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Online research: Definition, Methods, Types and Execution

Online research is a method that involves the collection of information from the internet. The rise of online surveys is here. Learn more.

Online survey research is much more impactful than traditional research, considering the ease of access and cost savings they come with. The response rates received for online research are much higher than the others as the respondents are assured that their identity will be protected.

There’s constant progress in the field of online survey research with the progress that’s happening on the internet and social media. Social media has been a catalyst in the entire process of online research regarding access to databases and the experiments that can be conducted on this platform.

What is Online Research?

Online research is a research method that involves the collection of information from the internet. With the advent of the internet, the traditional pen-and-paper research techniques have taken a backseat and made room for online research design .

Online surveys , online polls , questionnaires , forms , and focus groups are various tools of online research that are vital in gathering essential information for market research . The internet has created impressive avenues for small and large businesses to conduct market research with zero to a minimum investment. Online research can be carried out for product testing, targeting an audience, database mining, customer satisfaction et al.

LEARN ABOUT:  Market research industry

5 Online Research Methods and Techniques:

Researchers and statisticians collect data from respondents using various online research techniques. They are often called internet research or web-based research methods. Many of these research methods are already being used in one way or another but are being revived for online mediums. The latest in this line of online research methods in social media research, as it offers extended levels of complexities and, thus, new avenues for research.

Researchers extensively use 5 such online research methods due to the precise nature of the offered results.

  • Online focus group: A subset of the online research techniques, online focus groups are methods usually used for B2B research, consumer research and political research. A moderator is assigned to conduct and supervise the focus group who invites pre-selected and qualified participants who represent a specific area of interest to be a part of this focus group at a particular time. The respondents are usually incentivized to be a part of the discussion, which usually is an hour and 90 minutes.

LEARN ABOUT: B2B Online Panels

  • Online interview: This online research method is quite similar to the face-to-face interview methods yet different in terms of the required standard practices, understanding with respondents, and sampling. Online interviews are organized using various computer-mediated communication (CMC), essentially SMS or Email. Based on  the response time for these interviews, they’re classified into synchronous and asynchronous methods.Synchronous online interviews are carried out via mediums such as online chat, where the responses are received in real-time. Asynchronous online interviews are those that happen over Email, where the responses are usually not in real-time. Just like face-to-face interviews, online interviews probe into respondents’ thoughts and feedback about a particular topic to get insights into their experiences, ideas, or attitudes.
  • Online qualitative research: Other than the mainstream online focus groups and online interviews, there are various aspects of online qualitative research . These aspects include blogs, mobile diaries , and communities . These methods contribute toward cost and time savings and are supremely convenient for the researchers to gather information for their research topics. The level of sophistication that online qualitative research methods bring to the table is superior to any other traditional forms as the respondents can be either recruited from existing databases, or panels or can be added by conducting surveys . LEARN MORE: Qualitative Research Questions and Questionnaires
  • Online text analysis: This analysis technique is an extension of text analysis which exists since the 17th century which is a collection of various online research examples used to derive insights from content available online. By using this online research technique, researchers can explain penned, verbal or graphic communication formats. Categories such as web pages, paragraphs, sentences, quasi-sentences, documents, etc. It is most often used for quantitative research but for better interpretation of the text, researchers also use qualitative techniques.

LEARN ABOUT: Qualitative Interview

  • Social network analysis: Social network analysis is an emerging online research technique which is gaining acceptance due to the increased adoption of social networking platforms. By conducting social network analysis, a researcher can map and measure flows and relationships between people, organizations, URLs, groups or computers using graph theory. For instance, the latest meme culture has developed new social structures in which the people associated are termed as “nodes” and memes are the “links” between these nodes.

LEARN ABOUT: Best Data Collection Tools

Types of online research:

Types of online research

  • Customer satisfaction research: Earlier, this type of research used to be conducted over phone calls but nowadays, the customers are accustomed to getting mail asking them to give their feedback on their recent experience with an organization. For instance, if you own a newly opened restaurant, you’d want to know customer satisfaction . You can either have a survey ready for them to fill out after their meal, send it out after taking their email address or use the offline app to conduct the survey.
  • New product research: The launch of a new product can be unnerving. Understanding whether a new product will succeed with the target audience is much needed. New product research can be carried out by testing the product with a group of selected guinea pigs and collecting feedback almost immediately. It can be highly effective when conducting research for a new mall outlet (read: Walmart!), launching a car variant, or introducing adding new credit card options.
  • Understand brand loyalty: Many small and big businesses survive merely on brand loyalty . It’s undoubtedly a big deal but to every organization needs to work on it to either maintain or improve it. Conduct online research to know what attracts a customer to a particular brand or the points that are currently keeping them from being loyal to your brand.
  • Employee engagement and employee satisfaction research: Understanding what employees think about working with your organization is the key to success. The mood and morale of the employees must be tracked regularly so that they effectively contribute to the growth of the company. Surveys should be sent to improve employee engagement and also to strive to maintain employee satisfaction . 

Things to keep in mind for online survey research

Online survey research is one of the most impactful ways to carry out web-based research that yield effective results. Here are a few points that all organizations should take care of while designing an online survey for research:

Give open-ended questions a miss:

A respondent needs to think before submitting open-ended questions, so the time taken for completion can increase. This can annoy them to a point where they’d simply quit the survey. Yes-No questions, multiple choice questions, or ranking questions will be much easier for respondents to fill out and as effective as open-ended questions .

Show urgency but also be tolerant:

In case you want a response for something important, sending more than one invitation for respondents to fill out is alright. But, a prerequisite for this is that your database should be very well aware of this, and they should have no objection to it. Most importantly, be patient with the results once you’ve conducted an online survey. Appoint someone from the team who will take care of the entire process of conducting this survey.

Detailed surveys produce better results:

Survey takers can sit through a survey that would take them a maximum of 25 minutes. They would usually quit to never return, even for the surveys that you might send out in the future. The inclusion of drop-down questions or multiple choice questions (with accurate options) will help reduce the survey size and, in turn, the time invested by the survey takers.

Online Research Advantages:

  • Access to data across the globe: The Internet is an elaborate platform for researchers to invest their time in retrieving crucial information that would otherwise consume a lot of their time. It is straightforward for them to conduct research skills even if they’re lazing on their couch and have deadlines.   
  • Minimum investment of time and resources: Online mediums have become the numero uno resort for individuals to look up information to broaden their horizons of knowledge. There’s information being updated daily, and researchers latch onto this information for their benefit. It has eased the process of publishing and collecting information and thus saves time and money.  
  • Central pool of facts and figures: Researchers and statisticians keep searching for updated information on various important topics. Students explore the internet for academic purposes, which is the most significant edge the internet offers.
  • Capable tools for collecting information: Surveys, questionnaires, and polls are being conducted via online mediums like emails or QR codes, or embedded websites to gather or spread vital information.

Know more about the various online research methods.

LEARN ABOUT: 12 Best Tools for Researchers

QuestionPro’s robust suite of research tools provides you with all you need to derive research results. Our online survey platform includes custom point-and-click logic and advanced question types.

LEARN ABOUT: Market research vs marketing research

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how does web research help you with activities online

Conduct High Quality Online Research: Process, Types, Tools, Tips & More

If there’s one constant in modern life it’s this: research. No matter the topic, it’s imperative that most of us conduct thorough research for a variety of purposes online.

We research products and options when we want to buy something. We research markets and competitors when we want to sell something. We research topics and exes when we want to know or learn something.

We do research on the internet for so many different reasons, it can be hard to think about “online research” as one task—but if you add it all up, many of us spend a lot of time doing research on the internet. So there’s some serious value in understanding how to do that research more thoroughly, accurately, and quickly.

In this article we will cover:

  • PROCESS:  The online research process
  • METHODS:  Research methods and strategies
  • TYPES:  Some of the most common types of research you can do online
  • TIPS:  7 tips for better online research
  • TOOLS:  Research tools and companies to improve and expedite the research process
  • RESOURCES:  35 great internet research resources
  • DELEGATING:  How you can delegate your research to a virtual assistant (VA)

The Online Research Process in 6 Steps

Broadly speaking, the typical online research project goes through 6 key steps. While you probably don’t tick off all these steps every time you research something online, following them can help ensure your research is complete, accurate, and useful.

Let’s talk about what those steps are and why each one is worthwhile for just about any online research you do.

how does web research help you with activities online

1. Choose and define your topic of interest

This first step is where you’ll get specific about just what it is you’re looking for. What’s your end-goal? Why are you conducting this research? What are you hoping to learn or achieve?

