The Ultimate Guide to Internet Research
Whether you are a paranormal analyst, supernatural investigator, cryptozoologist, or skeptic, being able to research effectively is a very important skillset. This guide will give you some of the tricks of the trade. Use these techniques to transform yourself into a research ninja!
One of the first ways to start looking for information is with a search engine. Google is my favorite and the favorite of many researchers. Sometimes you don’t quite know what to search for or just want general information about a topic. In this case Wikipedia is a great place to start!
You may be looking for information of a specific type or from a specific source. For example you might be looking for FBI documents, or government information. Try going to the source in these cases. The FBI has the Vault, there is also the Library of Congress, and the National Archives. But what if you want released government documents relating to UFOs? In that case check out Project Blue Book. These are just a few examples. Check out our links page for more of these websites or try searching Google to see if your topic of interest has a database or archive. The information in these databases and archives often will not show up in your Google search results, so finding any appropriate databases and archives is an important step.
If you are looking for studies and academic papers try one of the academic search engines from this page. You can also use Google Scholar which I’ll talk more about in a minute.
But what if you are looking for information on a website that no longer exists? Try the Wayback machine! This is a giant archive of information including old websites.
Unlock the Power of Google
Google has its own sets of databases you can use to narrow your search for information. While a normal Google search searches these sources and more, selecting one of these specific databases will search specific sources and help you find the information you are looking for, faster and easier.
Google Scholar: Searches through academic papers for your keywords. This is great if you are looking for studies, experiments or specific information that has been validated by the academic community.
Google News: Works just like Google Scholar but instead searches news sources. This is a great tool because it allows you to search major news outlets down to news-worthy blogs all at once. Want to learn about the latest cryptid controversy or UFO sighting? Google News is the place to find it!
Google Books: Despite that this is the 21st century, a lot of great information is still locked away in books. Google Books lets you look at some of this information. They have scanned millions of books and you can quickly search through this massive catalog for free. The only caveat is since the material is copyrighted, and Google offers this service for free, you will only be able to see a few pages from the book. If you are looking for specific quotes or data this is a great tool, but don’t expect to use it to read entire books for free.
Google Images: A very powerful search tool for images and pictures across the net. We’ll discuss this in greater detail later.
Google Videos: Just like Google Images but for video. We’ll cover more later.
Google Maps: This is one of the location search tools that can be useful if you are doing location-based research. We’ll cover more options a little later.
Google Advanced Search Options
Google has a number of great advanced search options and these are available for all of their various databases too! You can use advanced search features three ways:
2. You can access the full advanced search menu by clicking on the gear icon and advanced search.
3. You can use many of the advanced search settings directly in the Google search bar by typing in the correct code. We’ll cover that next.
Using Advanced Search
All Keywords: This option lets you get into the details on how Google looks for your keywords. You can force Google to find pages with all of your keywords. This is helpful because Google will sometimes bring up results that omit some of your keywords.
Exact Phrase: You can also force Google to search for a specific phrase. Normally if you type a phrase like bigfoot is a polar bear it will search for the terms separately on the same page. But if you want to find articles with this exact phrase, in the exact order, without any other words between, I need to use the exact phrase search. Now the shortcut for this is to put quotation marks around your search terms. So instead of typing my name is earl, I can type “my name is earl” and Google will automatically search for that exact phrase.
Any of These Words: Here you can list keywords that may or may not be with the content you are looking for. Keep in mind you can use an exact phrase or all keywords with this field. Don’t be afraid to get creative! You can do this in the search bar by typing OR between keywords like bears OR bigfoot.
None of These Words: This is helpful for certain topics where you continue to get unrelated results. For example if we are searching for demons I can often get results for sports teams called the demons. We can exclude terms like sports, baseball and team to get these undesired results out of my search. You can also do this in the Google search bar by putting a minus sign in front of any words you want to exclude. So my demons search could be typed into Google as demon -team -sports -baseball.
Number Range: Google also allows you to search for a range of numbers. For instance we can look for a UFO sighting that I read about several years ago that involved 5 to 10 objects, I can’t recall the exact figure. I can use the number range to search for this case. I can also search for a range of dates if I remember around the time something happened but cannot remember the exact year. You can use this directly in the Google search bar by putting .. between the low and high values. So if I am searching for a sighting of a blue cigar-shaped UFO that occurred in the 1970’s my search would be blue cigar ufo 1970..1979.
Time: This option allows you to look for files and articles that were published between a specific time period. Be careful with this because it only looks at the published date. Take our UFO example from above. It occurred in the 1970’s, but if I use this tool to search for an article published around that time it may or may not show up. In fact someone may have written about the event recently, so the published date can be very different than the date of the event. But with that said Google still has results from older news articles so you can try number range or time if you get stuck.
