Point. Click. Learn.

While doing research, knowing where to look for answers is the key, author says

August 13, 2012

In the Information Age, finding answers is easy. It’s finding the right answer that’s hard. After 25 years as a law librarian, Don MacLeod has learned a thing or two about doing accurate research. He gathered and condensed his tips into the book “How to Find Out Anything” ($20, Prentice Hall Press). In it, MacLeod explains how to discover whatever you want to know.

How has the Internet changed people’s desire for information?

It has just made it explode. You see people going online and looking up information who would have never stepped foot in a physical library in years past but who think nothing of sitting in front of their computer and Googling and reading newspapers and consuming blogs and Twitter feeds and all these different pipelines for information. So the Internet has drastically changed it.

Are there certain careers or fields for which people need stronger research skills?

It doesn’t hurt to be able to find answers to questions that will come up in the course of really anybody’s business. The process of research is the same, whether you’re finding who the guitar player for some long-lost band was or looking for scientific research on an obscure piece of biology for the National Library of Medicine.

Can research skills help job-seekers?

With good research skills, you can find companies in the field you want to work in and you’ll be able to network by knowing the names of people or experts in the area. It gives you a way to connect with people who have similar interests who can help you do your job search.

You say start your research by asking a good question. How do you do that?

There are really two types of questions: an open-ended question and a factual question. If you move away from questions that really call for an opinion rather than a factual answer, you’re well on the way to formulating those questions that can be answered.

Is it best to start your research online?

I think it would be hard to dissuade people from beginning their research without looking at Google or Wikipedia. Those are good places to start and terrible places to end research. They can give you a quick overview, but they don’t have the substantive information you might find in a book.

How can you tell if information is legit?

Any information point is erroneous until proven otherwise. You want to make sure, if you’re dealing with a fact that’s coming from a source, it’s verifiable. If it’s an opinion, [make sure] you’re dealing with an opinion that’s coming from somebody that’s qualified to opine on the subject.

What’s a common research mistake?

Most people don’t use the power of Google as they ought to. Google has a lot of tools, like the ability to get rid of ambiguous words. If you’re looking for legal briefs online, if you search the word “briefs,” you’re going to get ads for men’s underwear. The secret is just putting a minus sign before the word you want to exclude from your results [like the word “underwear,” in this case].

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