For market research, this might be developing a full understanding of the competitors in the space and their positioning. For product research, you might be trying to arrive at the best option for you to buy.

The key is to make a comprehensive list of the research questions you want to answer and the individual items that interest you. This list will help inform where and how you do your research and ensure you don’t wind up with a bunch of information that doesn’t help or interest you.

2. Determine which fields of study you’ll need to look into

This step will help you define and narrow down the type of journals, databases, websites, etc. that you’ll look to for information.

For example, if you’re doing product research and you want to know how valuable existing customers find a given product, you may turn to prominent third-party review websites. If you’re doing medical research, you may look into the relevant medical journals for your topic.

3. See what research has been done and conclusions have been drawn

Step 3 is likely the part of the process you most often associate with “research.” Now’s the time to dig into your research sources, read up on the topic, and look to see how other people have answered the questions you laid out for your research.

The important part of this step is to stay organized and on-task. It’s easy to get lost in all the information, so it’s best to have a clear process and to keep your sources and learnings organized.

4. Evaluate your sources and information

In today’s digital world, this step is even more important than the rest. No matter the topic of your research, you need to take the time to understand and evaluate your sources . Who’s writing about the topic? Why are they interested or invested in it? Do they have anything to gain from what they’re saying?

This step is when you can identify any biases you or your sources have. Think of these biases as gaps in your research—and fill them in with opposing viewpoints and additional information. ‍

5. Determine additional research data collection methods needed and conduct

Whether as a result of biases or something else, it’s not uncommon to find gaps in the research that’s already been done. When that happens, you may consider conducting your own primary research to help fill in those holes in your information.

For example, if you’re missing qualitative market research, you may choose to conduct an online focus group of consumers in that market. For medical research, filling in the gaps might mean conducting an extensive clinical trial. For research into your own customers, on the other hand, it might be as simple as sending out a brief online survey asking for feedback. You can also use online survey platforms to reach a broader base.

6. Organize your full body of research and draw conclusions

Once steps 1 through 5 are finished, you’re ready to start digging into your body of research and drawing your conclusions. This is where you’ll make a final decision on which product to buy or identify where in the market to position your own business, for example.

Online Research Methods & Strategies

When you think about “online research,” what sort of research method do you imagine? Many of us likely think about Googling and reading articles—and that is one method for doing research online. But it isn’t the only one—far from it.

Below are some of the other common online resources for research methods and strategies you can draw on during your research.

Content analysis and social media or social network analysis

Content analysis is the typical web search and read method of conducting research. In this case, you’re consuming secondary research that’s already been conducted and learning from that.

Focus groups

A focus group is when you bring together a group of people to take part in a guided discussion—often this discussion is about their experience with a particular product, brand, political campaign, ad, or TV series/movie. You might picture these happening in-person, but they can also be conducted online using video chat or conferencing software.

Interviews are similar to focus groups—you’re asking real people for very specific information. The difference is that interviews are more often done one-on-one versus in a group. Interviews can also follow a less conversational and more transactional question-answer approach.

Questionnaires and surveys

Questionnaires and surveys share the question-and-answer approach of an interview, but they aren’t typically done live or in real-time. Surveys can be emailed or mailed out to respondents or shared on social media. The respondent completes the questionnaire on their own time and returns it to the researcher when finished.

Web-based experiments

Web-based experiments follow a more regimented and traditional set of processes designed to yield scientifically significant results. There are three main types of experiments:

  • Controlled experiments
  • Natural experiments
  • Field experiments

While the topic varies, many of these experiments can be adapted to take place online.

Clinical trials

Clinical trials are a type of experiment most often done in medical and psychological research. In a clinical trial, the experiment is designed to answer a very specific set of questions. The classic example of a clinical trial is a drug or pharmaceutical trial—designed to answer whether a particular drug affects a given disease or injury.

Online ethnography 

In an ethnographic study, the researcher essentially lives among their research subjects and observes their behavior, social structures, and more. Ethnography is most commonly used in behavioral research like sociological and anthropological studies. Online ethnography simply refers to the method by which the researcher interacts with subjects—online.

Woman Performing Research on the Internet

Common Types of Online Research

Online research comes in all shapes and forms, but talking about “research” in the abstract can feel a little nebulous. To help you wrap your head around the kinds of online research we’re referring to for our purposes, here are some of the most common types of online research.

Basic Research

Basic research refers to broad studies and experiments done, not to answer a specific question or prove a hypothesis, but to create a foundation for additional studies or experiments.

For example, a study of how caffeine affects the brain would be considered basic research. Its results would increase general knowledge on the topic and likely inspire more specific experimentation.

Here’s another example of what basic research looks like—and how it can often blend into applied research:

  • EXAMPLE: via Verywell Mind
  • RESEARCH: To start, “researchers might conduct basic research on how stress levels impact students academically, emotionally, and socially.” That might involve content analysis of existing research on the topic, empirical research around students’ moods and performance, and interviews or surveys completed by the students themselves.
  • FINDINGS: At the end of the basic research process, researchers have a better understanding of how stress impacts students—but they don’t know why stress has those effects or how to change or solve the effect.
  • CONCLUSIONS: Because of that, “the results of these theoretical explorations might lead to further studies designed to solve specific problems. Researchers might initially observe that students with high stress levels are more prone to dropping out of college before graduating. As a result, scientists might then design research to determine what interventions might best lower these stress levels. Such studies would be examples of applied research.”

Quantitative Research

Quantitative research involves studying something using statistical or mathematical techniques and it’s used to understand how often a particular phenomenon occurs. The “quantitative” part of this type of research refers simply to numbers.

Here’s a common example of what quantitative research looks like in action:

  • EXAMPLE: via QuestionPro
  • RESEARCH: “If any organization would like to conduct a customer satisfaction (CSAT) survey, a customer satisfaction survey template can be used. Data can be collected by asking a net promoter score (NPS) question, matrix table questions, etc.”
  • FINDINGS: The survey method above provides “data in the form of numbers that can be analyzed and worked upon.”
  • CONCLUSIONS: “Through this survey, an organization can collect quantitative data and metrics on the goodwill of the brand or organization in the mind of the customer based on multiple parameters such as product quality, pricing, customer experience, etc.”

Qualitative Research

Qualitative research , on the flipside, focuses more on observations and non-numerical qualities. It’s used to answer questions about how and why phenomena occur, versus how often.

Here’s an example of what a typical qualitative research study looks like:

  • RESEARCH: “A bookstore owner who is looking for ways to improve their sales and customer outreach. An online community of members who were loyal patrons of the bookstore were interviewed and related questions were asked and the questions were answered by them.” 
  • FINDINGS: “At the end of the interview, it was realized that most of the books in the stores were suitable for adults and there were not enough options for children or teenagers.”
  • CONCLUSIONS: “By conducting this qualitative research the bookstore owner realized the shortcomings and the feelings of readers. Through this research now the bookstore owner can keep books for different age categories and can improve his sales and customer outreach.”

Market Research and Competitive Research

Market research and competitive research refer to gathering information about a particular industry and the companies currently doing business in it. It often involves mapping out the positioning of competing companies or products and is usually done by the companies in the market (or those hoping to be).

Here’s what a typical market research study looks like:

  • EXAMPLE: A software company is looking to launch a new product into an unfamiliar market.
  • RESEARCH: They conduct research to figure out the features their product will need, what price will be competitive, and where in the market there’s an opportunity to serve an underserved segment of consumers. Research includes basic informational research about competitors, their products, and pricing, content analysis of industry publications, and focus groups with potential customers.
  • FINDINGS: The company finds that a small but dedicated segment of consumers in the market have a particular need that isn’t being met by any of the current competitors in the space.
  • CONCLUSIONS: They design their product to solve that specific issue and create marketing and advertising campaigns targeted toward only that small niche market.

Customer Research

Customer research is when a business seeks to learn more about their customers (or their competitors’ customers). Often, customer and consumer research are included in the overall market research process we mentioned above.

Here’s what a typical customer research study looks like:

  • EXAMPLE: via Hotjar
  • RESEARCH: A software company wanted to learn more about what their customers needed from their software, and how they could build a better product and customer experience. They used on-page surveys on their website and some observational research to dig deeper into their customers.
  • FINDINGS: Based on their research, the company created in-depth customer personas that exemplified their 3 most common customers, who they are, and what challenges they face.
  • CONCLUSIONS: Based on what the company learned about challenges faced by one particular customer segment, they improved a particular feature of the product to improve that customer’s experience. 

