I’ve done many posts on this blog about tools and techniques to proactively have information pushed to you via monitoring techniques, dashboards, RSS filtering, smart Twitter clients and more. However, I haven’t really spent much time on research methods for those times when you are seeking information rather than waiting for it to come to you. Most web workers spend at least some of their day doing research for blog posts, client work, or to learn something new, so I wanted to share a couple of my research techniques.
Yes, I know, you could just do a search using your favorite search engine and get tons of responses to your query. While this is a great first step, it can help to have some more targeted methods of finding information.
I usually start by reaching out to my social networks. A quick question posted to Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed or any other social network where you have a group of peers can help you get started on the right foot. I used this technique on Saturday when I was looking for a good software solution for letting people register for a class that I’m planning to teach. My Google search resulted in a bunch of what looked like questionable solutions, but my Twitter inquiry gave me several great options to choose from.
I also use Google Custom Search Engines for targeted searches where I can control the sites that are searched. While a narrow list of sites to search will not work for every purpose, it can be very useful in certain situations. I have one custom search engine that searches only a defined list of online community thought leaders for when I am looking for previous coverage and quotes on a topic from reliable sources. I also have a custom search engine that only searches the industry analysts that cover online communities and social media for when I am looking for data points to quote in blog posts or in materials for a client. There is even a Google Marker bookmarklet available that makes it very easy to add new sites to any of your custom search engines.
These are my two favorite research tools and techniques to help me quickly and efficiently do research.
What are your favorite research tools and techniques?