How to Find Anything Online: Become an Internet Research Expert

Einstein once said, “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.”

The same could be said of intelligence. What they don’t tell you is that the “smart” people of the world are, in most cases, just better at researching and learning things than everyone else.

But researching is a learned skill, not something you’re born with.

And while some people might be predisposed to learn things more easily than others, it’s generally not enough to make a measurable difference.

By learning how to research, you can quickly and fairly easily become knowledgeable about just about anything. And with the Internet, almost anything you could ever want to know is at your fingertips. You just have to learn how to access it.

It’s all there, online, for free. Here are the techniques I’ve used to find pretty much anything online.

 

Start with Wikipedia

Whenever you try to learn something new on the Internet, start with Wikipedia. A wealth of information is there, covering practically every subject in an easy-to-use, easy-to-understand format.

The main reason to start with Wikipedia is that it gives a good overview of most topics.

Sure, any given page is bound to have some inaccuracies (as is the case on most user-generated websites), but most of the content is generally reliable. And when the accuracy of certain information is questionable, it’s usually tagged as such.

The key to using Wikipedia as a source, though, is in how you make use of the information. You have to pay attention to a number of things on a Wikipedia page aside from the main content.

First of all, read the introduction to the page. This is where you’ll usually find a quick description of the topic, along with alternate and related terms.

Skim the content to find the parts of the article that you need to know about most. Some articles are short and don’t have a list of contents. Others are several thousand words long. Reading the entire thing is usually unnecessary. Just skip to the sections that are relevant to you.

Next, check the references and related resources. The references is a great place to get in-depth information on your topic. These links often include scholarly journals and articles and other respected sources.

The related sources section includes external links to in-depth information. These websites often include professional associations and organizations devoted to the topic as well as general websites with good topical information.

 

Move on to Google

Once you’ve built a good foundation through Wikipedia, move on to a Google search (or whatever search engine you prefer).

Having read a bit on Wikipedia, you should know the main terms and keywords associated with the subject you’re researching. Start your general search with these terms.

When researching something, I always open a new window in Firefox. For each link I visit in a Google search, I open a new tab so that I can keep my original search results page open.

And if I click on additional links on pages that I have opened, I don’t have to go back through 10 or more pages to return to my original search.

 

Go Multimedia

Text isn’t the only educational content on the web. Video, podcasts and slideshows are out there to explain pretty much anything you can imagine.

The advantage of so much multimedia content being available is that it caters to people with different learning styles.

Some people learn well by reading. Others learn better by hearing an explanation or seeing a demonstration. And still others learn by doing (which is where step-by-step tutorials—either video, audio or text—come in handy).

If you learn best by watching demonstrations, then head on over to YouTube, Odeo, Vimeo or any of the many other video websites and start typing the keywords that you found on Wikipedia.

Make sure, though, whenever you deal with user-generated content to verify the information against reputable sources.

One often-overlooked resource for videos is the archive from the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conferences.

TED videos are available for free on the official website and cover (as you might expect) technology, entertainment and design.

While many of the videos focus on broad concepts rather than the nitty-gritty, they’re still a great resource to expand your horizon. And the lectures are given by leaders in their fields, so the information is generally reliable.

 

Check Out Free Educational Resources

A ton of colleges are now putting their course materials online, accessible for free.

MIT offers its entire catalog as open courseware, with lecture notes, resources and syllabi. Other two- and four-year colleges are following suit.

You’ll also find purely web-based open education initiatives that cover subjects you might not find at a traditional college. These free courses offer a ton of organized information on any given subject.

Some colleges offer their lectures in audio and video format. Princeton, for example, offers some of its lectures through iTunes, as does the University of Virginia, Duke, Emory, Yale and Stanford.

In fact, iTunes has an entire section devoted to educational podcasts called iTunes U. Non-educational organizations are also represented, including the Library of Congress and Wall Street Journal.

The educational podcast market isn’t monopolized by iTunes, though. Odeo has an education category with 466 channels and more than 67,000 episodes. Participating colleges and universities include Oxford University, the University of Melbourne and MIT.

 

Look for Tutorials

Depending on your topic, you may be able to find tutorials. For pretty much any practical skill (and a whole lot of unpractical ones), you can find an online tutorial that teaches you how to do it.

