The internet is a fascinating beast, but for curious people, internet research will eat hours of your life. Tangential rabbit holes beckon. If you’re not vigilant, you’ll find yourself reading about Napoleon’s exile to Elba even though you wanted to find a word that rhymes with ‘houseplant.’
Sometimes this is cool. Learning useless skills and information is great, but other times this informational horn o’ plenty is a hindrance to real work. What if you need to learn a lot about a specific topic? How can you make the most of your research time?
1. Know Your Research Goal Maybe you’re looking for an introduction to a subject or you need an answer to an obscure question. Whatever you’re looking for, if you know what you need to know, you can get in and out faster.
2. Separate Researching from Surfing Think about research as a task to finish and surfing as passive entertainment. It’s easier to stay on task when you make a distinction between the two.
3. Read Critically…aka Power up the Bullshit Detector Most people can easily distinguish between advertisements and real content, but what about people making unverified claims or citing dubious statistics? When you’re evaluating a new-to-you site, always question not only the quality but the motivation of whatever is presented. See if you can guess their target audience.
4. Take Notes If I want to remember something I’ve read, I almost always take notes. While I may never refer to the notes, the act of writing my notes down on paper seems to make a mark on my brain. Taking notes is more effective if I summarize content in my own words rather than just copy lines verbatim.
5. Use Delicious for bookmarking I’m still new to delicious and I rarely log on to the site. However, I don’t know how I got by without their bookmarking system. If I find an article I want to read or reference later, I bookmark it, add appropriate tags, and get back to my research.
6. Stay Focused! This is the single biggest way to make the most of your research time. When something unrelated to your research piques your interest, bookmark it to read later. Ignore everything except the task at hand. Read more on focus here.
7. Turn of Notifications Between gmail, tweetdeck, and facebook, you’ve got a lot of people and information competing for your attention. Whatever the message is, it can wait until you’ve finished your research.
8. Active Reading This includes taking notes, paraphrasing, and thinking about how you can relate this information to what you already know. Also includes thinking about how you would explain the material to someone who was unfamiliar with it.
9. Stay Fresh I like to take breaks every thirty minutes or so. Any more than that, and the brain fog starts to descend. I process information slower and I’m more likely to let down my bullshit detector.
10. Use a Good Web Browser with Mouse Gestures A good browser and mouse gestures will save you time and prevent headaches. Lately I’ve been experimenting with Chrome. It’s fast and doesn’t crash. So far I like it better than Firefox, though delicious support could be better.
11. Know When Not to Use the Internet Sometimes you’ve got to go old school and hit a library, get a proper book, get away from the computer, and read, read, read. Even better, call someone up and and ask if you can ask them about your topic. Don’t forget to take notes.
12. What Can My Readers Add? Over to you. Can you share any tips for better web research?
Photo credit: autumn_bliss