Tips for searching for research and insight topics via Google

Question mark on keyboardPosted by Ray Poynter, 21 January 2020

A key skill that all researchers need is the ability to search for information via Google. In this post, I will share some tips for how I search for information – and I shall be glad to hear back any tips that you have.

Defining your search

The first step, as with any research is to think about what you are searching for. In an example that I shall talk about I was looking for hints and tips for people presenting to cross-cultural audiences in Asia. As well as presenting, I will look for words such as communicating, presentations, talks, culture, APAC, Asia, South-East Asia, China, Japan etc.

I want to look for examples of good practice and bad practice, for studies and reports, and for tips from people who have first-hand experience to share.

Asking for help

One of my first steps is to ask for help. I might email colleagues, people I know who have some experience in this area, and via social media (in my case usually LinkedIn and Twitter). Remember to feed back some useful aspects of the information you gather to the people you asked. The feedback is partly because it is the right thing to do, secondly, it will help you obtain help next time, and thirdly you may get extra validation for your findings.

A simple search term

In the early days of search engines, being skilled in Boolean logic was useful, however, today the best starting point is a simple search term. To find out about presenting, I might start with something as simple as “tips for presenting in Asia”.

Don’t believe everything, cross-reference your findings

Work through the suggested articles. Check the age of the information – is it too old? What information appears frequently? Are there hyperlinks? If so, follow the links, and the links in those articles. Keep following the links until either the information becomes less relevant or it loops back to where you started. This is a form of saturated analysis.

When you find an interesting idea or source, search for more information about it adding words such as problem, mistake, criticism etc. in conjunction with the search term. This will help you get a 360-degree picture.

An example of following a link

One of the articles that my search “tips for presenting in Asia” found was ‘7 tips for presenting for Asian audiences’. This article includes the following element.
“6) Colours have meaning
With the right use of colours you can summon the right emotions. In Asia one must pay special attention to colours since colours have special meaning. Use this colour/culture graph to see if your colour matches your intended meaning and when in doubt: black font with white background always works.”

The link in this paragraph leads to an article in Dutch which shows an infographic linking colours to cultures and messages. One option for me is to use Google Translate. The graphic was from David McCandless and was titled ‘Colours in Culture’. So, I googled ‘david mccandless colours in cultures’. This took me to several versions of the infographic in English, for example, the Information is Beautiful site. I then searched for this search term with the addition of words such as problem, error, alternative, mistake etc. This took me to versions of the chart that used the information in a different way, for example this site.

Reports, studies and research

Adding words such as reports, studies, research, compare, review, lists, metadata etc. can lead to more authoritative research. If you want to contrast countries, include compare countries, if you want a time series include ‘over time’ or ‘by time’, if you want to find changes include ‘new’ or ‘changes’.

One common problem with reports is that they are often behind paywalls or they are restricted to academics. In these cases, my tips are:

  1. Search for the title and authors via Google, quite often the same paper will be posted in more than one location, and they may not all be behind paywalls. Try searching just for the authors, they may have posted a similar article elsewhere.
  2. Check the references and citations – these are usually accessible. The references are articles that the document refers to, i.e. they are older than the document. The citations are articles that refer to this document, i.e. they are newer than the document. Some of these articles will usually be accessible.
  3. Email the author, many of them will send you a copy or a link to a location where it can be downloaded.

Refining your search

There are some simple steps which can help you refine the search. You can request that the search only returns images (useful for infographics) or videos. One step I frequently find useful is to apply a date criterion. For things that are very current, I might want things published in the last year, month, week or even day. The most common time filter I use is a custom date range. For example, I might specify the last five years or the last ten years.

Your tips?

Here are my suggestions. I would really appreciate your ideas and suggestions. In today’s world we all need to be improving and evolving our search strategies.

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