You can find tutorials through search engines (just add “tutorial” or “instructions” to the end of your keyword search). You can also find them on these websites:

Instructables is a general tutorial website that offers step-by-step instructions on projects in categories such as arts, crafts, food, kids, music, outdoors and pets. Every tutorial has photos and/or diagrams to illustrate the process.

eHow offers categorized instructions and tutorials created by users. They include both text and video tutorials on a variety of topics, including law, health, food and drink, electronics and computers.

WikiHow is a user-editable how-to manual that covers a ton of different topics. Because of its wiki format, tutorials and instructions are constantly being improved.

The Tuts+ Network offers tutorials on a variety of tech topics, including Photoshop, web design, Flash and photography. Its tutorials are split into separate blogs based on topic and are written by experts.

Tutorialized offers tech tutorials for a variety of software programs, including Photoshop, GIMP, Flash, Blender and Illustrator.

Good-Tutorials offers up tech-related tutorials, covering CSS, Flash, HTML, Photoshop, PHP and more. Tutorials are categorized and searchable.

 

Use Tools Available to You

A ton of tools are out there to make online research a bit (or a lot) easier.

Some help by organizing your sources, others let you save snippets of pages for later reference, and others do pretty much everything you could ask for from a research app. They make tracking your research and organizing it for later reference a much easier process.

Zotero is a Firefox add-on that acts like a research assistant. It lets you collect links and whole pages, organize them into folders and tag them. It even generates a “Works cited” list from them. You can jot down notes on anything you save, which makes it much easier to remember why you included it in the first place or to remind yourself later how you ended up using it.

Zotero has a ton of features. It automatically captures citations; it cites from within MS Word and OpenOffice; it accesses your library from anywhere; it searches PDFs and notes instantly; and it lets you create group libraries.

It’s also compatible with thousands of bibliographic styles, so when it comes time to create a “Works cited” list, you don’t have to spend hours reformatting the whole thing. The best part is that Zotero is free and open source, so you can extend and modify it to meet your needs (or find others who have already done the work).

Wired-Marker is a permanent highlighting tool for Firefox. You can highlight sections of a web page to refer to later on. It’s a great app if you want to be able to easily refer to a specific section of a website that you’ve bookmarked. Wired-Marker is itself also a bookmark organizer.

iCyte is a note-taking and bookmarking app that works with Firefox and Internet Explorer 7 and 8. It saves any pages that you highlight or bookmark, so that even if the page changes or is deleted, you still have the original version. You can save sections of a website or the whole thing. You can also invite others to join your projects, share information and access information that others have shared.

Similar Web is a great Firefox extension for finding websites related to the one you’re on. There’s also a web-based version for people who don’t use Firefox. The add-on is particularly useful if you’re on, say, Odeo and want to see other websites that offer podcasts.

Notefish is an online note-taking app that lets you custom-save content from any pages on the web. You can organize and share pages based on a specific subject. The app has many customizable features, including ones that let you annotate and color your notes. The downloadable Firefox add-on helps you use Notefish more efficiently.

Diigo lets you highlight and share pages all over the web. You can add sticky notes to pages for later reference and can access notes from your computer or iPhone. Saved pages can be organized with tags or lists. You can create groups to share resources for a project, and you can even enforce tagging rules among group members to keep things organized. Free and premium accounts are available (educators get a free premium account).

Concierge is a Safari plug-in that replaces the browser’s bookmark management scheme with an easier-to-use bookmark and information management tool. You can bookmark links and save links from email, Address Book cards, and folder and file links from Finder. It puts all of your relevant information in one place.

Information overload is a common problem when researching a new subject online. Great Summary helps combat the problem by summarizing the content of a web page, document or section of text for you. It identifies key topics on a page and presents relevant information without duplicating content.

EagleFiler is an information management app for Mac OS X that lets you archive and search PDF files, word-processing documents, images, web pages, mail and more. It has a three-pane interface similar to that of most email programs. Files are stored in a universal format, so they’re accessible from any application. Files can be encrypted, and you can add notes, tags, labels and meta data to them.