Other Common Types of Research

  • Comparative research , done primarily in the social sciences, refers to studies that compare a given data set across different geographic locations or cultures. For example, a study may look at the differences in poverty between the U.S. and Canada.
  • Medical research can make up a wide range of studies and experiments. The most obvious example is clinical drug trials, which are run to determine the efficacy and safety of new pharmaceuticals. But medical research can also involve observational studies to better understand new diseases and other basic research.
  • Legal research most typically refers to two scenarios: 1) finding an answer to a particular legal question or decision that needs to be made and 2) looking for precedent to support a legal argument.
  • Product research refers to research done by companies to better understand what their customers are looking for. It can be done during the ideation or new product development phase or to further improve an existing product.
  • Empirical research data is collected by observation. In other words, it’s a record of someone’s experience, defined via the 5 senses. For example, an experiment done to figure out if listening to happy music improves subjects’ moods would be considered empirical research.
  • Descriptive research is done with the intention of better understanding something. Customer and consumer research are often done in a descriptive way—describing customers and their attributes rather than trying to explain or quantify them.
  • Experimental research refers to a more rigid research process than many other research types listed here. In experiential research, researchers follow the research method. They utilize strictly controlled experiments in which one variable is altered and the results either support or refute a specific hypothesis.
  • Exploratory research is similar to basic research. It’s done with the goal of better understanding a given problem or phenomenon, and its findings typically inform further research to solve the problem.

Tips for Better, Faster Online Research

Whether you’re new to conducting research online or you’ve been doing it for years, there are always tips and tricks you can employ to streamline, strengthen, and refocus your research process. With that in mind, here are our top tips for conducting high-quality research online.

Know the Information You’re Looking For

With all of the information available on the internet, it’s really easy to get lost. Maybe you end up chasing down rabbit holes or trying to answer new questions every time they arise. Either way, you’re distracted from answering the original questions you set out to.

That’s why it’s so important to get clear about what those questions are, and hold yourself to researching those answers. This is what steps 1 and 2 in our online research process above are designed to help with.

Get Clear About Your Goal for Researching

While similar to the previous tip, defining your goal for research is more action-oriented. When you get answers to the questions outlined above, what will you do with them? All the questions you seek to answer with your online research should serve this overarching goal—helping you make a decision or choose your next course of action.

For example, your goal for travel research might be to choose and book a destination for your next family vacation. For competitive research, your goal may be to identify a niche audience to target within your industry.

Check the Abstract First

If you’re using scientific papers, medical studies, legal reviews, and other academic research, you know you’re in for some dense, lengthy reading. So before you commit to reading anything, check out the abstract first. If you don’t find anything compelling in the abstract, you can safely skip that paper.

Have a System and Stay Organized

As we mentioned before, the internet completely changes the stakes when it comes to research. There’s almost no limit to the amount of research you can do. That’s why it’s vital that you create a system for determining which information you’ll look at, plus how and where you’ll store it. Here are a few suggestions for staying organized:

  • Create Google Drive folders to store PDFs and other documents
  • Create a designated folder in your Bookmarks to store websites and URLs
  • Use a reference management software (like Mendeley ) designed to help organize extensive research
  • Delegate the organizing part to a virtual assistant (VA)

Get Started with a Virtual Assistant

Avoid analysis paralysis.

Online research can be incredibly valuable in helping you make informed decisions on a whole range of topics—but it is possible to take research too far, ending up with way more information than you can adequately process. Avoiding analysis paralysis is the only way to ensure your research makes your life easier, instead of the other way around.

Clearly outlining your goals and questions to answer is a good first step in avoiding analysis paralysis. The second part comes down to recognizing when you have enough information to make a decision. Once that happens, it’s usually time to set the research aside and act.

Evaluate Your Sources and Check Your Own Biases

In the time of #fakenews and corporation-funded scientific research, it’s more important than ever to evaluate your sources for online research. To start, just get in the habit of paying attention to who ran the study, wrote the paper, or created an article.

From there, you can look deeper into their objectivity (or lack thereof). Ask yourself whether the researcher has something to gain or lose from the information they’re sharing. Are they interpreting objective information through their own angle? Equally important: how current is the information presented?

In addition to evaluating the objectivity of your research sources, it’s even more important to identify and be aware of your own biases toward the subject matter.

Delegate Research to a Virtual Assistant

Whether you lack the time, expertise, or just desire to conduct thorough online research, there are many reasons to delegate your research to someone else. Online research, in particular, can easily be handled by a virtual assistant ( more on that later! )

Man Looking Into Research Types Online

Research Tools and Resources to Help with Your Online Research

When the time comes to dive into online research, most of us default to starting with an internet search on Google, followed by trying different search terms and combing through endless search result listings. That’s a fine place to start, but there are also tons of other reputable databases and search engines that can help you get straight to the most accurate and up-to-date research on just about any topic.

Below, we recommend 13 tools that can help you find reputable sources, organize your research, and even conduct your own primary research.

For General Research Articles

  • Google Scholar and Google Books
  • Library of Congress and LexisNexis
  • Project Gutenberg
  • Student’s Online Research Guide via AllConnect
  • Yale University Research Guides by Subject

Academic Journals

  • AcademicJournals.org

For Specialized Research

  • Medical: BioMed Central , The Lancet , New England Journal of Medicine , NCBI (Nat’l Center for Biotechnology News)
  • Legal: American Law Reports
  • Business and industry: Nielsen and Pew Research Center

Online Research Management and Organization

Online research companies.

  • 20|20 Research
  • Facts ‘n Figures

Virtual Research Assistant Companies

Other great online resources for research.

If you’re looking for more info on various aspects of researching online, here are a few more top-notch resources you can reference.

  • For psychological, sociological, and other behavior research: Psychology.org
  • For business (market, competitive, and new product) research: QuestionPro
  • For market research: Inc.
  • To better understand online research and “big data:” Online Research Methods, Quantitative by Hocevar and Flanagin
  • On conducting your own survey research: SurveyMonkey
  • For legal, news, and public records: LexisNexis online library

Delegating Research to a Virtual Assistant

The advice and resources above are enough to turn anyone into a pro online researcher—but do you really have the time or desire to do your own research online? Regardless of how well done, effective internet research always requires one big investment: time . There’s no getting around the time investment it takes to conduct valuable online research.

Instead of investing that time out of your own busy schedule, you could outsource your online research efforts to a virtual assistant (VA). That way, you get the benefit of making informed decisions without spending days or even weeks wading through abstracts and research articles.

When you work with a Delegated virtual research assistant:

  • You can hand-off basic research, competitor and market research, comparative research and more from day one
  • You can work with your VA and train them to handle more specialized types of research like medical and legal

In both cases, as your VA gains experience working with you, they’ll get better and better at pulling together exactly the kind of research and insights you’re looking for. Some aspects of research they can tackle include:

  • Pulling together research articles and data
  • Research annotation and summaries
  • Research management and organization
  • Various aspects of conducting primary research

How does this work?

We know that delegating something as broad and nebulous as “research” can feel a little foreign if you haven’t outsourced it before. Most of the concerns we hear from people are very quickly quelled by the time savings that come with delegating their research.

That said, if you’re feeling unsure, here are a few of the questions we hear frequently:

How does all this work?

Your Delegated VA is available to you whenever you need them. They can pull together research articles and sources, organize and annotate them, present research summaries and conclusions, and help with many of the tasks involved with conducting your own primary research.

What kind of research can a Delegated VA handle?

Delegated VAs can handle these types of research right off the bat:

  • Basic research
  • Market research
  • Competitive research
  • Comparative research
  • Data research
  • Information research

That said, with a little guidance and training from you, our VAs can take over just about any kind of research you need done.

How will my VA know what information to look for?

Initially, your VA will base this judgment on the information you provide to them. Any information you ask for, they’ll pull together for you. For basic research, they’ll be able to handle most anything you need.

For more specialized research areas (like medical and legal research), your VA may need a little more help from you in the beginning. Rest assured, after a few projects, they’ll be able to handle just about everything you can throw at them.

Can my VA handle next steps after research is done?

If you provide your Delegated VA with the access and information they need to take the next step, they can do that—whether that’s booking a trip based on travel research, purchasing their recommended product, or something else entirely.

How will my VA communicate with me?

Your Delegated VA will communicate with you any way you prefer. If you choose to communicate via Slack, email, phone, or morse code, your VA will work with your preferences to streamline communication.

