Research takes up a significant amount of every writer’s time, and the Internet is an incredibly useful and convenient research tool. However, it’s so huge, you need to know how and where to look. Let’s take a look at your online options.
Search Engines and Subject Directories
A search engine such as Google lets you search its database of Web pages with a keyword. A subject directory like Yahoo! provides lists of categories and subcategories for you to sift through.
If you type two keywords or more into a search engine, you’re conducting a Boolean search. To ensure that you’ll get only pages with the phrase you typed, connect two keywords with AND. If you want to search for either word, use OR. You can also exclude specific words by using NOT.
You can also search for exact phrases by surrounding the words with quotation marks, for example,“corporate communications” should return Web pages with that phrase only.
Different engines use different rules, so it’s always a good idea to check a search engine’s help page to get better acquainted to its rules.
If you run a small business, you can ask for free advice from the array of experts listed at the SCORE website. You can also contact experts and industry peers at specialized mailing lists or Web forums. Some examples are the forums at LinkedIn Groups, Yahoo! Groups or Google Groups. Another option is participation in Twitter chats, also called tweet chats, but those conversations occur at preset times so you’ll have to wait until that time to pose your question.
If you just want to keep up to date on a certain issue, then you can subscribe to some of the myriad of publications on the Web. These range from online versions of print magazines to online-only newsletters. New-List is one example of a site that lists email newsletters, and publishers such as Lawrence Ragan Communications produce an array of sites and articles.
Websites of Associations and Research Companies
Association websites can be one-stop resources for obtaining information on trends, industry overviews, forecasts and so on. You can start your research at the American Society of Association Executives, which includes a gateway directory of associations. Besides association resources, you can access the findings of companies like the Gallup Organization, which explores public opinion on various issues.
The U.S. government is another wonderful information resource. Branches like the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the CIA’s World Factbook contain valuable information for researchers.
Many libraries now provide users with remote access to online databases and encyclopedias. Some websites serve as specialized libraries, e.g., KnowThis provides marketing-related information and resources.
That’s a quick overview of some of the research resources available to you online. There many more out there, but remember that not all online sources can be trusted. Always consider the credibility of a particular resource.
Do you have a favorite research resource? If you do, share in the comments.