Research is a crucial element of freelancing of almost any kind, whether you’re a technical writer or a graphic designer. While some fields, such as writing, copyediting, and content curation obviously include more research than others, you can improve your overall research skills to enhance your ability to do everything from vetting potential clients to finding resources for the project you’re working on.
You should use an organised method, decide how to find information, and use a process that allows you to find the information you need logically and systematically.
- Search general questions to learn more about the topic
- Narrow your scope within the topic to create an angle or to find narrower information
- Search specific questions to find specialised answers
- Try to find two or more resources that back each other up
- Validate information before assuming it is true
Most of us know that certain resources might not be the most credible sources of information. But, how do you tell which resources are credible? In some cases, if you’re researching specific information, verifying credibility can be difficult, but you should still look for quality references.
Is It Credible?
- Where did the knowledge come from? Is that source credible? A great example of why this sort of fact-checking is necessary is HubSpot, which published a quote “90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000X faster in the brain than text.” That quote has been re-used more than 800 times across the Internet. Unfortunately for them, Kathleen Gossman of EnveritasGroup proved that that information came from precisely nowhere.
- How was information collected? In some cases, even content that seems trustworthy might not be because the data collection is faulty. For example, GoDaddy published a ‘survey’ about small businesses and made some very big claims. Except, 39% of their survey turned out to be just 1 person. Not all information collection is credible.
- Who wrote it? Is the author an expert in their field? This isn’t always necessary if the content was written by someone who is stellar at research, but can be helpful if you’re reading the original research.
- What did they source their content on? Check out sources. This is where Wikipedia articles can be extremely valuable. They often source very good references.
- Can you find a cross reference? If you can’t, can you prove that the original research you found is valid? Would you be willing to stake your reputation on it?
Is the Resource Biased?
Just like you probably can’t trust a company page that says the company offers the best products in their niche, you can typically use common sense, and a bit of backup research, to ensure that your information isn’t overly biased. What’s the catch? Almost everything is biased to some extent.
Once you know how to find the information you need, you can begin to improve your process so that you are more efficient, faster, and more prepared to take on research tasks.
A good process involves a technique, some discipline, and an idea of what you want to achieve. Usually, you can break a good process down into something like this:
- Write a list of questions that you want to answer in your topic. Breaking the information, you need into small topics, and tackling them one at a time, allows you to approach each reference or topic you need with a clear idea of what you are looking for. In fact, this approach is actually proven to increase productivity and motivation.
- Collect resources, and try to back up each question and answer with at least two resources. If you have more resources than you think you need, you probably have enough.
- Check your resources. Is there new information? An updated version? Something that disproves your source?
- Try to complete as much of your research as is possible before you get started. If you’re writing and researching at the same time, you’re technically multitasking, and multitasking inhibits productivity.
Chaining is a great technique for online researchers because it allows you to build your content or ideas based on multiple sources, rather than copying all of your ideas from a single resource, which is near plagiarism if you’re writing something. Chaining involves using information found from multiple sources and connecting it together to create a conclusion.
Resources to Help You Research
Great research requires great sources, and it’s important that you know where to start looking up information.
Fusion Tables – Google’s Fusion Tables is a tool that allows you to map out your data, compare it to other data, and create up to date relevant pictures of almost anything.
Google Books – Google Books features full-text books which you can use to find quotes, references, and publisher information for references.
Google Scholar – Google Scholar and Microsoft Academic Search both allow you to source academic quality references such as peer-reviewed articles, studies, and other data.
Investigation Dashboard – Investigation Dashboard is a free tool for journalists and writers that you can use to find information, map out resources, and search documents, databases, and news sources from government and official resources.
Questia – Questia offers books, papers, periodicals, and journals for free online.
WhoIs.net – WhoIs.net is a tool that you can use to check website ownership to verify ownership and the veracity of the site.
Online research is now standard for freelancers, especially journalists, writers, copywriters, and bloggers who frequently have to source and write about information very quickly. Luckily, the Internet provides a wealth of information, literally at our fingertips, and all you have to do is find it. When applied with a little bit of pragmatism, the Internet is a valuable research tool.
This post is a contribution from Mike Hanski. Want to contribute to PeoplePerHour blog? Get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org!