March 27, 2014

How Do You Search for Information on a Topic?

Search! / Jeffrey Beall / CC BY-ND 2.0

Searching for information on the web seems so easy nowadays. The abundance of sites available provides all we need or want to know. Or so it seems.

But are we finding the best sites? And are we being efficient with our time?

I used to use a search engine to search for key terms in the topic that I was researching. Period. That worked well then, but today I would use miss much good information if I limited myself to that technique.

Today when I research a topic I use these resources… in this order:
  1. my bookmarking site for my bookmarks and those of others
  2. curated information published by others interested in the same topic
  3. blogs by folks I follow who often write about my topic
  4. Twitter comments
  5. the web as accessed by search engine(s)


As ideas flow through my daily work process I bookmark those that I think will prove helpful for upcoming courses or workshops or that relate to areas of personal interest. Those bookmarks often get me off to a running start. While at my bookmarking site I also check the bookmarks of the folks I follow on that site. I follow only a few folks there… individuals that I’ve seen post frequently in areas in which I’m interested. And I check the bookmarks of the whole community at that site. If someone else thinks a website has relevant information about the topic I’m researching then it’s worth investigating. Why should I re-invent the wheel?

In the past year my knowledge about and respect for curated information has grown. I have found curation tools that help me curate and that point me toward curated materials published by others on topics that interest me. Using these tools I review information that others have found… and I also do a search with curation tools for current information to add.

I follow some excellent bloggers. They amaze me with their knowledge and their creativity. And they are a rich source of information. I would be foolish not to use what they have shared.

Twitter is a rich source of information on many topics. A variety of tools and techniques helps me search Twitter for leads to useful sources for my topic.

These methods help me to be efficient in my use of time as I prepare to teach or write about a topic. Standing on the shoulders of giants… or just everyday folks with the same passions for learning and sharing that I have… helps me learn more quickly and provides a perspective that working alone I might miss. So, at this point I am ready to use a search engine on the web to complement the work I’ve already done.

A Little More Detail About…


I use some bookmarks everyday… and others to support my research in various areas for teaching, writing, and speaking. I want the everyday bookmarks in sight and the research bookmarks easily accessible.

My solution? I use a launch page for the everyday stuff. I set each of the browsers I use at home and at work to use that page as its home page. And the computers I use that are located in labs or at a friend’s home? In those locations I can easily access my launch page,, on the web.

For research bookmarks I use Delicious. I can tag and—if I choose—annotate my bookmarks. I can search bookmarks others have posted. And I can follow other folks who post interesting and useful bookmarks. Most of my 6,000+ links are public, but a few are private. I follow a small number of users and a few follow me.

I think these are some of the best sites for organizing launch page bookmarks…
If you are not yet using a bookmarking site, you might want to investigate some of the many available ones. The following list includes the sites I’ve seen recommended the most and that I have investigated. Of these I have used Delicious, Diigo, Evernote, LiveBinders, Pinterest, Pocket, StumbleUpon, and Symbaloo either for bookmarking or other purposes.

Junction C / Kivi Leroux Miller / CC BY-NC 2.0

During the past year I have begun using more curation tools. Initially I used them as a place to store information I found and wanted to keep so I could use it later. Actually my bookmarks on Delicious allowed me to do that. But my bookmarks are just the first step in curating, namely gathering. By using a curation tool to select, annotate, order, and create a coordinated unit I made my collection more useful… to myself and to others. At that point I decided that these curation tools could be used effectively as sites that I share with my students when teaching. Rather than post my content within a course or workshop site I could make its storage more generic by storing it with a curation tool. That also eliminates some of the restrictions (e.g., frames) of content management systems. I have experimented with several curation tools and found that some were more useful for me than others. During this experimentation phase I became more confident in the ability of these tools to also find valuable information to curate. Using some of these curation tools is like having a personal assistant!

Some of my favorite curation tools are:

Blogs and Bloggers 

Blog Icon / photologue_np / CC BY 2.0
I follow some outstanding blogs and bloggers. Some I have followed for years; others are recent additions. I’m hesitant to list the “very best” because I’m bound to accidentally miss listing someone that I should have included. So, let’s just say that the following list—in alphabetical order--includes some of the blogs that I follow and access when I’m researching. Since these folks frequently write on topics of interest to me, it’s worth creating a Google custom search. (I also include an old blog of mine on this list in addition to my current blog so that my searches include what I have written about topics I am researching.)

Google Custom Search information is available at and

I created a Google Custom Search Engine for these blogs and posted it on a private blog. (That private blog is also my playground when I’m trying new ideas.) I think it would be rude for me to create a search engine for another educator’s blog and post it for the world to see.

Twitter Profile / Rosaura Ochoa / CC BY 2.0
I use several techniques for finding information on Twitter.
  • TweetDeck makes it easy to manage my Twitter timeline. Multiple Twitter searches (for keywords or hashtags) can occur simultaneously, each occupying its own column.
  • Storify pulls media from multiple social networks, including Twitter. I use Storify to help find current relevant information about topics that I am researching.
  • And favoriting tweets is sort of like bookmarking. Well, at least the favorites can all be viewed as a subset of the Twitter firehose!

Search Engines
Search Engine Strategies / Ken Yeung / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I usually use Google as my search engine. Sometimes, however, I use an alternative search engine.
  • Duck Duck Go does not track me, the interface is less cluttered, and the ads appear to be less spammy.
  • Bing provides an interesting collection of results and a less cluttered interface.
  • I have not yet used Yippy (formerly Clusty) in any serious research. I am interested in seeing the results from using this Deep Web search engine.
But… no matter which search engine(s) I use this final step finishes my research on topics.

Interested in Learning More?

Articles about Search Engines

Introduction to Search Engines...
Search Engines for Academic Research...
Search Engines for Students...
Search Engines for Researchers...

 Articles about Bookmarking

Articles about Curation

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