Woman Researching Online at Coffee Shop

Wrapping Up

Whether it’s product research, medical research, or something else entirely, conducting thorough and accurate research online takes time—and going without isn’t a great option either.

If you don’t have the time, desire, or expertise to perform your own internet research, you can easily turn the keys over to a virtual assistant. With a little guidance, they can handle a lot more than you may think.

Then, you can spend less time Googling around and more time acting on your research findings.

Glossary of Online Research Terms to Know

Research problem and research question: The central question your research sets out to answer, or the central problem your research sets out to solve.
Correlation: A connection or relationship between two variables.
Causation: A connection or relationship between two variables where a change in one variable creates a change in the other.
Findings: The results and conclusions of your research.
Scientific method: An empirical, step-by-step method whereby hypotheses are formed and experiments/observations either affirm or disprove the hypothesis.
Sampling method: A method for collecting data from a small sample of a given population.
Research methodology: The specific techniques and procedures you use to identify and analyze information about your topic.
Control group: A group within an experiment to which no changes are made in the variable being studied. Control groups are used for comparison to better identify how changes in a variable affect the other group.
Experimental group: The group within an experiment which is changed or manipulated.
Primary research: Data collected directly by you, the researcher.
Secondary research: Data previously collected by other researchers.
Hypothesis: An educated guess or theory about how an experiment will turn out.
Abstract: A brief summary of the contents of a research paper or study.
Bias: Assumptions made without credible evidence, often that skew the ultimate outcome of a study. Bias can be caused by beliefs held by the researcher or by errors in sampling or data analysis.

how does web research help you with activities online

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Conducting Internet Research

Considerations for participant protections when conducting internet research.

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If an activity falls under the category of human subjects research, it is regulated by the federal government and Teachers College (TC) Institutional Review Board (IRB). TC IRB has provided a guide to help researchers determine if their activities can be considered human subjects research.

Internet research is a common practice of using Internet information, especially free information on the World Wide Web or Internet-based resources (e.g., discussion forums, social media), in research. This guide will cover considerations pertaining to participant protections when conducting Internet research, including:

  • Private versus public spaces for exempt research
  • Identifiable data available in public databases
  • Minimizing risks when using sensitive Internet data
  • Common Internet research approaches

The following information is from an NIH videocast . ( Odwanzy, L. (2014, May 8). Conducting Internet Research: Challenges and Strategies for IRBs [Video]. VideoCast NIH. https://videocast.nih.gov/summary.asp?Live=13932&bhcp=1 )  

Private Versus Public Spaces for Exempt Research

Federal regulations define a category of human subjects research that is exempt from IRB review as:  

“ Research that only includes interactions involving educational tests (cognitive, diagnostic, aptitude, achievement), survey procedures, interview procedures, or observation of public behavior (including visual or auditory recording) .” 

With regards to online information, if the data is publicly available (such as Census data or labor statistics), it is usually not considered human subjects research. However, if the data includes identifiable information—meaning the data can be linked back to a specific individual—then it may need to undergo IRB review. Additionally, de-identified data pulled from a private source, such as data provided by a company, may also be considered human subjects research.

Public behavior is any behavior that a subject would or could perform in public without special devices or interventions. Public behavior on the Internet, however, is more difficult to pinpoint. Federal regulations indicate that an environment may be private if a reasonable user would consider their interactions in that environment to be private. To help identify public behavior on the Internet, consider:

  • Typically, posts on a private or password-protected social media profile or site are not considered public behavior.
  • Even if a website is publicly available, the information on the website may be protected by other measures (e.g., community guidelines, terms of use, etc.).
  • Sites that require users to pay for access to their content (e.g., purchasing a dataset) are not always considered private, even if the information is behind a paywall.
  • Discussions and chats on public forums, news broadcasts, and free podcasts or videos are typically considered public communications. 
  • Emails and person-to-person chat messages are often private, rather than public, communications.
  • However, institutions may dictate that any activity on their devices (e.g., a company laptop or phone) is subject to review. In these cases, the institutions can limit an individual’s privacy.
  • Some websites explicitly state that the interactions on their site are not to be used for research purposes.
  • Other sites may not explicitly refuse research activities, but they may require users to be respectful of others’ experiences. Depending on the website, “respect” may have a variety of meanings, including respect of user privacy.
  • Expectations of privacy may not always equate to the reality of privacy. 
  • For example, individuals may share personal information on an open forum because there is an expectation within the community that other users will respect their privacy. However, the community guidelines may not explicitly state that their website is private.
  • Forums and websites directed towards youth may require extra precautions, as the youth may be on the website with or without their guardian’s permission.
  • If a user shares media on a private profile, but then that media becomes publicly available through re-posts, the media should still be considered private. It is likely that a reasonable user would expect shares on private profiles to remain private. 
  • A site may only be open to certain types of users based on demographics or life experiences (e.g., cancer survivors, support groups for addiction, etc.). In these cases, a reasonable user may expect greater privacy based on the types of users they expect to interact with.

TC IRB will determine whether an Internet environment is private or public based on the IRB protocol submission.

Identifiable Data in Public Datasets

Identifiable data is information or records about a research participant that allows others to identify that person. Names, social security numbers, and bank account numbers are considered personal identifiers  and are protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). TC IRB has a blog posted on Understanding Identifiable Data that further explains the different types of identifiers. Data that includes personal identifiers does not fall under the Exempt category.  

Other types of participant information may include indirect identifiers , such as birthdate, age, ethnicity, gender, etc. Taken alone, these pieces of information are not enough to identify any single participant. However, researchers have shown that certain combinations of these identifiers may identify participants. For example, Sweeny (2000) demonstrated that 87% of the United States population could be uniquely identified based solely on their ZIP code, gender, and date of birth.

It is important to remember that while data may be publicly available, it may still contain identifiable information. In these cases, the IRB will decide the risk to participants on a case-by-case basis. With Internet information, consider these to be possible identifiers:  

red image with computer

Users may include their partial or full name in a username. When collecting usernames from a site, researchers should consider replacing usernames with pseudonyms.

IP addresses are unique identifiers for devices. Researchers should be wary of pairing IP addresses with other information.

Purchase Habits

With the surge in online shopping, individuals’ unique online purchase habits are shown to be possible identifiers. 

Digital Images, Audio, & Video

Photos, audio recordings, or videos of an individual are typically considered identifiable, unless the images or audio are ascertained in a way that protects the subject’s identity.

Avatars or Profile Pictures

Although avatars and profile pictures may not include real photos of the user, it is possible that they were chosen because of a resemblance to the user.

Keystroke Dynamics or Typing Biometrics

The detailed information of an individual’s timing and rhythm when typing on a keyboard is a unique identifier. "Keystroke rhythm" measures when each key is pressed and released while a user is typing. These rhythm combinations are as unique to an individual as a fingerprint or a signature.

Minimizing Risk When Using Sensitive Internet Data 

In cases where sensitive Internet data must be used for research purposes, researchers should take precautions to ensure the safety and privacy of participants. The nature of online research increases risk to participants in some areas. Researchers should develop a plan to minimize risk in the following areas:

  • Reduced Participant Contact : when research is conducted over the Internet, researchers have limited or no direct contact with subjects. This makes it more difficult for researchers to gauge subjects' reactions to the study interventions. 
  • Researchers should think through multiple possibilities for interventions, debriefing, and follow-up, if applicable.
  • Researcher and TC IRB contact information should be presented on the informed consent before beginning the study. This will ensure that participants know whom to contact if they have questions or concerns.
  • Breach of Confidentiality: when storing or collecting data on devices connected to the Internet, there is a heightened risk for identifiable participant data to be leaked. 
  • TC IRB has published a Data Security Plan  outlining best practices for securing and transmitting data. Researchers should implement these practices as they apply to their specific study.
  • In the case of a breach of confidentiality, researchers must file an adverse event with TC IRB.  

Common Internet Research Approaches

The Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Human Research Protections (SACHRP) has provided examples of common Internet research practices. These include elements of research conducted over the Internet. Below are possible examples of Internet research where human subjects may be involved:  

  • Existing datasets (secondary data analysis)
  • Social media/blog posts
  • Chat room interactions  
  • Amazon Mechanical Turk
  • Social media
  • Patterns on social media or websites
  • Evolution of privacy issues
  • Spread of false information
  • Online shopping patterns and personalized digital marketing
  • Online interventions such as “nudging"

Increased Internet use for research requires researchers and IRBs to become familiar with Internet research-related topics and concerns. Research submitted to the IRB will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. The Institutional Review Board at Teachers College will make the final determination of whether a study requires review. Researchers should email  [email protected] if they have any questions or concerns about their study design and whether it should be IRB reviewed.

