Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.

~ Abraham Lincoln ~

How To Research The Internet

July 25th, 2013 ~ Est. reading time: 3 mins, 8 secs

Knowing how to research isn't instinctive.

Knowing how to research isn’t instinctive.

We all know how to use the Internet to find things. But actually: researching ideas? That’s something else altogether.

In this post, I’m going to give you some hints you can give to people who don’t know how to find accurate information. No doubt you know a few, and rather than get locked into arguments about their questionable opinions, these practical tips could be a lot more helpful.

Given some people’s claims they’ve fully researched their flat-earth approaches on the Web to justify their crackpot hunches and “prove” their assumptions, it pays to understand their approach. Investigating in their case means keying in “immunization debate”, “why junk food is good for you”, or, “dangers of fluoridation in drinking water”. Suddenly, they find an array of sites, all claiming the pedigree of “proof” and pushing their preferred opinion.

Trouble is, this dive and retrieve approach is not Internet research. In a real world sense, it’s like ringing up a list of quack organizations (promoting, say, the health effects of bear bile for example), then getting them to post their pamphlets out and claiming to know all about the subject. This kind of nosing about is sketchy at best.

To find out how to glean information in a well-researched way takes a more measured approach. For starters, searching for information on a topic needs neutral search terms. Typing in “them lying, cheating, scamming thieves” when checking out the tax department isn’t going to give anyone anything resembling even-handed data.

If we want to know how to get more information on any topic we need to key in several search terms on the topic as this captures a wider range of information sites (and research always benefits from a wide base of enquiry, at least to begin with).

Having found information of interest, it’s helpful to revisit why we are even looking. Is it to “prove a point”? Or, is it to satisfy our curiosity over a subject we really don’t know about?” The clearer we are about what our purpose is, the more focused research can be.

Your friend with the obsession about the importance of cryogenically freezing penguins needs to know that the quality of their research quest matters too. If they are only out to prove their pet belief that penguins should be snap frozen, it’s likely they will ignore sites that consider that to be whacky.

Then again, if they have a reasoned theme to explore and have found lots of information from a wide range of sites, the next step would to look for quality in the information. How do they find that? Well, sites that are government funded, represent reputable education facilities, or provide content that is measured, linked, or verifiable through other sources are best.

Unlike “do this because we told you so” type websites that constantly try to trick you into buying or convert you into joining their group, good sites offer without strings information that can easily be confirmed.

Now, assuming information is obtained from a wide range of reputable sites, the next research step is to look for patterns. Normally, there will be repeated themes with evidence to support them. Then, with an open-mind (to allow for the possibility of differing opinions and for the unexpected to turn up), it’s possible to find all sorts of data.

What’s that? Of course, you’re right. How on earth will any one-eyed fanatic do these things, when they won’t even listen to a single thing anyone else is saying?  Telling them how to do their homework is like hurling a can of fuel onto a fire. It’s only going to set them off, and you don’t want to be there when that happens.

It’s a shame really. People with aggressively ignorant attitudes aren’t interested in learning anything new. Discovering how to do things better isn’t high on the agenda… unless it’s to prove their pet point.

But, because you know how to research the web well, at least you aren’t going to be fooled by sweeping statements and emotive appeals lacking in substance.

Though the hardheaded aren’t in the slightest bit interested, thinking people will at least be prepared to find out information for themselves. Being less inclined to pursue the nutty and the fraudulent, at least they’ll have the means to test their feelings and the caliber of claims that convincers say. Better that than losing the ability to think for yourself.

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