File Type: I can use Google to search for Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, PDFs and many other file types. Maybe I read a file a couple weeks ago but I didn’t save it. I can type in a few keywords, select the file type, and narrow the results tremendously!
Language: Looking for articles in a specific language? Google will let you select which languages you want to search for. This can be incredibly helpful when researching paranormal cases in foreign countries. Searching the websites of the country where the sighting occurred can often yield more detailed reports.
Region: You can use this tool just like the language tool. Search for articles and data from websites in specific regions.
Last Update: If you are looking for more current information use this field to keep out older information.
Terms Appearing: This field allows you to specify where you want Google to look for your keywords. You can have it look at the whole page, a page title, the URL, the text or the links. This is especially helpful if you are trying to track down that great article you read a week ago or find an awesome link you ran across yesterday.
Reading Level: Are you looking for higher-level content? Or maybe you want articles that are easy-to-understand. Use this feature to filter results by reading level.
Site or Domain: This is a great tool for searching specific segments of the web. You can limit your search to an entire domain like .com, .gov, .org, .tv etc. Or you can use Google to search a specific website. For example you can use Google to search TheParanormalAnalyst.com about bigfoot. You can also use this in the Google search bar by using the site: command. For our last example you would type bigfoot site:theparanormalanalyst.com.
Usage Rights: This is a cool feature for our litigious society. This allows you to filter content by the usage rights. You can search for content that is free to use, share or modify even commercially. You should always double-check usage rights before trusting Google, but it can help you narrow your results.
Link: This is a command that will only work in the Google search bar. It will find pages that link to a certain page. So you can find pages that link the Who Forted website by typing link:whofortedblog.com.
Related: Finds sites similar to a certain URL. You can find sites similar to Mulder’s World by typing related:muldersworld.com.
Fill in the Blank: Use * to take the place of unknown words in a phrase. It can also be used to find various words that are used in a phrase. For instance you can search for “the price is *”
Info: Returns information about a website including links to it, cached copy, and similar websites. Use it like info:cnn.com.
Google Images Specific Fields
Colors: This is specific to Google Image searches. It allows you to select specific colors that are prominent in an image.
Type of Image: You can look for certain types of images like a face, line, photo, clip art, or animated image.
Image Size: Allows you to specify a certain image size or resolution.
Aspect Ratio: Yes you can even define a perfect aspect ratio.
Google Video Specific Fields
Duration: Look for videos between a certain duration range.
Quality: Search for videos in HD quality.
Subtitles: Look for videos with subtitles. Useful for videos in a foreign language.
Other Google Tools
Cached Pages: Sometimes websites become unavailable for several hours or days. This can be due to abnormally high traffic, a technical issue or a denial of service attack. This can really hinder your research. That’s where Google’s cached pages come in. In the search results click the down arrow next to the URL you want to go to and click cached. This way you can see the information on a page even if the website is down. You can also view a cached page directly by typing cache:URL.com. For instance you can try cache:theparanormalanalyst.com.
Alerts: Google Alerts allows you to get updates on new content as it is released. You can set this up for any keyword like ufo, ghost, demon, or bigfoot. You can set up a large list of alerts and have them sent directly to your email as they come up or in a daily digest.
Translate: Use Google Translate to translate websites and documents in a foreign language to English. This is a helpful tool if you are looking for foreign news stories.
Choosing Your Keywords
If you use generic keywords you will often get too many results. Using effective keywords is a great way to narrow your search results and get to the information you need faster.
First clearly define what you are searching for. Try to be specific. Multiple searches with specific terms are better than one general search. Instead of searching for UFOs narrow your focus. Do you want firsthand accounts of UFOs, UFO pictures, UFO videos, information about UFO accounts? List out all of the specific areas you want to search for.
Once you have a list of specific search areas brainstorm keywords. Let’s focus on UFO accounts. We want to find perspectives and commentary on UFO accounts. A good term to use might be analysis, so we can try ufo analysis. See the search here. This turns up a lot of relevant results. But if we searched for ufo information or ufo events instead we would have a lot of undesired results. Take some time to think of effective keywords and you can make your searching much easier. If you need help try using an online thesaurus.
Another helpful tip is to put yourself in the shoes of the author. What terms would the author use to discuss the information you are looking for?
People say crazy things on the internet and I have often found questionable information on websites that appear reputable. It would be great to find scholarly articles for all of our sources but for paranormal topics that just isn’t realistic.
First try to verify the information with the original author. For instance if you read about a statistic or a specific account on Wikipedia it should be cited. Check the references at the bottom of the page. Go to the original material to make sure it was used accurately. You can do this for any website that includes sources. If information is included without a source you can try contacting the websites author of webmaster. But any information without a source is highly questionable.
Websites without sources can still have very useful information, but how do you verify it?
Try taking keywords from that information and plugging it into Google. A little searching can sometimes lead you to the original source. Pay attention to dates. authors or any other hint that points to the original source for a piece of information.