Institutional Review Board

Address: Russell Hall, Room 13

* Phone: 212-678-4105 * Email:   [email protected]

Appointments are available by request . Make sure to have your IRB protocol number (e.g., 19-011) available.  If you are unable to access any of the downloadable resources, please contact  OASID via email [email protected] .

  • Research Verification Service

CRIC

Best Practices for Online Research

how does web research help you with activities online

By Schumaila Kumar

With the reduction of in-person research techniques in the COVID-19 environment, online research took center stage. Through my work at Phase 5 , we have been leveraging online tools and methodologies with deep experience to help clients maximize results. Read on to learn more about best practices for managing online research communities in improving participant engagement and data quality.

What is an online research community?

Online research communities – sometimes called online bulletin boards – are private online groups in which participants complete activities, engage in interactive discussions with other participants and respond to moderator comments. They tend to be structured around a specific topic, have a set duration (a period of days or weeks), are asynchronous (i.e. members do not participate in real-time, but can login periodically to provide their feedback), and are usually qualitative in nature, but can include simple quantitative components (e.g. quick polls, ranking exercises, grid questions).

When to use an online research community?

Online research communities can be used to help with a wide range of business issues that require qualitative research, such as: product and service development, communications and creative testing, ideation, customer journey mapping, pilot testing, self-ethnography, voice of the customer, and employee engagement.

Online research communities have always been an effective, convenient and cost-beneficial research approach for gathering balanced, thoughtful and in-depth feedback from geographically dispersed and sometimes ‘hard to reach’ audiences. The COVID-19 pandemic has only emphasized the benefits and usefulness of online research communities when in-person research is not feasible.

how does web research help you with activities online

Best Practices

Let’s say you’ve just recruited 30 participants for a 2-week moderated online community and are ready, set to go with your research questions – but two weeks is a long time and it’s easy for participants to lose interest, fall behind or drop off. So, how do you ensure your research participants are engaged? Here are some best practices you might find helpful:

  • Communicate expectations upfront.  Explain to participants how frequently they are expected to log in and contribute and what the overall expected time commitment is. We typically tell participants that they have to log in daily and respond to all questions in order to be eligible for the incentive (e.g., expected daily time commitment of 20 minutes). This sets the right expectations and avoids any confusion.
  • Build rapport.  Moderators should use their picture and provide a brief introduction on themselves (e.g. what they do, where they live, interests, hobbies, etc.) and encourage participants to do the same, as this helps to build a connection and creates a more personal environment.
  • Follow-up regularly and in a timely fashion.  This shows participants that someone is listening and that their feedback is being valued. And of course, it’s always a good idea to acknowledge insightful comments (e.g., “that’s an interesting point you make”) as this makes participants feel appreciated.
  • Nudge laggards.  There will always be a few who fall behind – it’s best to send them a quick private reminder email, which often helps to get them ‘back on track’.
  • Set-up automatic notifications  to alert participants of new topics or to remind them that they haven’t completed specific activities.
  • Use activities.  Tasks such as photo or video sharing, card-sorting, polls, image mark-up, etc. will keep respondents engaged and help break up the monotony of open-ended questions.
  • Build in group discussions.  While a 1-to-1 approach is great to get unbiased and rich feedback, try to build in a group discussion component. This provides a more interactive experience – everyone likes to know what their peers or others have to say. Group discussions can also be effective tools for idea sharing and brainstorming.
  • Limit the number of questions/respect time limits.  We suggest about 5-7 questions per day, as long lists of questions or tasks can seem overwhelming and decrease interest. Instead, use probes or follow-ups to expand on questions.
  • Structure each day around a topic.  Having various unrelated questions can be confusing. Grouping questions based on a theme will make the discussion more focused and ensure well thought-out feedback.
  • Offer bonus incentives.  We typically offer an additional incentive to the top three contributors. This helps encourage active participation and insightful comments. Be sure to let participants know about this at the beginning.

Incorporating these practices will ensure you have a more engaged research audience. You can also refer to the CRIC-ICC-ESOMAR Code of Conduct to learn more about essential standards of ethical and professional conduct designed to maintain public confidence in research (including online research).

About the Author:

how does web research help you with activities online

 Schumaila Kumar is an Associate Vice President in Phase 5’s Innovation and Product Development practice . She is a seasoned quantitative and qualitative research professional who is adept at ‘bringing out the story’ behind the data, illuminating research findings and delivering key insights that inform client decisions. Schumaila speaks four languages, holds a Master’s Degree in Communications from Wayne State University, MI, USA and a Master’s Degree in Interpretation from Innsbruck University, Austria. She can be contacted at [email protected] .

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8 tips for effective internet research.

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Whether you are a blogger, scientist, student, journalist or anyone in-between, learning how to use the internet for research is essential.

Online research gives credence to your work, augments your knowledge, and boosts your chances for professional success.

Proper research proves to readers or even listeners that you are not just making stuff up.

So, how do you use the internet properly and effectively for research?

How to Use the Internet for Research

Online research is not mere Googling or casual Web browsing. Anyone can Google, but few can draw the best results from the abundance of material posted online.

If you want to nail your online research, you need to learn some key skills for performing effective internet searches.

search-google-find-internet-information.jpg

Here are eight tips to help you nail your online research each time.

1. Know what kind of research you want to do first.

There are two basic types of online research you can do: Soft research and hard research .

  • Hard research is used for looking up factual, scientific, objective topics where statistics, numbers and other rigorous evidence is required.
  • Soft research is used for opinion-based topics, such as something trendy mentioned in the news. Soft research is, of course, easier to do than hard research.

Knowing exactly what kind of research on the internet you want to do beforehand enables you to narrow down where to look for that information.

If you want opinion pieces on some current event in the news, you can head straight to newspapers like the New York Times to find what you want.

If, on the other hand, you want hard statistics on some aspect of the U.S. population, you can go straight to websites like the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics ( BLS ), or you can search for relevant reports like the United States census reports.

The more exactly you know what you are looking for, the easier it will be to find it.

2. Make a list of keywords you will use in your online search.

Think about the topic you are researching and come up with different ways of expressing the same idea in less than four or five words. For example, if you are trying to find out everything you can about NSA spying, NSA spying is an obvious keyword phrase you could list down to start with. However, you should not stop at that.

Expand your keywords list to find more pertinent information on the topic. For example, you could expand your keywords to include phrases like Impact of NSA spying US or NSA spying Europe and so on, depending on the information you seek. Just take some time to clearly define your primary keywords on paper or in your head.

3. Enclose keywords in quotation marks.

Enter your primary keywords in Google, enclose them in quotation marks , and then hit search. Quotations allow you to refine your search in Google and find the exact word or set of words (keywords) you are looking for.

For example, if you want to find out all you can about the world’s fastest animal, you will probably type into Google the keywords: the world’s fastest animal . In this case, Google could bring up, say, 42,600,000 web page results.

However, when you enclose your keyword phrase with quotations, Google may return some 2,360,000 search results that contain the exact keywords you used. This latter number is still large, but you get more refined search results.

4. Use the minus sign (-).

The minus sign or a dash (-) is another way to filter unwanted words in search and refine your search results.

For example, if you are searching for information about jaguar the animal, typing into Google Jaguar will return a huge number of web pages many of which are about Jaguar the luxury speed car. However, if you type into Google the keywords jaguar -car , the search engine will filter out pages about cars and bring up the pages you want about jaguar the animal.

Google has more search modifiers like intitle: that help you refine your search and make searching more precise. Read more on these modifiers on Google Guide and Google search operator page .

5. Try specialized search engines.

Google may be your favorite search engine, but it is not the only search engine out there. Sometimes you will get better results researching your topic using specialized search engines .

For example, some websites prevent Google from indexing their pages for different reasons. Some of these websites have quite useful web pages, but the pages only exist in what is often known as the "invisible web."

Try specialized search engines like Scholarpedia ,  Google Patent Search ,  Internet Archive , Jooble, Squool Tube, and Congress.gov to research your topic and get information you may be missing. You may be pleasantly surprised at what you unearth in the invisible web.

6. Skim through search results web pages.

person-blurred-using-computer-internet-research-online

When you use a search engine, you will get a web page listing results. Skim through the text below each link in the results page to find out what the linked page is about. This can save you time clicking on irrelevant pages. It's frustrating and time-wasting to wait a few seconds or so for a page to load, only to find it is not helpful.

