Even if that is not a condition for your project, it is always a good idea to make a list of the sources from where you have received the data. Copy the exact link to make it easy for you or your employer to revisit the page and check the data online.