Boldly Brilliant: How to get good at research

Welcome to my Boldly Brilliant series of blog posts, where I talk about all things smart and slightly nerdy. Caffeinated Californian is all about embracing both beauty and brains, so I created Boldly Brilliant to celebrate the brains. Knowledge is power, babes, so have a seat and get powerful AF. 

Research!! So fun, right? Maybe I’m the only one who thinks that right now, but by the end of this blog post I’ll hopefully change your mind. 

The ability to do good research is an increasingly important skill, now more than ever because we live in an age of misinformation and false reports. It’s up to us to dig through a lot of questionable knowledge before we can get to the real facts, and that’s where knowing how to find reputable, accurate information comes in. Whether you’re doing research for a school paper, or for your job in marketing, or just for yourself (I do research all the time to find beauty products, for starters),

Note: This is all for secondary research, which is research that comes from other sources! If you’re doing primary research, that is a whole other ball game– think interviews, focus groups, experiments, original studies. We can get into that some other time.

Okay, here we go…

How to get good at research

1. Research is not scary!

Get over it. You can do it and you will feel like a genius when you do.

2. Get Googly and start with a basic search.

It is truly shocking how much you can find right off the bat just by doing a plain old search. That is all I’ll say on that.

3. Suss out whether a source is credible.

Once you’ve started Google searching, you have to know how to tell whether the articles you’re finding are reputable. The Information Age is dead. Now we’re in a time of Misinformation, and it’s on you to be smart enough to investigate and fact-check.

Things to look out for:

  • Pay attention to the URL: Is the ending .com or is it .com.co? According to NPR, if it’s .com.co, it’s probably sketch.
  • Read the “About Us” page
  • Look for spelling and grammar errors: I know we’re not all grammar geeks, but it’s easy to tell whether an article is polished or not.
  • Check the quotes and who said them: Credible news organizations use quotes and sources in their stories, often from a named expert. Google the quotes to see where else they pop up. If the story lacks good sources or uses anonymous sources, that’s no bueno.
  • Look at the headline: Is the headline exaggerated or misleading? Clickbait-y? WRITTEN IN STUPID ALL CAPS?
  • Do a reverse Google image search: Right-click on the image to Google search it. See if the image pops up anywhere else. (This is also a pro tip for checking whether apartment listings are legit).

4. Do a Boolean search to dig up the real dirt.

Don’t get scared off by the word “Boolean.” This is how the pros do it. Boolean searches use specific commands like “AND” and “OR” that will help you refine your Google searches. Here are the basics:

Using the word AND: 

This helps make sure that every single term you want will come up in your search. For instance, if I am looking for the perfect face moisturizer that also has SPF in it, I would search something like this:

moisturizer AND SPF

If I want to find results for moisturizers that have SPF and also are for people with acne-prone skin, I might search:

moisturizer AND SPF AND acne

Using the word OR:

This will make Google look for results that can contain either word, but won’t contain both. Let’s say I don’t care whether my moisturizer is from Clinique or from Covergirl. I’ll do search like this:

moisturizer

To search for exact phrases:

Use quotation marks. So if I want to find an exact moisturizer:

“Clinique moisturizer”

5. Go for gold by mining the right resources.

Once you’ve done some preliminary Google searching, you’re probably already feeling pretty good about yourself. But hold the phone, because you have just gotten started. You’ll need expert knowledge, scientific data, trend predictions, and analysis to really give you strong research. And where do you find these nuggets of gold? By mining the perfect resources.

Here’s a list to get you started:

News sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Harvard Business Review, Newsweek, BBC, Bloomberg

Blogs: Trendspotting.com, Trendwatching.com, or any blogs that a reputable company in your industry publishes (for example, I’m in PR, so I look to PR agencies like Ketchum for good blog posts that share industry knowledge).

Google: Google is a fabulous resource for free research tools. Here are my favorites:

  • Google Trends
  • Google Scholar
  • Think With Google

Databases: Factiva, PEW Research Center, Mintel, Gallup, Nielsen, Deloitte, Accenture, U.S. Census data, Experian

You can also mine bibliographies from these sources– for example, you can totally use Wikipedia as a starting point, but then look up the sources that Wikipedia cites to find the good stuff.

5. Plug that brain in and do some critical thinking on what you’ve found.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What common themes have you noticed?
  • Were there any surprising trends?
  • Does the data from databases and scientific reports reveal anything that the media and news reports might be missing?
  • What connections have you noticed between different data points?
  • If you had to list the three top takeaways from all of your research, what would they be?

6. Summarize what you’ve found by telling a story.

It’s not enough just to list facts without interpreting them. Remember that it’s your job to make sense of the information you’ve found by putting it all together into a narrative. If you’re doing a research paper for a school assignment, this will probably end up being your thesis statement/main argument. If you’re compiling a report for your job, create a story that will make sense to the team that you present it to.

7. Cite your sources.

The only non-fun part of research, but definitely the most important part. Even if you’re not turning something in, you should always keep track of where you find information. Rule of thumb: If it didn’t come from your own brain, CITE IT. I worked as a writing tutor at my college for four years, and it genuinely blew my mind how many people did not cite their sources. Give people credit where credit is due, y’all!

There are different styles for citing stuff, depending on what you’re doing. APA and MLA tend to be the most common, APA being the one that people often use for research projects. The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) is the ultimate online resource for answering all of your citation and style questions.

Ta-da!! You’ve done legit research like the badass genius you are.


 

Feel smarter yet? I hope this guide has helped you conduct effective research, no matter what you’re trying to discover. Happy hunting!

Boldly Brilliant,

CC