Angle towards pages with URLs ending with .gov , .edu and .org for hard research as these tend to be more authoritative, non-profit-making sources. Websites ending in .com are commercial in nature and some may not be entirely upfront with their information or motives.

7. Bookmark, bookmark, bookmark!

Every time you come across an interesting link, bookmark it. Even if you are not sure how exactly the link is important, bookmark it anyway. A link can easily be deleted from bookmarks, but stumbling upon an especially useful link does not happen everyday.

Create a new folder for each topic you are researching and bookmark links in to their respective folders. This way you can easily retrieve the links you need for each research topic.

8. Review your bookmarks.

Go through all your bookmarks and sort them according to relevance and credibility. Not all information you find online will be accurate, up-to-date or relevant. Highlight any important bits or parts of links you do find useful. Draw from the useful links and write down some notes in preparation for putting them together in your own written piece later.

If you find a page has too many disrupting advertisements, spelling mistakes or unusual pop-ups, fonts and colors, be careful about trusting the information in it. Discard links that are not useful and credible enough for your purpose.

In conclusion

Don't forget to keep the details of all authors, URLs, and titles of web pages you decide to use or refer to safely. You may need to retrieve this info later, say, when you want to give credit to your sources.

Remember, giving credit to your sources protects you from possible plagiarism violations, proves to readers you actually did your research well, and ultimately helps build trust and credibility.

George Mathews is a journalist, content strategist, and staff writer at WebWriterSpotlight.com . He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social sciences, and has over a decade of experience creating helpful web content. He covers various topics from human interest stories to productivity and career development.

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  • 12 May 2024

Is the Internet bad for you? Huge study reveals surprise effect on well-being

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A global, 16-year study 1 of 2.4 million people has found that Internet use might boost measures of well-being, such as life satisfaction and sense of purpose — challenging the commonly held idea that Internet use has negative effects on people’s welfare.

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doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-024-01410-z

Vuorre, M. & Przybylski, A. K. Technol. Mind Behav . https://doi.org/10.1037/tmb0000127 (2024).

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Heffer, T. et al. Clin. Psychol. Sci. 7 , 462–470 (2018).

Coyne, S. M., Rogers, A. A., Zurcher, J. D., Stockdale, L. & Booth, M. Comput. Hum. Behav . 104 , 106160 (2020).

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What’s That, You Want to Run an Online Experiment?

What’s That, You Want to Run an Online Experiment?

Breakfast at the laptop

A few months back, over at blog.prolific.ac , we published a post exploring the options open to researchers when recruiting participants for online research.  In case you’ve been living in a cave for the last few years, online human data collection is now big business. Researchers from a range of fields ( psychology , clinical research , population health , social sciences , economics and more) are turning to the web to supercharge their science. 

Compared to traditional sample collection methodologies (in-person, post, or phone) online participant recruitment offers several distinct advantages: Faster data collection, larger samples, reductions in costs, and importantly, more diverse populations. Arguably, online samples are more representative of the national population than a typical ‘ WEIRD’ sample of university students .

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This post will explore some of the tools and platforms that can help with a key stage of the online research process: creating your survey or experiment. Specifically, we’ll be looking at options for running online experiments, with a slight focus on the more complex platforms – those designed to collect reaction time data (e.g., cognitive tasks ), or to deliver complex experimental paradigms with a range of response types. We’ll examine the pros and cons of Qualtrics, Gorilla, Inquisit Web, as well as the good old DIY approach. 

Before we get started, full disclaimer: This is a guest blog written by Prolific (a platform for online participant recruitment). We see a lot of online research and have a pretty good handle on the types of experimental software that researchers typically use. That said, if you think we’ve missed something, then please let us know. We’re scientists at heart and always keen to learn more! 

Qualtrics is most famous for their survey software, which combines survey-creation tools with hosting and data storage. Qualtrics only supports survey-style data collection – free-text, multiple choice answers, rating scales, etc. However, their randomization tools allow researchers to build survey experiments; for example, by assigning participants different block of questions to answer, or different materials to read, watch, or listen to. 

Surveys are built in Qualtrics using a graphical interface, meaning it’s easy to get an experiment running, and that no programming knowledge is necessary. The ‘Survey Flow’ panel shows how participants will progress through the experiment, and allows you to control when allocation to condition occurs.

Ultimately, a major advantage of Qualtrics is that many universities and departments already have subscriptions, so you’re often surrounded by people who’ve used the platform before. It’s also a doddle to connect a Qualtrics experiment to Prolific , and you can even send participant IDs directly to Qualtrics from Prolific, meaning you’ll never lose track of a survey submission.

Qualtric’s biggest downside is its narrow focus. If you want to run anything more complex than a simple survey experiment (collect reaction time data, adapt your test to participant performance, allow participant interaction, or run a longitudinal experiment that saves data between sessions) then Qualtrics isn’t the platform you’re looking for. 

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After Qualtrics, Gorilla is the second most popular platform on Prolific, and we can see why! Gorilla is a specialist online experiment hosting service that provides fully-featured tools for experiment design, in addition to data storage and hosting. 

As you might expect for an online-experiment platform, Gorilla supports complex experimental tasks such as N-back , the implicit association test ( demo ), prisoner’s dilemma ( demo ) and game-like tests such as Tetris and Tower of Hanoi. Multiple input methods (mouse, keyboard, mouse training, voice recording and basic eye-tracking) are available, and responses are recorded with millisecond accuracy, making it an appropriate platform for cognitive assessment. 

Experiment design in Gorilla is done through a graphical user interface, which separates the overall survey flow and randomization from the nitty-gritty details of any tasks you might use. It’s easy to add survey-style questions between more complex tasks, and visualize how participants will be allocated to condition. 

It’s worth saying that Gorilla has tonnes of features and options, meaning it can feel overwhelming to a new user. And, although you can use a graphical interface for most of your study design, once you get beyond the basics, Gorilla can get complex very quickly. That said, given the power that Gorilla offers, we think it’s worth wrestling the beast and conquering the learning curve. And at least integration with Prolific is easy …

Inquisit Web

Inquisit Web (by Millisecond) offers a similar, but more technical, alternative to Gorilla for building online experiments. Inquisit’s focus is on high precision, high control tasks, and allows the researcher to create a remote experience comparable to that in the lab. 

It’s both an advantage and a disadvantage that Inquisit Web uses downloaded software to run its experiments. On one hand, the need for a software download means Inquisit can ‘escape the browser’ and provide superior timing accuracy to that achievable in JavaScript. It also means researchers can be assured their task fills the whole of the participant’s screen, and that they’re not alt-tabbing every minute to check Facebook (We know they’d never!)

On the flip side, software downloads are a common gripe we hear from participants at Prolific (normally due to device incompatibility issues), so you may upset some of your potential sample! 

Experiments are built in Inquisit using a ‘streamlined scripting language based on JavaScript.’ There’s no graphical user interface, meaning you’ll need to do some coding yourself, but there is good documentation and an active support community. There’s a pretty steep learning curve, but if you’re after the most precise timing, then Inquisit Web is what you need.

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Do it yourself

Sometimes the study you’ve got planned is just too unusual for any existing solutions. Maybe you need a real-money prediction market to explore to what extent a person’s prior beliefs affect the likelihood of them placing a bet? Maybe you want to sample thousands of Western speakers to understand how they pronounce Chinese place names? How about a collaborative pub quiz, with teams made up of other online players? Or a longitudinal investigation of whether a more ‘gamified’ task can reduce participant attrition?

We’ve seen plenty of experiments like these on Prolific, and all of them used bespoke software to achieve their aims. Collectively, DIY platforms are the second most popular approach to experiment building on Prolific. So, if you’re planning to develop your study from scratch, then you’re in good company.

Developing online experiments is obviously a huge topic, and we can’t explore it here fully. That said, here are some libraries which you might find inspiring:

  • Nodegame is a JavaScript library which provides support for large-scale, real time, multiplayer experiments.
  • lab.js is a lovely little library for building social science experiments. It includes a graphical experiment builder, but you’ll need a bit of technical know-how to get your study deployed online.
  • JSPsych is a script-based library with a collection of psychological tasks. Or, if you’re familiar with PsychoPy , then PsychoJS is its browser based cousin.
  • Finally, if you want to go the whole hog and build your experiment from scratch, then Firebase is possibly the simplest data storage and hosting platform on the web, and PixiJS provides solid functionality for precisely displaying graphics within the browser. 