Another method I use is verification through multiple sources. When I search for statistics or population sizes of certain animals, I frequently find conflicting results. I could just pick one source and use that, but this is lazy and means I am probably using bad information. Instead I seek out additional sources and compare them. If I have five somewhat reputable sources and three of them agree I will go with the consensus.
Citing Your Sources
As you do any research it is important to track your sources. If your research will ultimately go into a paper, a forum post, or blog entry, citing sources allows others to verify the facts. There are two main formats for formally citing sources which are MLA and APA. And there are a bunch of other formats too, but these are the two most popular. I’m not going to get into details on how to use these formats here because it can get complicated, but the Purdue Owl website offers an excellent guide for correct citations.
TheParanormalAnalyst.com largely uses informal citations. This usually means we provide in-text links to the original information or place links at the end of the page. This is sufficient for most informal work. But if you are writing a research paper or writing for a formal media outlet, use MLA or APA citations.
Organizing and Saving Information
Organizing and saving information may seem trivial, but large research projects can quickly become a mess if you don’t have some way to keep your research uncluttered. I like to use the word processor from Apache Open Office. It works just like Microsoft word but it is free. I’ll paste text, photos and sources directly into this office document. You can do the same thing with Google Docs which is also free. If there are videos or other files that cannot be placed in a document, create a separate folder to keep all of these extra research files in.
There are other programs too. Many of these programs allow you to quickly and easily organize information from multiple sources and in multiple formats. If you aren’t an organized person by nature check out some of these options.
As a side note if you are looking for specific information in a large document or webpage use the search tool. CTRL + F will usually bring up this small find tool in your browser. This will let you get right to the info you are looking for.
Saving text is pretty easy. Just copy and paste it into a document. To make this even faster use the keyboard shortcuts: CTRL + C is copy and CTRL + P is paste.
You may find content that is very difficult to copy like comments on Twitter or Facebook. In this case a screenshot may be the best way to capture the information. Hit the PRT SC to make a copy of your current screen. Next go into a new document or a picture editor and hit paste. The picture of your screen will be pasted there as an image file. An easier way to capture your screen is to use a utility like Screen Hunter. With a click you can select which portion of the screen you want to capture, then save the file in a variety of formats and locations. It makes screen capture much faster and simpler.
Sometimes you need to download a video from YouTube or a social media site to enhance, edit or analyze it. There are a lot of different utilities available to do this, but Freemake Video Downloader is one of the best. As a side note if you are ever looking for good utilities or programs use Download.com. It is a fantastic way to find free and paid programs.
One thing that can be annoying is when you click on a link to a file it will start downloading. Then you will have to go to your downloads folder and move it to the appropriate location. To get around this instead of left-clicking on a file right-click it and select save target as. This will allow you to save a file to a specific location so you can skip the hassle of tracking it down.
Some webpages have so much information that copying all of the text and images can be a pain. In this case you may want to save the entire webpage. To do this right-click on an empty spot in the page and select Save As. You can also go to File and Save As. This will allow you to save a copy of the web page that you can view offline. This way if the page changes, is removed, cannot be accessed, or you lose internet connection, you can still view the saved version of the webpage. Now keep in mind this will not save embedded objects like videos or scripts. So some elements may not show-up in your offline version. Double-check your saved copy to make sure it has everything in it that you need.
Text and Data
Some websites have bad navigation and information can be hidden deep within the website. Other websites with massive amounts of information can be difficult to wade through. There are a couple of tools to help you with this. Remember Google’s Site Search tool? You can limit your search to an entire domain like .com, .gov, .org, .tv etc. Or you can use Google to search a specific website. For example you can use Google to search TheParanormalAnalyst.com about bigfoot. You can also use this in the Google search bar by using the site: command. For our last example you would type bigfoot site:theparanormalanalyst.com.
Another useful tool is to look at a website’s XML Site Map. These site maps usually include pages that may be buried under multiple links and difficult to navigate to. You can view a website’s site map by typing TheDomainName.com/sitemap.xml. Not all websites have sitemaps, and some may store them in different locations, so this trick doesn’t always work.
Your local library is much more than a depository for books. Most library memberships also give you access to a wide assortment of electronic databases. These can give you access to scholarly articles and other research resources.
If you are researching sightings like UFO or Bigfoot encounters, there is a plethora of databases available. FlightRadar24 provides both real-time and historical information on flights that you can compare to suspected UFO sightings. The International Space Station Tracker can also be used to compare the location of the ISS against UFO sightings. Also SpaceWeather.com and NASA’s iSat can be used to track the location of satellites. The Bigfoot Sightings Database is the most comprehensive catalog of eyewitness sightings of a bigfoot-like creature. The Geo-Spirits Database provides a massive listing of supposedly haunted locations throughout the US. For UFO sightings check out the National UFO Reporting Center. For reports of anomalous airborne objects from pilots and aviation professionals visit the National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomena.
