How to Effectively Use the Internet as a Research Tool

We all use the internet for various reasons: Casual surfing, networking via social media, for information related to work, or solving a problem. The internet is loaded with billions of data right at your disposal. Simply input your search terms and within tenths of a second, the results are right before you.  The first page usually has the answer that you are looking for, but what happens when it isn’t.  If you’re like me, you might change your search terms or try a different search engine. Sometimes it can be like following Alice down the rabbit hole, each page clicked leads you deeper and deeper down the hole until you can’t remember what you were searching for in the first place.

If you do arrive at a page that has the information you were after, how do you know if the information is correct?

A while ago, I produced a podcast on Open Source Intelligence tools and how important a skill it is to executive protection professionals. I believe using the internet effectively as a research tool is just as important. The key to locating relevant references is to know how to search for the information.
Here are some tips, websites to use, and general advice to keep you out of the rabbit hole.

A Thing or Two about Search Engines


Searching the larger search engine indexes, like Google, are good for finding more obscure information, but you will get a lot more results to sift through. Also interesting to note is that some search engines only search titles of web pages and others will search the entire text of a page. Search engines come in a variety of formats: directory listings like Yellow and White pages; Video and image search directories like YouTube and Flickr; and social media search engines like Twitter and Facebook.
Not all data is available to search engines. Content can be hidden behind firewalls for example.  Public content can also be hidden by telling the search not to search a specific folder using a robot.txt file in the root of a website.

How to Search Efficiently

In general when using the big three search engines (Google, Yahoo, and Bing) you’ll want to use the following commands:

  • Use quotes for a specific search phrase Ex: “ I love searching”. This will narrow your search results considerably.
  • Use the plus sign ( + ) as AND – Ex: taxes + fiscal cliff
  • Use the minus sign ( – ) as NOT or Exclude – Ex: taxes + Washington -DC
  • Use the asterisk ( * ) as a Wildcard: Ex: Snow* will look for snowstorm, snowflake, etc.

Complex search examples for searching the big 3 (Google, Bing and Yahoo)
LinkedIn search:

  • Search profiles  – inurl:pub ( “Fidelity Investments”)
  • Search updates – inurl:updates (bofa | “Bank of America”)
  • Search companies – inurl:companies ( “Novartis”)

Facebook Search:

  • Search groups: Ex. inurl:groups (“militia”)
  • Search pages: Ex. inurl:pages (“bank of america sucks”)
  • Search Profiles: Ex.  allinurl:people “Jane Doe”

In the above complex searches, simply replace your search terms in the quotes, and replace the “site” with a site you are interested in searching.

There are advanced search tools that I’ve listed at the end of this article.

Assessing Internet Sources

So with all your searching, you find a page, post, website that has the exact information you are looking for, but how do you know if it is accurate?

Here are some tips when evaluating an internet source

  • The first thing and probably the most obvious is who is the authority is. Is the source from CNN or Joe Smith’s blog or Articles R Us?
  • The next thing I look for is the date of the publication; if it is not visible, look for when the website’s last modified date. Finding the last modified date might be a little tricky. The last resort is to try using the advanced searches at the bottom of this post.
  • Next, I look for who is the author of the source. Does it come from a reputable person? If no information is available on the reputation of the author, I conduct a separate search just for the author.  
  • Is the author qualified to write about this topic?
  • Does the author cite facts in the source?
  • Next, I look for contact information. Is there a telephone number or address for the publisher, authority, or author?
  • Last but not least, I check for an overt amount of grammar and spelling mistakes in articles. I read through the source and make sure it is cohesive and makes sense. I come across articles where the content is “spun” to juice up the website’s SEO resulting in pieced together ramblings.

Advanced and other Useful Search Engines


Other useful search engines listed on this page:

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