The main advantage of a DIY experiment is complete flexibility – you can do anything your secret nerdy heart desires (and your programming skills allow). Cost is often a non-issue, since there are many free experimental libraries available, and data storage on a platform such as Firebase costs pennies for the scale of most research projects. 

There are however, several disadvantages. The skills required to program online experiments are neither quick nor easy to learn, and support comes only from limited documentation and community forums. Self-developing also means that practical details, such as server load and data security, become problems that you need to worry about. 

Thankfully, the easiest part of developing your own online experimental platform is the integration with Prolific (unexpected, right?). All you need to do is get the PROLIFIC_PID parameter from the URL. Job done. 

If after all that you still haven’t found a suitable platform for running your online experiment, it’s worth saying that we couldn’t cover everything. There are many (and more ) options out there, and new ones are appearing all the time. 

Ultimately, choosing how you build your experiment involves compromise between the requirements of your study design, the type of data you intend to collect, and practical things such as technical expertise, cost, etc. 

If there’s one thing we’ve learned at Prolific, it’s that every research project has its own complexities, twists and turns. We hope this overview helps you find an experimental platform that suits you.

The Prolific Support Team is always on hand, whether you need guidance setting up your experiment or help integrating your experimental platform. Any questions, let us know @prolificac !

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Jim Lumsden

Jim Lumsden is a data analyst at Prolific. He has an MSc in Computer Science and a PhD in gamification, engagement and cognitive testing from the University of Bristol. His work at Prolific focuses on monitoring and maintaining the participant pool, and developing new product features to help scientists conduct awesome research.

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Teaching Students How to do Online Research

When I first started teaching technology, I focused more on the technical side, having my students learn how to insert pictures, how to add sounds, and, in general, how to do all the fancy buttons and bells.

It was the least satisfying experience in my entire teaching career. I also found out that the students weren't happy either. They had made some amazing hypermedia projects, including Web pages, but the results lacked substance. Surprisingly, the students instinctively knew that without the substance to back up the project and without the heart there really is no project.

The next year, I went to my principal and said, "I want to redesign my class. Instead of teaching technology, I want to teach research. "

Since then, no matter what project I have planned, I first teach research skills. I found a list of the six steps to online research, and have used these steps ever since in every class I teach.

First, I make my students learn the list of the six steps to online research.

Questioning

  • Sorting & Sifting

Synthesizing

I talk about each step and what it means. I'll discuss each below.

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The student must understand the assignment before she can begin to ask questions about the project.

The idea is to make sure the student knows what the teacher wants them to research. Once they understand the topic, then they should brainstorm and write down some questions about the topic that interest them. They can talk to their parents and to friends and even other teachers about the topic and find out what others might find interesting.

This is a great time to come up with key words to use with search engines.

Once they have some questions, then they start to plan out your project. How long is it going to take? Where should they look for information? How many different sources do they need? Will they need to work with others? If they have to Email experts, how will they get their addresses?

While it might seem the easiest thing to get all your information from the Internet, it is not the best thing to do. There is a lot of misleading and even erroneous information out on the Web. It is a great place to get information, but it should never be the only place to get information. I tell them to make sure they go to the library to check out books on their subject. In addition, they should use as many primary sources as possible.

Primary sources include diaries, journals, speeches, interviews, letters, memos, manuscripts and other papers in which individuals describe events in which they were participants or observers. Memoirs and autobiographies are also types of primary sources. Important primary sources are records, such as births, deaths, marriages, permits and licenses and census data. Photographs, audio recordings and moving pictures or video recordings can also be considered primary sources.

Primary sources can be found on the Internet. For example, for anyone researching the Civil War period, Duke University's Civil War Women has copies of diaries, letters and documents on the web. For more contemporary topics, try C-Span for information that is considered primary. It also offers sound and video clips.

I also encourage my students to write as many experts as they can. I have found that NASA is wonderful about writing back. This year alone, we had three NASA engineers working with students via Email. Also, many university professors will write back.

Sorting and Sifting

Once they have gathered together many different sources, they need to put them in some sort of order. Sorting information into categories or even piles can be useful. While they do this, they can start to get rid of the information that they won't use. Also, if they have any information twice, or three times, they need to get rid of repeated information.

This is especially true of Internet resources. Many web page authors just cut and paste information they find on other sites. Do not use repeated information.

Now that they have all you information gathered and sorted, they need to put it together into one report. There are many different ways to do this. One idea is to do Concept Mapping. To do a Map, they write the main idea in the center of the page it may be a word or a phrase then place related ideas on branches that fan out from this central idea.

There are also types of software that help with concept mapping. Inspiration®, for Grade Six to Adult, and Kidspiration™, for Grades K 5, are two that come to mind. Visit Inspiration Software for more. Also, for the Palm Handhelds, there is the Hi-CE PICoMap software.

I encourage them to also try clustering, which is a type of pre-writing that allows them to explore many ideas as soon as they occur. Like brainstorming or free-associating, clustering allows them to begin without clear ideas. There is also the tried and true outlining method. With an outline they first identify the topic, then create some main categories and then subcategories.

Once they have written your paper they have to read it and make sure it satisfies the requirement of the project. One can try to fix an off-target report, but one also has to be prepared to start all over again.

I encourage them that, while doing research, to please remember to make effective use of time online and in the library/media center. They must stay on task at all times. I also encourage them to use a wide variety of information sources, both print and non-print, and to take meaningful notes. I urge them to keep your information organized and to keep careful bibliographic records of all sources used and then remember to cite all sources!

One great tool to help keep your bibliographic records in correct form is NoodleTools . It's a suite of interactive tools designed to aid students and professionals with their online research. From selecting a search engine and finding some relevant sources, to citing those sources in MLA or APA style, NoodleTools makes online research easier!

Although some parts of NoodleTools are subscription-based, others are free. A free resource that I always show my students is QuickCite . QuickCite will help them to create MLA style sources for: Books, Encyclopedia articles, Magazine articles, Online Magazine articles, Newspaper Articles, Professional Web Pages, Personal Web pages, E-Mail messages, Interviews and even online discussion boards or forums. When students do intensive research, they should have books, articles, e-mail messages and interviews to cite!

I teach 6th, 7th and 8th grade students, and believe me, students are never too young to learn how to research and how to cite documents professionally. Below are some Web pages that some of my students researched and created.

Here's one called Space Week , about satellites:

And here is one, called Welcome , from the Walls project. I am partial to this one because one of the pictures was an heirloom belonging to the family of the student who wrote the article. She brought it in, and scanned it, which was a great little teacher for helping others learn to use the scanner. As a seventh-grader, she did a nice job.

Email: Rosemary Shaw

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Research Help: Using the Internet for Academic Research

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Using the Internet for Academic Research

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This guide assumes a basic familiarity with using the Internet. For assistance researching specific topics, please contact a Librarian at the Library Research Help Desk, at 364-2564, or by e-mail: [email protected] or contact the Subject Librarian for your topic directly.

Things You Should Know:

  • Not everything is available on the Internet. There may be little or no relevant information on your topic. What is available may not be as appropriate as the information in other sources. The Internet is only one of the research tools and provides access to only some of the many sources of information available to you.  
  • Research on the Internet will take time. All research does.  
  • Information on the Internet is not stable. At any time, information may be moved, altered, or deleted. This is a major problem when it comes to using an Internet source for academic research. Your professor may not accept Internet sources; check with your professor in advance. See "Using & Citing Internet Sources" below for manuals that provide guidelines for citing Internet sources in footnotes and bibliographies.  
  • Not everything on the Internet is accurate, true, current, or reliable. See "Evaluating What You Find" below.

Finding Information:

There are two major ways to begin a search on a research topic: by subject or keyword.

Searching by Subject: Use an academic subject directory. These are sites organized by librarians or other academics providing a collection of links to sites that are appropriate for academic research.

  • The Mount Allison Libraries web site has links to information for the subjects taught at Mount Allison University. Select Subject Guides , then a subject. A list of larger, more comprehensive subject directories is also available under the Quick Link: "Online Reference Sources & Quick Facts". Select Internet Search Engines & Directories .

Searching by Keyword: A keyword search may be more appropriate for a very specific topic. Use Internet search engines to do a keyword search. A selection of search engines is available from the library web page Online Reference Sources & Quick Facts . Select Internet Search Engines & Directories .

Things to keep in mind about keyword searching: Keyword searching is not the same as subject searching! There is no standard or controlled vocabulary yet for finding information on the Internet. This means you will have to think of synonyms, variants in spelling, different word endings, etc.

