research tips

We hear it all the time from our friends, family, teachers, and bosses alike, “Do your homework!” Every once in a while, some of us make a mistake and we hear, “You should’ve done the research.” That’s okay, because researching can be tough. I’m going to teach you how to research, how to effectively use search engines, which websites are the best sources of information, and why you should question online reviews. If you’re new to research, then please read the Research & The (Furious) 5 W’s. Otherwise, feel free to skip down to 5 Tips When Researching Online.

Research & The 5 W’s

Research is defined as the careful study that is done to find and report new knowledge about something. A general guideline to research is to keep on asking questions until you completely understand the subject. How will you know when you completely understand something?

One way to test yourself is by answering the 5 w’s: who, what, when, where, and why. This can be applied to pretty much anything you research. Whether you’re researching something for school, work, or just for fun, asking yourself the 5 w’s is always a great place to start any kind of research.

You might be asking yourself, “What’s so special about the 5 w’s? Are they different from the normal 5 w’s?” No. They are not special. I refer to them as being furious because I used to tell some students to answer the questions by using the furious 5 w’s, and they would ask me, “Mr. Walters, what are the furious 5 w’s? We weren’t taught that.” I’d tell them that they were excellent students for asking one w (they asked what), and that the reason why I called it the furious 5 was a reference to the Furious Five in Kung Fu Panda. It made it easier for them to remember the 5 w’s by associating them with cartoon characters.

The 5 w’s are the what, who, when, where, and why of what I’d like to call an investigation. Ask yourself what happened, who was involved, when did it happen, where did it happen, and why did it happen. For example, let’s pick World War II as a subject.

What was WWII? Using a definition to answer ‘what’ is a good way to start.

“A war fought from 1939 to 1945 between the Axis powers — Germany, Italy, and Japan — and the Allies, including France and Britain, and later the Soviet Union and the United States.”

Who was involved during WWII? You can answer this in two ways: which countries were involved, and which people were involved. The more specific you are, the better.

“World War 2 was fought primarily between two groups. On one side were the Axis Powers, including Germany, Italy, and Japan. On the other side were the Allies, including Britain, France, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Soviet Union, China, and the United States of America. Allied leaders of World War II included Chiang Kai-shek of China, Franklin Roosevelt of the United States, Winston Churchill of Britain, and Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union. Axis leaders of World War II included Adolf Hitler of Germany, Benito Mussolini of Italy, and Michinomiya Hirohito of Japan.”

When did WWII happen? Remember, the more specific you are, the better.

“World War II began on July 7, 1937, in the Pacific, and on September 1, 1939, in Europe.”

Where did WWII happen? We could technically go on for days on where it happened, but let’s be vague for this one.

“World War II was fought on a global scale. Battles took place in Europe, Asia, Africa, America, as well as the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans.”

Why did WWII happen? Same as above. We can debate on why the war started for days, but let’s be a little vague.

“World War II started when war was declared between the Axis Powers and the Allied Powers.”

Once you have answered the 5 w’s, the research starts to fall into place, the details come in, and everything makes a lot more sense, then you should be confident enough to know that you completely understand the subject. The more questions you ask, the more research you do, then the more answers you will find. It’s as simple as that!

5 Tips When Researching Online

Now that I’ve covered how important it is to at least ask the 5 w’s, below are some tips that I’ve learned and applied over the years when it comes to finding almost anything online. The golden rule when researching anything online is to keep in mind that anyone can write and publish anything online, so how does someone tell the difference between the good and the bad? Below are 5 tips to help you find the most accurate information as possible!

1) Search for multiple and reputable sources!

A reputable source doesn’t include places that allow anyone with a profile to write anything they want. Professors and teachers alike cringe at the fact that their students are quoting Wikipedia. Anybody can write anything they want on these websites! Do NOT quote these websites! It’s okay to go to these websites and get an idea of the topic, but never use them as a source in a paper, especially college papers!

When you find any article, always look for who wrote the article, what their credentials are, and when they published it. A professor who wrote a book in their field of study is more qualified than a hobbyist who wrote an article on a blog. Also, since people are always discovering new things, it is a good idea to look for sources that were published within the last 5 years. The more recent the article, the better.

The most trusted places to look for accurate and unbiased information are from encyclopedias, textbooks, periodicals published by reputable colleges, any published work from known experts in their field of study, and government websites. See my article The Most Trusted Domain Extensions to see which websites are the most trusted sources of information!

2) Use simple and relevant keywords in search engines.

I found that a lot of people have trouble searching for things online, and that’s usually because they are searching for something too vague, too specific, or something that simply doesn’t make any sense to a human, let alone to a computer. You have to type in relative keywords in search engines to find what you are looking for. Vague searches pull up more data than specific searches. Keep in mind that your keywords need to be spelled correctly. The more related your keyword or question is, the more results you will find with any online database or search engine. Start broad then work your way to more specific keywords to narrow down your search.

For example, you will see more articles about World War II if you enter, “World War II Axis and Allies” than searching for, “World War II Germny allied with Japon and Italy but Italy swiched hats and us dropped da bom.” Google will find more than 1 million articles about “World War II Axis and Allies” and only found 92,000 articles for the other search.

3) Use conjunctions in search engines, but only if needed.

Use conjunctions (and, or) to broaden your search. For example, I want to know which countries fought in WWII. If you want to search for more than one subject at a time, then use conjunctions (and, or) in the search engine. Type in ‘Axis and Allies of World War II’ in a search engine (such as google, bing, or yahoo) to see which articles they find. If you want to narrow down your search and read about the involvement of the United States in WWII, then enter “United States and World War II.” Depending on what you ask the search engines to look for, different results will come up, so don’t be afraid to rephrase your questions in search engines.

4) Question online reviews and user profiles!

If you’re searching for a moving company, a new restaurant in town, or just anything in general, make sure you check their online reviews before you commit. Referring back to tip #2, make sure you check with more than one website! For instance, any business owner can go online, create a new email account, and submit a google review, yelp review, etc. This is why you always check the reviewer’s profile, too!

If someone gives a business five stars without giving any reasons why, then those reviews are more than likely someone who is affiliated with that business. Always question vague reviews and inactive profiles that have submitted a 5 star review. As long as they have a verified email address, anybody can submit a review. Even business owners can review their own business, but they are not supposed to!

5) Have patience!

The last tip that I have for you is that you need to be patient while researching, and don’t wait until the last minute! If you rush through everything, then you can miss crucial information. Be patient, and don’t rush your research! Rome wasn’t completed in a day, unlike some rushed research papers. If you’re really good at being patient, check the credibility of sources, and double check facts from multiple sources, then you will be a great researcher!


Let’s Hear From You!

Researching can be a painstaking experience. I remember sifting through a lot of books when I was in college. When I was a history major, I had take a research and writing class. The main assignment was to write a 75 page paper by the end of the semester, but it at least included a works cited page and footnotes. My topic was The United States Occupation of Japan. Needless to say, the library was my friend. In fact, I knew the librarians on a personal level. Needless to say, that’s when I learned how to research, and that’s when I understood the reasoning behind Fahrenheit 451.

Do you have any tips on how to research online? How do you search for facts? Do you prefer the internet or the good old public library? Which websites, books, and magazines do you usually visit for information? Which is your preferred method?