Before you start your search…

Pre-research – Check the company name spelling, and think about potential search terms.

What sources should you check? – What source is most likely going to make the information you need publically available (or available for a cost)? Make a list of potential sources and work your way through it.

Does someone you know already have this information?– Ask around and don’t forget to check the resources you already have. Does your company have a librarian? Has someone else already researched this? Sometimes the fastest path to an answer is to a) know what resources are available to you through your school/work/public library and b) ask around.

Set a timeline – How long SHOULD this take you? At what point should you stop and say “something about the results I’m getting feel off…I may not be using the right search terms.” Or, “I don’t think the answer I’m looking for exists…maybe I should call an expert to find out why.” Or, “I wasn’t given enough information. I need to go back to the requestor and ask a few more questions before I go any further.”

Quality Control! – You found a great statistic in a blog post/article/infographic but you aren’t done until you have found the original source and reviewed it for yourself. There are fictitious statistics with no locatable source that get passed around from site to site, and/or stats that get mislabeled. And be sure to keep a look out for articles written in the past year, but that reference “results from a recent survey show that…” – often that “recent” survey is 10+ years old.

Tools for efficiency – You may not know what question or research need is coming your way next, but you can get a head start by signing up for newsletters, using an RSS feeder to scan headlines daily, save emails, or bookmark web pages that may come in handy in the future. Even if you’re not fulling digesting this information – when the next research request comes in, ideally you’ll say, “I just saw something about that…” and will know how to quickly navigate back to it.

Pick up the phone – Many associations and libraries have knowledgeable research departments who are eager to help. Think of them as an industry consultant… “I’m looking for xyz but am having trouble finding it. Do you know if anyone publishes that data? If not, do you know why it isn’t available? Do you have any suggestions for what I could look at that would help me to understand zyx?”
*Don’t forget about company or client confidentiality! If you have confidentiality concerns, be thoughtful about what questions you ask or how much information you provide (it might be safer to ask broader questions, or don’t name the company you’re interested in directly).

Collaborate – Everyone has a different approach to searching for information. You can learn a lot by brainstorming with someone else.

Relax – being frustrated will affect your ability to think creatively.

What did I miss? Share your own research tips and tools!

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