I have just spent a year-and-a-half of my life putting together a historic account for a nonprofit. Had I been thoroughly versed in how to research, my task would have been shorter and greatly enhanced. Nonetheless, I learned a lot in the process.
You don’t have to be writing a dissertation for a doctorate or a publishable work of nonfiction to benefit from basic online research techniques. Collecting information and data for a business using interviews, publication research, surveys and stats can result in savvy business decision-making.
Here are some helpful tips:
▪ Save it all. Saving information you come across and might use but aren’t sure about yet is essential to the process. As you research, what you first look for will invariably lead you to another source, which will lead you to another, etc. So set up and actually use your browser’s bookmarking services or a screen shot app or even a paid web note-taking service like Evernote or OneNote. If you are older than 45, you may even choose to print out material as you go along, saving it in a three-ring binder for later reference. An old-hat method, I know, but you will be surprised at the volume of great references you run across in just one online research session.
▪ Mobile. Unless you are the fastest keyboardist in the west, double your efficiency by using more than one device as you research online and begin to write. Along with your desktop or laptop, use a tablet or even a smartphone to spring back and forth online for quick checks on things like proper usage, style formats and word definitions. You can subscribe to pricey online services like Grammarian if you don’t mind a robotic system frequently overruling your writing style and tone.
▪ Use greater browse-power. Use more than one browser while doing research. You will want to use your speediest browser as your primary, go-to browser. For instance, Chrome works a lot faster than Safari on my Mac. If you can spare the time, though, using more than one browser will yield more information. Using the fastest one for your computer first will yield it more quickly, a boon for you because researching tasks can easily overwhelm.
▪ Primary and secondary sources. Know the difference between primary and secondary source material. Primary information is directly associated with its producer (a personal diary, an original government document, a news broadcast or ephemera) or its user (a company or other entity storing physical files folders of original documents). Secondary sources are reproductions of primary source material or references to them by other writers. These secondary sources will include opinions or draw conclusions by writers who did not actually experience the incident or create the original information. For instance, a historic narrative by David McCullough or a film by Ken Burns are secondary sources using primary sources. You can use both if you assign credit and, in some cases, request permission.
Paige Henson is a local writer and a new media consultant for businesses and nonprofits. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.