When you download something in Safari, no record is kept of where it came from. This can be a problem if you need to refer to it in a “Works cited” list or just want to know where to get similar content. DownloadComment adds a note in the file’s Spotlight Comments field with the URL of the original file.

HistoryHound lets you search the content of every web page and RSS feed that you’ve visited recently in Safari, as well as any bookmarked page. It ranks results by relevance. It’s a great way to track down information in resources that you’ve already discovered.

Reference Tracker is an app for Mac OS X that lets you store documents in one place for later reference and citation. It automatically creates a “Works cited” list in Harvard, APA, MLA or Chicago/Turabian format. It has built-in search and one-click referencing of web pages (in Safari or Firefox) and email (from Apple Mail).

Selenium is a research application for Mac OS X that combines a browser, PDF manager, word processor, bibliography manager and outliner in a single window. Research is much simpler because you don’t have to switch back and forth between different applications.

Evernote is an online note-taking application that lets you save just about anything, from notes to images to web pages. And it stores everything online, so you can access your notes from anywhere. There’s even an iPhone app.

Springnote is a free wiki-based online notepad. You can create personal or group notebooks and access them either online or through the iPhone app.

Google Notebook is a free online note-taking app that lets you create an unlimited number of notebooks and save notes, web pages and other information in a single place, accessible from anywhere. You can organize your notes by adding tags to them, as you would with Google Bookmarks.

 

Specialized Websites

Specialized online libraries exist for a ton of different subjects. Anything from language to science to technology to history has its own dedicated resource library somewhere on the Internet.

These collections can speed up your research, and they sometimes include only reliable websites. Here are some to get you started.

Arts

If you’re looking for information on art, whether museums, individual artists or art movements, Art Cyclopedia is the place to go. It lists 9,200 artists and has 140,000 links from 2,600 different art websites.

IMDb is a database of movies and television programs, dating as far back as film itself. You can search by cast member or title. Individual listings include all previous and upcoming roles. Movie results include cast and production crew, plot synopsis and other production information (often photos).


Medical and Scientific

BioMed Central publishes 200 open-access peer-reviewed medical and scientific journals. And you can search all 200 of them on the website.


History and Humanities

The Internet History Sourcebooks Project collects public domain and copy-permitted historical texts in one place. The collection includes ancient, medieval and modern texts, as well as ones of specific groups, regions and religions.

Digital History offers historical texts and resources from American history. It is run through a partnership with a variety of educational and historical organizations, including the University of Houston, the Chicago Historical Society and the National Park Service. It has resources for researchers and teachers, including multimedia resources.

The Perseus Digital Library is a resource of mostly historical texts from Tufts University. The digital collection includes material from Greek and Roman, Renaissance and 19th-century American history.

Project Gutenberg offers public domain books and written material for free. The collection includes fiction, non-fiction and poetry and is both searchable and browsable. Most of the content dates to the 19th century and earlier.


General and Scholarly

Intute helps individuals find the best websites on which to conduct their research. You can search or browse by category. It even offers free training on using the web for research and education.

Infomine is a search engine for scholarly resources. The categories, which are browsable, include the following: bio, agricultural and medical sciences; business and economics; cultural diversity; e-journals; government info; maps and GIS; physical sciences, engineering, computer science and math; social sciences and humanities; and visual and performing arts. It also includes general reference and advanced search functionality.

The Librarians’ Internet Index is a searchable directory of content from all over the Internet, broken down by category. It includes only reputable websites, making it easier to trust the information you find.

The IPL is another collection of resources from all over the web, broken down by category. The collections are targeted at children, teens, adults and educators. The collection covers art and the humanities, social science, law and government, computers and much more.

Find Articles from BNET lets you search articles from a wide range of consumer and trade magazines and newspapers. The articles are searchable and browsable by category.

The Library of Congress offers a ton of information, including digital collections. Its online collection includes history, performing arts, legislative information and international resources. It’s a particularly good source of government information, because its THOMAS system lets you search the full text of congressional records, bills and more.

You can learn just about anything with the resources and techniques mentioned here. As you research more topics and become accustomed to learning in this manner, learning new things will become easier.

Pretty soon, you’ll be able to gain a working knowledge of practically any subject after just a couple of hours of research.



Written exclusively for WDD by Cameron Chapman.

