I get a lot of Asks from people who say they Googled their topic but didn’t find anything. Then I Google it and find a ton of resources. I prefer to think that this is because internet research can be daunting, so I am putting together this little guide in hopes of making internet research a little easier.
Step One - Reduce your topic to the fewest number of words you can and try Googling it. For example, if your protagonist is a fireman, try Googling:
Step Two - Put the information you need into question form and Google it. For example, for your fireman character, you will need to know what it’s like to actually be a fireman. Try Googling:
- What’s it like to be a fireman?
- What does a fireman do?
- What is a fireman’s life like?
Step Three - Think of different statements that describe the information you’re looking for. For example, if you want to know what it’s like in a firehouse, try Googling:
- Life inside a firehouse
- Fireman daily routines
Step Four - See if there are any alternative words you could use to describe your topic and Google those. For example:
- Firehouse/Fire Station/Fire Department
- Fire Truck/Fire Engine
Step Five - Search for personal points-of-view by searching for blogs, interviews, forum posts, and experience essays. Using a fireman as an example, you could search for:
- "Fireman Blog"
- "Interview with a firefighter"
- "My experience as a firefighter"
You can also search for an IamA (I am a…), which is a form of Ask Me Anything on Reddit. IamAs are posted by people with interesting jobs or careers who open themselves up to questions from other Reddit members. Reading through an IamA on your topic (if there is one) is a great way to learn from the personal point-of-view of an expert.
Step Six - Search for your topic on YouTube. I know it sounds crazy, but just do it. You never know what you might find. Case in point:
Now, Let’s Talk About Results:
When you type a search term into Google, you’re likely to get millions of results. That can be very daunting if you’re not entirely sure what you’re looking for. So, how do you wade through all of that information to find what you need?
To start with, you should be able to find enough information to help you within the first three pages of results. As you read down each page of results, just ignore things that obviously don’t pertain to your search, and when you see something that might pertain to your search, right-click on the result and then left-click “open in a new tab” to save it for later.
Let’s take a look at what comes up for “fireman”:
Clearly, we’re not looking for a Lil Wayne song, so we can ignore that. Definitions might offer helpful information, but you probably already know the definition of your topic. Images can be helpful, but ignore them unless you need a visual. Wikipedia articles, though not always accurate, are always worth opening. The article will give you a helpful overview of the topic—just make sure to double-check any facts you note down. So, one result for the first page isn’t bad. Pages two and three offered a few more worth opening.
Now, let’s look at the results for “interview with a firefighter”:
Any search for a career plus “interview” is likely to bring up tips for people who are interviewing for a job in that career. In this case, most of the results on the first page were interviewing tips for prospective firefighters. However, there was one helpful hit—a video interview with a firefighter. That is exactly what we were looking for, so we’ll open up that tab. Once again, pages two and three had a few more links to actual interviews with firefighters as opposed to interviewing tips. (***Note: I put a NO symbol on the third result, though that actually looks like an interview with a firefighter, so we would probably open that. ;))
Once you have three to five tabs open, you can start looking through each one to gather information on your topic. You can jot the notes down in a notebook, or you can open up a Notepad document (just be sure to save it a lot) and jot down your notes in there. It is also helpful to print out articles or interviews if you can, and then use a highlighter to keep track of important information.
The three most important things you can do when doing internet research are:
1) Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by all the information. Just take one result at a time and keep going until you have enough helpful information.
2) Be patient. While you should be able to find a lot of helpful information within the first few pages of results, sometimes you may need to look at several pages or try several different search terms.
3) Don’t give up! Research is important to your novel, and you’re really the only one who knows exactly what information you need. It may take hours or even days, but stick with it until you find the information you’re looking for. Sometimes a new search term to try will hit you out-of-the-blue, and that’s the one that brings up all the information you could want.
Good luck and happy researching!