How to Find Anything Online: Become an Internet Research Expert
By learning how to research, you can quickly and fairly easily become
knowledgeable about just about anything. And with the Internet, almost
anything you could ever want to know is at your fingertips. You just
have to learn how to access it.
It’s all there, online, for free.
Here are the techniques I’ve used to find pretty much anything online.
Start with Wikipedia
Whenever you try to learn something new on the Internet, start with Wikipedia. A wealth of information is there, covering practically every subject in an easy-to-use, easy-to-understand format.
The main reason to start with Wikipedia is that it gives a good overview of most topics.Sure, any given page is bound to have some inaccuracies (as is the
case on most user-generated websites), but most of the content is
generally reliable. And when the accuracy of certain information is
questionable, it’s usually tagged as such.
First of all, read the introduction to the page. This is where you’ll
usually find a quick description of the topic, along with alternate and
Skim the content to find the parts of the article that you need to
know about most. Some articles are short and don’t have a list of
contents. Others are several thousand words long. Reading the entire
thing is usually unnecessary.
Next, check the references and related resources. The references is a
great place to get in-depth information on your topic. These links
often include scholarly journals and articles and other respected
The related sources section includes external links to in-depth
information. These websites often include professional associations and
organizations devoted to the topic as well as general websites with good
Move on to Google
When researching something, I always open a new window in Firefox.
For each link I visit in a Google search, I open a new tab so that I can
keep my original search results page open.
And if I click on additional links on pages that I have opened, I
don’t have to go back through 10 or more pages to return to my original
Text isn’t the only educational content on the web. Video, podcasts
and slideshows are out there to explain pretty much anything you can
The advantage of so much multimedia content being available is that it caters to people with different learning styles.
While many of the videos focus on broad concepts rather than the
nitty-gritty, they’re still a great resource to expand your horizon. And
the lectures are given by leaders in their fields, so the information
is generally reliable.
Check Out Free Educational Resources
A ton of colleges are now putting their course materials online, accessible for free.
You’ll also find purely web-based open education initiatives that
cover subjects you might not find at a traditional college. These free courses offer a ton of organized information on any given subject.
Some colleges offer their lectures in audio and video format. Princeton, for example, offers some of its lectures through iTunes, as does the University of Virginia, Duke, Emory, Yale and Stanford.
Look for Tutorials
Good-Tutorials offers up tech-related tutorials, covering CSS, Flash, HTML, Photoshop, PHP and more. Tutorials are categorized and searchable.
Use Tools Available to You
is a free online note-taking app that lets you create an unlimited
number of notebooks and save notes, web pages and other information in a
single place, accessible from anywhere. You can organize your notes by
adding tags to them, as you would with Google Bookmarks.
These collections can speed up your research, and they sometimes
include only reliable websites. Here are some to get you started.
If you’re looking for information on art, whether museums, individual artists or art movements, Art Cyclopedia is the place to go. It lists 9,200 artists and has 140,000 links from 2,600 different art websites.
is a database of movies and television programs, dating as far back as
BioMed Central publishes 200 open-access peer-reviewed medical and scientific journals. And you can search all 200 of them on the website.
History and Humanities
You can learn just about anything with the resources and techniques
mentioned here. As you research more topics and become accustomed to
learning in this manner, learning new things will become easier.
Pretty soon, you’ll be able to gain a working knowledge of practically any subject after just a couple of hours of research.A
The key to using Wikipedia as a source, though, is in how
you make use of the information. You have to pay attention to a number
of things on a Wikipedia page aside from the main content.
Just skip to the sections that are relevant to you.
Once you’ve built a good foundation through Wikipedia, move on to a Google search (or whatever search engine you prefer).
Having read a bit on Wikipedia, you should know the main terms and keywords associated with the subject you’re researching. Start your general search with these terms.
Some people learn well by reading. Others learn better by hearing an explanation or seeing a demonstration. And still others learn by doing (which is where step-by-step tutorials—either video, audio or text—come in handy).
