This week we're discussion online research. Yesterday, we talked about researching people; today, let's talk about topical research.
To begin a topical study, the first thing you want to do is find out what others have written on the general topic. This is done online by entering your topic into a couple the various search engines (Google, Bing, etc.) Check Wikipedia to find out what the "common wisdom" is on your topic. As you read and skim, begin to accumulate a list of "keywords," relating to your topic, then run the same searches on those keywords. Be sure to search the "news," and "blogs," section of your search engine, especially if your topic relates to current events.
As you enter your keywords into the search engines, the engines will suggest related and similar search terms that others have entered. These may give you ideas for additional keywords, and search terms.
Usually, your goal is to narrow your topic down to a subject that you can cover well within the space requirements you're working with, and to choose a specific topic about which you'll be able to find information online, but about which you'll be able to give a unique angle, or "take." So, keep in mind that if you enter your topic, and there are 500M search engine results pages (SERPs), it's likely that topic has been covered ad naseum. Get more specific.
You will want to link to reputable sources when you write on your topic. As you research, make a note of which websites and blogs keep appearing near the top of the SERPs - these are likely the recognized experts in their field (unless, of course, they have either bought their space on the search engines, or in some other way artificially elevated themselves to their "peer reviewed" status - use your common sense).
Along with expert references, you may want to begin collecting illustrations, graphics, photos, and multi-media, if available to include with your presentation. For more information, see Where can I find good content for my blog?
Also see: The National Archives: Research Tools and Ways to Search Online
Jennifer Pointer (e-mail) is a trainer and tech writer in Tulsa, OK. She promotes a simple, a low-tech approach to effective online profile management, search engine optimization and social networking. Her weakness is the mocha frappuccino.