By Rae Hadley

Part 1 – The What And Why Of Research

An article with no credible dialogue or solid research to hold it together is about as useful as a body with no skeletal structure. Impossible to stand up, move around and unable to articulate to different places and points in time.  

Good research is essential to holding an article together and needs to be able to withstand the buffets and blusters of many a storm in order to be deemed worthy. 

Up Your Research Game

So first things first – let’s consider why we need to engage in good research and what that actually looks like. It may seem self-evident but I’m sure we have all gone onto promising-looking sites to be utterly underwhelmed by the lack of any useful information as well as a startling disregard for any sort of personal rigour. This is not just the domain of academia, it is important for anyone who wants their work to hold a decent level of credibility.

Knowing who the audience is, gives me the key to the necessary depth of my research, the language I need to use and the amount of information I can realistically structure for them, in order not to over or underwhelm them and keep them actively engaged. After all, an article on quantum physics on a tech site is going to be completely different from a quantum physics article on a lifestyle news site. The information may well start off the same but the language, depth, sidelines and presentation will all be tailored to fit the audience.

So what does good research actually do? It positions information in a context, creates a web of relevant, compatible, and comparable information around it. It decides what to keep and what to dismiss. It supports the narrator in finding their way through the maze of data that surrounds us all and this, in turn, provides the reader with sufficient light for them to carry away pertinent points in the present and signposts for future excursions.

As with everything there are pitfalls and traps all along the way but if you learn to recognise them you can develop strengths and strategies that will help you traverse even the most tricky path with ease. A brief note on this: I cannot, hand on heart, say I have never disappeared down an interesting rabbit hole but as a result of having these tools on hand when I do the research I become aware of ‘drift’ much quicker and therefore get back on the path to productivity.

Don’t Look Now

So, whilst we are discussing the research rabbit-hole of doom and good practice let us briefly sideswipe into what happens when research is not done effectively and the impact on the researcher. It will be brief, I promise, but the line, ‘know your enemy’, is a wonderful maxim to have in this context.

There are two specific areas of note that arise from poor research. There is an impact on the writer/researcher and the impact on the audience. These effects can volley back and forth creating a network of frustration and diminishing returns with regard to the work itself and the personal and social feedback heaped on the writer.

The whole spectrum of stress; from writing blocks and anxiety to a decrease in self-confidence and, in the worst case, a reduced passion for writing can assail the writer. All of these mental beasts have a sneaky habit of exponentially growing in size unless held under the fist of confidence. Research strength is one important digit on that mighty mitt.

Not Just Google

There are as many different ways to research as there are topics, through which to wade. In the next article, I have given a 7 point outline for Internet-specific research. You’ll also find websites for various topics such as lifestyle, tech, science, and the arts. There are numerous sites of general and specific interest which can springboard you into the virtual places you need to be.

The phrase ‘Google it’, hit the Oxford English Dictionary scene back in June 2006, it’s linguistic popularity a testament to the speedy rise and social dominance of this specific search engine. For millions of people around the world, it is the search engine of choice – in fact, it is all too often not considered as a choice, it is an automatic response. However, there are others that often do more specialised jobs and are therefore more appropriate for specific roles.

Consider this: Information is only truly useful if it is effectively disseminated–shared and utilised. Kept in a box or hidden on the outer rim of the Internet it is only a pretty curio and of interest to the few. Check out Part 2 for a ‘deep dive’ discussion and learn techniques which can take your research strategies into the Internet maelstrom and get you back out again safely.

Credible Research Without (Free) Falling Down The Rabbit Hole:

Part 2 – The How

Cast your mind back to school, college and university days. There were often classes describing the positives and negatives of research methodology–and here we are again, cast back into that chalk-dusted environment, waiting for the bell to ring and the stampede to flatten the slow or satchel laden.

Well, let’s try and make this research methodology ‘How-To’ less arduous and ultimately as speedy and productive as Buzzfeed’s timelines in these fast-paced click-happy times.

So how does one go about researching effectively and efficiently? To start with, let’s consider what we, as writers are trying to achieve. The modern era is bursting with information revolving, replicating and rehashing itself into evermore intricate forms–all at the speed of Matrix-style 0s and 1s. It’s no surprise we want to be in the thick of it, documenting, creating, and influencing.  

Our need to express ourselves on multiple topics leads to a need for a solid methodology which can be used regardless of the research genre. We want to produce engaging, relevant, and credible information in a format suitable for our audience. In doing so, we hope to develop the sort of trusting relationship that will ensure our readers consistently return.

So in order to make headway in achieving all of those things here is the definitive ‘How-To’ of Internet Research Methodology–in 7 easily digestible points:

1. Be Sceptical: 

While there is a necessity for an open mind, we need to balance it out with a healthy dose of scepticism and ruthless information sifting.

2. Organisation: 

There is an importance to keeping notes, web links, references and all citations in a clear, logical manner. It allows you to track back through the links you need and give clear reference and credit to the relevant people.

3. Be conscious of the Rabbit Hole:

Make active decisions based on necessity rather than allowing yourself to be passively drawn into unexpected twists and turns.  Although, if you do fancy a trip down those tunnels it can be interesting to see where they lead but make sure you take a flashlight and a thread that you can follow back out again. Always define your purpose, even if your intention is to get lost!

4. Google doesn’t know it all: 

It’s hard to believe but it is true. There are other search engines, some more authoritative, it depends on what you are looking for.  JSTOR and DOAJ are academic search engines which link to journals. FindArticles indexes articles which are often not offered in main-stream searches. Need old web information? Here is your time machine. Google Scholar is a great academic paper resource. There’s also Copyright free content, and if you are keen to do environmental good with each search, Ecosia is your answer.

5. Start broad and work your way in: 

This links to point 3 although, it is more about making specific active and determined choices–rather than bimbling around and looking at the view.

6. Primary and secondary sources: 

This is an interesting one because some people consider Social Media to be a secondary source. However, if your topic is social media related it suddenly becomes a primary source. The takeaway here is about understanding what you need and making deliberate choices.

7. Check out the bibliographies and references: 

When looking at favoured articles, see if they can lead you to additional primary sources and more in-depth information.

Here are several additional points that you should always consider when engaging with any piece of information. They may well be defining the thrust of the writing:

A. Who is the author? What is his/her demographic, era, and/or location? 

B. Does he/she/the publication have a disclosed affiliation and/or bias?

C. What is the level of this information? Is the target audience a layperson or an expert? Is it, therefore, the level you want?

D. The date? For example, the information in the tech world is constantly updated and therefore you’ll need current research. However, information on 1920s cars can come from an article published at any time in history and will still be of relevance.

E. SEO consideration: If you are citing research from other webpages in your blog or on your product page ensure you are not referencing a competitor as this would take the reader away from your site. Find the information elsewhere, if possible a primary source such as a report.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that ‘re-searching’ is slow for a reason. Going in ever decreasing circles is just a method of homing in on what you really need. Be proud of your deliberate progress. The way may be arduous but diligence will pay dividends; as will scepticism, an abundance of curiosity and a questioning mind. These are all key with regard to research. Even when a lot of what you find you quickly disregard, the nuggets of gold that you do pull together in the crucible of the process will go a long way toward creating well-formed thoughts and opinions based on hard-won facts and a solid foundation of knowledge.

Now go forth into unchartered waters, with confidence in your ability to seek out the best information on the planet and return, ready to thrill and amaze the knowledge-hungry masses.

You’ve got this–now go and get lost!

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