How do you find information online? Are there any other great resources that we missed? Please add them below…


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  • http://www.oxford-creative.co.uk Stu

    A really interesting read – thanks! Intrigued by the sites out there, and the firefox extensions will be downloaded shortly!

    It’s amazing what’s out there, if you take the time and put some legwork (fingerwork?) into it.

  • http://smashingwebs.com/ SmashingWebs.com

    Really great post.

  • http://www.lazybytes.com khusaam

    WOW! great one, my online research is gona change for sure!
    keep em coming :)

  • http://www.inveve.com creative_blondes

    Very good content! Thanks for this one. I’d like to add http://www.archive.org where pretty much all the internet pages are stored. Comes in very handy if you need something that isn’t there anymore, or just want to timetravel so see how things looked some years ago ;).

  • http://www.smashingshare.com Smashing Share

    Very useful post. Never knew there are so many tools to research. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Ben

    Or just google

  • http://isakib.com Sakib

    an excellent posts with great review.

  • http://www.beginnerdj.com Murlu

    I think one of the most critical steps in researching is to know what you will be researching – simple right?

    But think about it, if you didn’t know the questions being asked how will you provide answers?

    I like to use forums because you have a lot of active dialog amongst its users that are asking real questions – not just keyword specific queries.

    You’ll also find some very thorough replies from other members in which you could use this knowledge to help you with your research as well.

  • Amatatomba

    Really useful post. I consider myself fairly good at research, whether its for a school assignment or just something I’m interested in, but I learned a few things. And I know in high school and even in college this would be useful to a lot of students. I know a lot of people struggle when trying to separate good info from bad online and this could be a big help to them.

  • http://ntechnologies.co.cc/blog Nikunj Tamboli

    I remember the day when i first used to work as internet researcher for my client, during that time i learned most of the steps that are mentioned here in these post.

    Its very important for people to know that Google is not only the source that used should relay on to get useful information

  • nony

    excellent work…thank you very much. I’ve been using Zotero, combined w/a few of the FF extensions, (and Icyte, citebite is too limited, for the IE users), will make the work faster. Evernote is good, but…

    my problem has always keeping track from where I’ve left off whilst heading off on a different tangent. You have provided several possible solutions for which I thank you again. (summary sounds like just the ticket) now to remember them as well….

    a simple class, perhaps ten hours tutoring the use and collaboration of these tools would make any student far more productive, wish I had any of these way back when.

    PS. using these tools, how long did it take for you to produce this article?

  • http://www.leadlocal.de Johannes

    Great article. One thing is missing however. I find that delicious is a great resource finding very good articles especially for people who are working on the web daily.

  • http://www.business-fromhome.com Kanaga Siva

    Excellent article. Very useful, especially to people new to the Internet. I have found that a visit to Yahoo Answers too can be helpful.

  • Chris

    Excellent article! Very informative and extremely useful.

  • http://www.bloggerden.com/ Blogger Den

    The internet has turned into Skynet – it really does hold all of the information you need, if you know where to look. It’s not exactly easy to crack, but you can certainly get by working with Google alone

  • Uzbek

    Great article, but I would DEFINITELY include Wolfram Alpha!

  • http://www.nzymo.com Petar

    It is funny that the article starts with wikipedia.This tells me that the rest of the article is not interesting for me.

    • http://www.webdesignerdepot.com Walter

      Never judge a book by its cover.

  • http://www.clippingimages.com Tanjila Jesmeen

    thanks for the tips.very helpful post.

  • http://www.GoGlobalWebs.com Chris Gray

    This is a great step-by-step way to get anything you want out of the Internet.

    Great post. My head is exploding with information. Will be sharing via Twitter ;)

  • http://www.jdanicreations.co.cc Danielle

    This is a great article, and I use most of those tactics myself. However, I don’t think the first to go is Wikipedia. I use wikipedia as a last resort most of the time. While they do offer a good general overview, sometimes they can be TOO general. When you’re researching a specific item, often times Wikipedia can fall short. I agree with all the other sources you listed though.

    Thanks for telling us about that Firefox plug-in. It’s just what I needed (though I’m often afraid of opening Firefox because of how bloated I’ve made it)!