If you learn best by watching demonstrations, then head on over to
YouTube, Odeo, Vimeo or any of the many other video websites and start
typing the keywords that you found on Wikipedia.
Make sure, though, whenever you deal with user-generated content to verify the information against reputable sources.
One often-overlooked resource for videos is the archive from the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conferences.
TED videos are available for free on the official website and cover (as you might expect) technology, entertainment and design.
offers its entire catalog as open courseware, with lecture notes,
resources and syllabi. Other two- and four-year colleges are following
In fact, iTunes has an entire section devoted to educational podcasts
called iTunes U. Non-educational organizations are also represented,
including the Library of Congress and Wall Street Journal.
The educational podcast market isn’t monopolized by iTunes, though. Odeo
has an education category with 466 channels and more than 67,000
episodes. Participating colleges and universities include Oxford
University, the University of Melbourne and MIT.
Depending on your topic, you may be able to find tutorials. For
pretty much any practical skill (and a whole lot of unpractical ones),
you can find an online tutorial that teaches you how to do it.
You can find tutorials through search engines (just add “tutorial” or
“instructions” to the end of your keyword search). You can also find
them on these websites:
is a general tutorial website that offers step-by-step instructions on
projects in categories such as arts, crafts, food, kids, music, outdoors
and pets. Every tutorial has photos and/or diagrams to illustrate the
offers categorized instructions and tutorials created by users. They
include both text and video tutorials on a variety of topics, including
law, health, food and drink, electronics and computers.
is a user-editable how-to manual that covers a ton of different topics.
Because of its wiki format, tutorials and instructions are constantly
The Tuts+ Network
offers tutorials on a variety of tech topics, including Photoshop, web
design, Flash and photography. Its tutorials are split into separate
blogs based on topic and are written by experts.
Tutorialized offers tech tutorials for a variety of software programs, including Photoshop, GIMP, Flash, Blender and Illustrator.
A ton of tools are out there to make online research a bit (or a lot) easier.
Some help by organizing your sources, others let you save snippets of
pages for later reference, and others do pretty much everything you
could ask for from a research app. They make tracking your research and
organizing it for later reference a much easier process.
is a Firefox add-on that acts like a research assistant. It lets you
collect links and whole pages, organize them into folders and tag them.
It even generates a “Works cited” list from them. You can jot down notes
on anything you save, which makes it much easier to remember why you
included it in the first place or to remind yourself later how you ended
up using it.
Zotero has a ton of features. It automatically captures citations; it
cites from within MS Word and OpenOffice; it accesses your library from
anywhere; it searches PDFs and notes instantly; and it lets you create
It’s also compatible with thousands of bibliographic styles, so when
it comes time to create a “Works cited” list, you don’t have to spend
hours reformatting the whole thing. The best part is that Zotero is free
and open source, so you can extend and modify it to meet your needs (or
find others who have already done the work).
is a permanent highlighting tool for Firefox. You can highlight
sections of a web page to refer to later on. It’s a great app if you
want to be able to easily refer to a specific section of a website that
you’ve bookmarked. Wired-Marker is itself also a bookmark organizer.
is a note-taking and bookmarking app that works with Firefox and
Internet Explorer 7 and 8. It saves any pages that you highlight or
bookmark, so that even if the page changes or is deleted, you still have
the original version. You can save sections of a website or the whole
thing. You can also invite others to join your projects, share
information and access information that others have shared.
is a great Firefox extension for finding websites related to the one
you’re on. There’s also a web-based version for people who don’t use
Firefox. The add-on is particularly useful if you’re on, say, Odeo and
want to see other websites that offer podcasts.
is an online note-taking app that lets you custom-save content from any
pages on the web. You can organize and share pages based on a specific
subject. The app has many customizable features, including ones that let
you annotate and color your notes. The downloadable Firefox add-on
helps you use Notefish more efficiently.
lets you highlight and share pages all over the web. You can add sticky
notes to pages for later reference and can access notes from your
computer or iPhone. Saved pages can be organized with tags or lists. You
can create groups to share resources for a project, and you can even
enforce tagging rules among group members to keep things organized. Free
and premium accounts are available (educators get a free premium
is a Safari plug-in that replaces the browser’s bookmark management
scheme with an easier-to-use bookmark and information management tool.