Earlier in this article we discussed some of the sources to search for government information, here are a couple more: USA.gov is a general search engines that covers multiple .gov sites. If you are looking for government-generated statistics FedStats.gov is a great place to start!
Sometimes text may be in an image only or you may have hard-copied text from a book or document you would like to make electronically searchable. Typing this by hand can be tedious. i2OCR is a free internet-based OCR program that will convert text in an image into searchable text. I’ve used similar programs before to convert a college text book into searchable text. That allowed me to search through hundreds of pages of information in less than a second!
Sometimes you may receive or see a strange image and want to track down the source or search for better versions. There are several resources and techniques you can use. Tineye is one great tool for this. Paste the URL of an image in Tineye and you can track down other versions of the image and see what other websites are discussing it.
I talked about Google Image Search before but it can also do reverse image searches. Go to the Google Image Search page and click on the camera button. Now paste the URL, or upload the photo you are looking for and hit enter! Google will show you other versions of the photo, which websites are using the photo and even bring up similar photos.
Now it can be very useful to determine which version of an image is original or at least closest to the original. Typically the largest version of the image will be the closest to the original, so pay attention to resolution when you search. You can also use Google to search by the published time, but this isn’t always accurate.
There are a lot of other image search engines out there, many specifically search social media for new images and may give you different results than Google Images. Here’s a list of some popular image search engines.
If you are looking for specific types of images there may be databases or websites available to help. Maybe you have seen a picture circulating around the internet of a very strange cloud formation in the sky. Many people believe it is a UFO but you want to see if it is naturally-occurring. The Caelestia Catalog of Aerial Phenomena has a huge array of cataloged phenomena in the sky. Or maybe you are looking at a night photo of what could be a bright planet but many claim it is a UFO. There is a very easy way to check. Astronomy.net allows you to upload a file and it will automatically compare it to star maps to determine where the image was taken and if all of the objects in an image match known stars, planets and other natural phenomena. You can view more great resources like this on our links page!
You can find out more information about an image by looking at its metadata. MetaPicz is a user-friendly meta-data program that allows you to add a picture and view all of the details. This allows you to see camera information, settings, modified dates, GPS location and much more! Another useful tool is Regex. It offers more information and will work on some photos that MetaPicz won’t process.
SZoter allows you to quickly and easily annotate images by adding, text, arrows and shapes. This is very useful for making quick notes or adding comments to an image you will be posting online for others to reference.
If for some reason you have a barcode or QR code you need to read, ZXing Decoder can help you read a wide variety of codes in images.
Blinkx is another search tool that may be able to dig up additional results. In fact Blinkx is used as a video search engine by Ask.com and Aol. Science Stage will let you search for videos related to scientific or academic topics.
One nice feature about YouTube is you can see more information about the author. You can see the username of who posted a video, see other videos they have posted and even send them a message. If you are trying to track the source of a video this is a good tool to use!
Like images, video has associated metadata that can yield information. Unfortunately most of the tools are not user-friendly and require installation on your computer. If you need to find more information about a video try searching for video metadata extractor to see some of the options available.
There are a number of audio databases available. For instance you have a recording of a strange animal sound and want to look for similar sounds. You can try the Macaulay Library audio database to compare your clip with thousands of audio samples. There are several more of these databases listed on our links page.
People and Organizations
Sometimes you may need to find out more information about a website including who the author is and how to contact them. One useful tool for this is a Who Is Search. Use a Who Is search on any website to discover who owns a website, where it is registered, and how to contact them. WHO Is can even provide estimated traffic.
Another easy way to find out more about a person or organization is to run a Google search based on their identifying info. For instance you can search by someone’s name, website, username, or email. This can lead you to other content that person has produced or is associated with.
There are several websites dedicated to providing information about people. Websites like Intelius.com will provide some free information but charge for additional details. This can be a great tool to track down an important eyewitness!
Social media is a great outlet to find out more information about a person or organization, but it can also provide a way to get in touch with people. Try searching Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.
Location research is an important step in investigations. There are a number of great tools that can help you learn more about a location to help you plan an investigation or understand where an eyewitness experienced something paranormal. Bing Maps and Google Maps are great tools that provide satellite imagery for analysis. Google Earth is an even more powerful tool you can download to your computer for free. It allows you to annotate maps with points, line, shapes and text. You can also sort through historical imagery to see how the area changed over the past few years.
If your team wants to conduct an investigation in a specific area but you don’t know who the property owner is try Property Shark’s property search tool. If that doesn’t work contact your local county Assessor’s office. Many of these offices have websites with online databases of property records. A quick Google search for Your County Assessor’s Office will usually get you to the correct spot.
Got another cool research tip or tool? Share it with us by commenting!