  • http://www.boonze.com Clain Dsilva

    The possibility and scope of search is beyond the things that is listed in the article…!!!

    combined with a form of skills and observation… you can find anything digitally over the internet…

  • http://uipattern.com Rinchan

    Great list.. http://www.slideshare.net/ is another good side for lot of reading stuff..

  • http://www.sleeplessintaipei.com Jered Stoehr

    I really like the part with information on the browser extensions. I’ve been using delicious for years now and have gotten used to it, but after reading I think I should consider upgrading to diigo.

    I use delicious a lot for search, I don’t know what it’s called but I decided to call it community search, which I guess is exactly what wikipedia is. I use it before google a lot now too.

    Thanks for the post!

  • http://webdesignalive.com webdesignalive

    Thanks for great article

  • http://djdesignerlab.com Djdesignerlab

    Great list. Though I prefer Google and Youtube for search. With the help of google we have got the world in our desktop.

  • http://www.orphicpixel.com Mars

    excellent article mate, this one is very useful additional collection to add up this 2009… thanks for sharing

  • alx21creations

    deserves an award!!!! =)

  • http://www.i5bala.com Balakumar Muthu

    delicious, digg and reddit is a must!

  • http://www.zoombits.co.uk winter olympics

    Thanks for the information on how to become an Internet Research Expert.

  • http://www.artisticautonomy.com aQuib

    Thanks! Very useful information.

  • Countzero

    Congrats! Best!

  • http://certifiedfreelance.com Florante

    Thanks for a very useful post. I am a freelance web researcher for the past 3months now and so far, this post have been the most complete resource site that will surely help me efficiently use the web and maximize my time. I look forward to your future posts.

    A prosperous new year to you!

  • http://www.protoshare.com Andrea

    Thanks for sharing! I have not seen some of these tools, so I will surely look them up. As a student, however, most of these resources are not accepted as plausible research – anything user-generated is frowned upon in any classrooms I’ve been a part of.

    Some of the best reliable sources are encyclopedia sites, the Library of Congress (which you mentioned), and accessing your school or public library online. This last one is the best because it gives you free access to journal articles (which require solid research), newspapers around the world, reference books, etc. As long as you have a library card, you can login and search their databases for virtually any topic. This is also good if you need to conduct formal research for your company.

    The other resources, however, are great for learning trends or finding out the general public’s knowledge.

  • http://stripes-design.pl edro

    Very useful information. THX for sharing

  • http://abhijit.shirsath.com/ Abhijit Shirsath

    Very helpful tips!!

  • http://www.kristofcreative.com Kristof

    Now that is a very extension and helpful article. Kudos!

  • http://www.bwired.com.au Steve Martin

    Your method of search in online is awesome.. Thanks for sharing these tips… This will really help me a lot, i will work on it… :)

  • http://www.web4half.com/ **..Cute Web Designer..**

    wesome.. Great Collection.

    Some great tips here! #5 is very interesting…something I’ve never thought of.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.briandevine.net Brian Devine

    Another go to research site for me is http://www.howstuffworks.com
    It has a wide raneg of topics and can givea pretty detailed understanding of the issue quickly.

  • http://technologyinprevention.blogspot.com LaDonna Coy

    Excellent post and several new things I’m eager to use. My first stop is often Wikipedia, YouTube or Delicious, depending on what I’m looking for. One small thing I’d add to this thinking is to use sites like Delicious for more than bookmarking and organizing. By searching Delicious for a topic you are interested in – it is easy to locate and review sources other people have found helpful and useful – the creme of the peer-review -crop so to speak. Great job – now off to do some research!

  • http://rfbellerose.com rfbellerose

    Incredible list of resources. Thank you!

  • http://www.google.com/profiles/simbeckhampson# Paul Simbeck-Hampson

    Great work. Thanks.

  • http://ukdropshippers.blogspot.com/ Clara James

    Very interesting post and I think it will help us in boosting our searching criteria. I think before going to search we have to think about the question and we have enough knowledge about our question because some time it is so difficult to understand about the things going on, if we don’t know the knowledge of question. The information you have provided about searching process is excellent and it makes us to find our desire result quite easily.