You can bookmark links and save links from email, Address Book cards,
and folder and file links from Finder. It puts all of your relevant
information in one place.
Information overload is a common problem when researching a new subject online. Great Summary
helps combat the problem by summarizing the content of a web page,
document or section of text for you. It identifies key topics on a page
and presents relevant information without duplicating content.
is an information management app for Mac OS X that lets you archive and
search PDF files, word-processing documents, images, web pages, mail
and more. It has a three-pane interface similar to that of most email
programs. Files are stored in a universal format, so they’re accessible
from any application. Files can be encrypted, and you can add notes,
tags, labels and meta data to them.
When you download something in Safari, no record is kept of where it
came from. This can be a problem if you need to refer to it in a “Works
cited” list or just want to know where to get similar content.
DownloadComment adds a note in the file’s Spotlight Comments field with the URL of the original file.
lets you search the content of every web page and RSS feed that you’ve
visited recently in Safari, as well as any bookmarked page. It ranks
results by relevance. It’s a great way to track down information in
resources that you’ve already discovered.
is an app for Mac OS X that lets you store documents in one place for
later reference and citation. It automatically creates a “Works cited”
list in Harvard, APA, MLA or Chicago/Turabian format. It has built-in
search and one-click referencing of web pages (in Safari or Firefox) and
email (from Apple Mail).
is a research application for Mac OS X that combines a browser, PDF
manager, word processor, bibliography manager and outliner in a single
window. Research is much simpler because you don’t have to switch back
and forth between different applications.
is an online note-taking application that lets you save just about
anything, from notes to images to web pages. And it stores everything
online, so you can access your notes from anywhere. There’s even an
is a free wiki-based online notepad. You can create personal or group
notebooks and access them either online or through the iPhone app.
Specialized online libraries exist for a ton of different subjects.
Anything from language to science to technology to history has its own
dedicated resource library somewhere on the Internet.
You can search by cast member or title. Individual listings
include all previous and upcoming roles. Movie results include cast and
production crew, plot synopsis and other production information (often
Medical and Scientific
The Internet History Sourcebooks Project
collects public domain and copy-permitted historical texts in one
place. The collection includes ancient, medieval and modern texts, as
well as ones of specific groups, regions and religions.
offers historical texts and resources from American history. It is run
through a partnership with a variety of educational and historical
organizations, including the University of Houston, the Chicago
Historical Society and the National Park Service. It has resources for
researchers and teachers, including multimedia resources.
The Perseus Digital Library
is a resource of mostly historical texts from Tufts University. The
digital collection includes material from Greek and Roman, Renaissance
and 19th-century American history.
offers public domain books and written material for free. The
collection includes fiction, non-fiction and poetry and is both
searchable and browsable. Most of the content dates to the 19th century
General and Scholarly
helps individuals find the best websites on which to conduct their
research. You can search or browse by category. It even offers free
training on using the web for research and education.
is a search engine for scholarly resources. The categories, which are
browsable, include the following: bio, agricultural and medical
sciences; business and economics; cultural diversity; e-journals;
government info; maps and GIS; physical sciences, engineering, computer
science and math; social sciences and humanities; and visual and
performing arts. It also includes general reference and advanced search
The Librarians’ Internet Index
is a searchable directory of content from all over the Internet, broken
down by category. It includes only reputable websites, making it easier
to trust the information you find.
is another collection of resources from all over the web, broken down
by category. The collections are targeted at children, teens, adults and
educators. The collection covers art and the humanities, social
science, law and government, computers and much more.
from BNET lets you search articles from a wide range of consumer and
trade magazines and newspapers. The articles are searchable and
browsable by category.
The Library of Congress
offers a ton of information, including digital collections. Its online
collection includes history, performing arts, legislative information
and international resources. It’s a particularly good source of
government information, because its THOMAS system lets you search the
full text of congressional records, bills and more.