  • utsuk

    very nice and useful

  • http://tinyurl.com/yzfdl7v Marc Peron

    This is a wonderfull website. Until now I just had to learn how by trial and error. This will be a great help. Thank you.
    Marc

  • http://www.kirankumar.in Kiran Kumar

    Great Post Very Useful..

  • http://www.designussion.com Joseph Victory

    awesome post, very informative.

    will keep bookmarked for when needed.

    thanks a lot :)

  • Sharon Chen

    Great Post! Found it very useful, thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.almankurdu.com German Shepherd Dog Fan

    google uncle deals with all the things :)

  • http://rupensharma.blogspot.com Rupen Sharma

    Nice read…another great information site is http://www.brighthub.com.

  • http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld Charlotte

    For research on a wealth of issues around the world, check out the FRONTLINE/World website. Each story we do – whether it be kidnapping in Pakistan, unemployment in Egypt, child marriage in Afghanistan or anorexia in France – includes a well-researched resources section with helpful background info and links.

    You can watch all the documentaries online too. http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld

    FRONTLINE also has incredible resources on hundreds of important topics such as the U.S. war in Iraq, the Taliban in Pakistan, credit card fraud in the U.S., and many more….

    http://www.pbs.org/frontline

  • http://www.baasinteractive.nl Willem

    Nice post. Although I think the important step before starting a search is missing: knowing what you want to search, which subject, defining keywords for it before even going onto Wikipedia. Wikipedia does not cover every subject and is not as in depth..

  • http://free-textures.net Teejay

    @ Ben

    I’d also just Google what I want.

  • http://techmalaya.com Syahid A

    This is amazing. Thanks for so putting so much effort into this article. Kudos.

  • http://ilikeitdirty.com christopher

    a couple of sites listed here that I wasn’t even aware of. thanks for the list.

  • http://www.kulube.net kulube

    the creme of the peer-review -crop so to speak? you

  • http://budurl.com/bartertrade TheBarterGuy

    This is the most informative page on Internet Research I have ever seen!
    Bookmarked it and will be back here over and over.
    Thank you so much – Keep up the good work…..

  • http://www.geniemove.com/ Chicago mover

    Amazing site and great post.

    Thank you for posting such a great article.

    I too belive that “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.”

  • http://www.thedomainstar.com thedomainstar

    Your article proves that there are more ways to get around the Internet than just Google. Thank you for such a great article!

  • http://www.restaurantwerbung.de Restaurant Werbung

    Great article. I used to look on Google first, then Wikipedia (a main reason was that the wikipedia results showed up in the first search results).

    But I found that first going to wiki is better, because of the interlinked articles, which give me new ideas and unthought possibilities.

    And as a big TED fan, I find it especially nice, that it`s included in your list.

  • http://www.giq.edu.co wariposa

    this information is simply……………incredible. I am form Colombia, i´m doing a research job for a education company calles GIQ and this article has change my perspective. I now know that it can be a lot more easy to search, and that i can do it in less time. Thank you very much for this usefull information.

  • http://www.choicehow.com Mr.Choice

    Great information for people who want to become knowledgeable within years of using the web.

  • http://modx-systematix.com/ best CMS

    One small thing I’d add to it is to use sites like Delicious for more than bookmarking and organizing. By searching Delicious for a topic you are interested in – it is easy to locate and review sources other people have found helpful and useful – the creme of the peer-review -crop so to speak.

  • http://www.neukunden-akquise.net Wolfgang

    Excellent article! Very informative and extremely useful. From my point of view Digg, Reddit and especially Delicious as resources for excellent articles should be included in your thoughts.

  • http://www.claucebrianphotography.com/index2.php lifestyle photography in Miami

    Thanks for sharing! I have not seen some of these tools, so I will surely look them up. As a student, however, most of these resources are not accepted as plausible research – anything user-generated is frowned upon in any classrooms I’ve been a part of.

  • http://www.justinmind.com Etienne

    Great set of (re)sources!

    Thanks,

  • teririch

    Good job!!!!
    I think the mention of using Wikipeda is great…too bad about some of the flack…I know in the academc arena it is Taboo but I always considered it my secret weapon…as long as the info can be backed up by relable sources who gives a *$@? where you got it from?
    and thanx for the Firefox info…kudos