Google ( http://www.google.com ) is currently one of the best Internet search engines. It displays the search term in context and has an excellent results ranking system. Google has "Basic" and "Advanced" search modes. Here are some tips for doing "Basic" Internet searches using Google:

  • Phrase searching: Use quotation marks for words that should be found together in that order.

(e.g. "electoral reform" )

  • Multiple terms: Boolean "and" is stated as the automatic default, so entering two or more words should retrieve pages

containing all of the terms you enter. (e.g. elections reform ) However, if not all terms are found, results will display without them. To force retrieval of results for all keywords, enter each word with a plus sign (+) directly before it. (e.g. +elections +reform )

  • Narrowing a search: Enter more search terms to specify

more clearly what you want to find. (e.g. elections reform canada )

  • Broadening a search: Use "OR" to search for alternative terms at the same time.

(e.g. "election reform" OR "electoral reform" ) NOTE: truncation is not available on Google.

Advanced Searching: See the Google Advanced Search page for more ways to search efficiently. Consider also using other search engines. Selected subject-specific search engines may be listed in the Library Subject Guides .

Evaluating What You Find:

It is important to evaluate the information you intend to use for a research paper. This applies to printed books and articles found in a library, but even more so for information found on the Internet. Quality in print resources is often assured by editors and publishers who pay the costs of publishing, and by libraries that select the best. On the Internet, anyone can put up a web page at any time, with no control. Some web sites have strict editorial policies; some have none at all. A basic keyword search on a search engine will find them all, so you will have to know how to determine which are appropriate.

Things to look for when evaluating information on the Internet:

  • Author(s), could be a person or an organization:

Who are they? What is their background or expertise? Why should they be trusted to know about the field? Are they affiliated with an institution or university? What are their credentials? What is their bias or point of view? etc.

Most, if not all, information is only relevant in a context of time; if no date is given, the information should be suspect. There may be an original creation date and a date for when the information was last modified. Each document should have a date; the date given on a web site's home page may not be applicable to each document within it.

  • Host site or "Publisher":

Web addresses often indicate the country of origin (e.g. .ca = canada, .fr = france), or the type of organization hosting the web site. (e.g. .edu=educational (US), .com=commercial, .gov=governmental (US), .org=organization) You may have to back up to the home page to find out more about the web site on which a document is found and who is responsible for it. If the information at the site is not original, make sure the original source is given, and is cited properly.

  • Type of Information:

Many different kinds of information resources can be found on the Internet, from peer-reviewed journal articles and books, government documents, professional working papers, and student essays, to personal letters, fiction, and spoofs of serious research. In print these are usually easy to distinguish; on the Internet they may not be. A screen of text from any of these will look much the same.

Commercial uses of the Internet are growing faster than any other, so much of the "information" on the web is advertising. The Internet is also a very effective propaganda tool; be aware of the purpose of the site, and of the document, you are viewing. Check all the "meta-data" available, ie. all the clues you can find that put the information in context or provide details about it.

More tips on evaluating Internet sites:

Mount Allison University Libraries Guide to Evaluating Web Sources a short and useful guide to the major points to consider Evaluation of Information Sources. http://www.vuw.ac.nz/~agsmith/evaln/evaln.htm a large collection of links to other sites on evaluating Internet resources

Retrieving the Results of a Search:

When you have determined that an Internet source is appropriate to use in your research, you can take notes, print, download, cut and paste to your word processing file, or e-mail the information to yourself. Whichever method you use, make sure that the source URL appears in full on the document you are retrieving. It is a good idea to check the style guides below BEFORE starting your research, so that you know what information to include in your footnotes or bibliography for all sources you retrieve from the Internet.

Using and Citing Internet Sources:

All information on the Internet is protected by copyright unless specifically stated otherwise. Do not plagiarize; be sure to cite all information used for your paper. The standard citation manuals include instructions on how to cite electronic resources in the body of your paper and in the bibliography. The related web sites have selected examples.

MLA style (humanities):

Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers . 7th ed. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2009. (In library: LB 2369 .G53 2009 Reference)

MLA Homepage FAQs: http://www.mla.org/style_faq1

APA style (sciences):

Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association . 6th ed. Washington, DC : American Psychological Association, 2010. (In library: BF 76.7 .P83 2010 Reference)

APA DOI and URL Flowchart: http://blog.apastyle.org/files/doi-and-url-flowchart-8.pdf APA Style Help: http://www.apastyle.org/apa-style-help.aspx

For more information and guides to the MLA and APA Styles, please see the Citation Guides & Bibliographic Tools page.

Updated Sept. 2018 / LL

Off-Campus Access to Electronic Resources

Why is off-campus access different.

Access to subscribed library resources is easy when you are using a university computer or the campus wireless network. The library gives publishers information about our campus networks when we set up a subscription for the university. When you are off-campus, you need to log in to your account to identify yourself as associated with Mount Allison University. This is required by the terms of the licenses we sign with publishers.

How can I get access off-campus?

There are two approaches to getting access to electronic resources from off-campus.

1. Start from the library website or catalogue:

If you click on a link from the library website, such as a database in the A-Z List of Databases, you will be asked to log in with your MTA account. From that point on, your access will be the same as it is on campus.

2. Start from a publisher website and use the MTA Libraries Off-Campus Bookmarklet

If you usually start your search from a publisher website, or click on non-library links, you can use the off-campus bookmarklet to sign into your MTA account. Follow the instructions for installing the bookmarklet below. Once it is installed, you click on the bookmarklet to get to a sign-in screen when you are visiting a publisher website. You will be returned to the website and at that point your access will be the same as it is on campus.

Install the off-campus bookmarklet:

Note: You will have to set your browser to show the bookmarks or favourites if that is not your default setting. Bookmarklets are bookmarks that contain JavaScript commands, so JavaScript must be supported for the bookmarklet to function.

  • In Chrome / Safari: Drag and drop the " MTA Libraries Off-Campus Bookmarklet " link to your Bookmarks.
  • In Firefox: Right click on the " MTA Libraries Off-Campus Bookmarklet " link and select "Bookmark this Link" or drag and drop the link to your Bookmarks toolbar.
  • In Internet Explorer: Right click on this " MTA Libraries Off-Campus Bookmarklet " link and select "Add to Favorites" or drag and drop the link to your Links toolbar.
  • On an iPhone: instructions coming soon. more complicated! Elizabeth will add these instructions if the rest of the content is approved. -->

How to use the MTA Libraries Off-Campus Bookmarklet:

Click on the bookmarklet when you are at the website for a licensed academic resource for which the Libraries has paid. Every time you open a new tab, click on the bookmarklet. You won't have to log in on every tab - clicking on the bookmarklet again just extends your login session to the new tab.

If Mount Allison University Libraries and Archives does not license and pay for the content on the site, you will get an error message. This message means that the website is not set up as a MTA library resource. In those cases, requesting the item through ILL (if there is a cost) or browsing without the bookmarklet (if freely available) is the best approach.

If you have any questions about the MTA Libraries Off-Campus Bookmarklet, please contact Elizabeth Stregger, Data and Digital Services Librarian.

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  • Research Skills

50 Mini-Lessons For Teaching Students Research Skills

Please note, I am no longer blogging and this post hasn’t updated since April 2020.

For a number of years, Seth Godin has been talking about the need to “ connect the dots” rather than “collect the dots” . That is, rather than memorising information, students must be able to learn how to solve new problems, see patterns, and combine multiple perspectives.

Solid research skills underpin this. Having the fluency to find and use information successfully is an essential skill for life and work.

Today’s students have more information at their fingertips than ever before and this means the role of the teacher as a guide is more important than ever.

You might be wondering how you can fit teaching research skills into a busy curriculum? There aren’t enough hours in the day! The good news is, there are so many mini-lessons you can do to build students’ skills over time.

This post outlines 50 ideas for activities that could be done in just a few minutes (or stretched out to a longer lesson if you have the time!).

Learn More About The Research Process

I have a popular post called Teach Students How To Research Online In 5 Steps. It outlines a five-step approach to break down the research process into manageable chunks.

Learn about a simple search process for students in primary school, middle school, or high school Kathleen Morris

This post shares ideas for mini-lessons that could be carried out in the classroom throughout the year to help build students’ skills in the five areas of: clarify, search, delve, evaluate , and cite . It also includes ideas for learning about staying organised throughout the research process.

Notes about the 50 research activities:

  • These ideas can be adapted for different age groups from middle primary/elementary to senior high school.
  • Many of these ideas can be repeated throughout the year.
  • Depending on the age of your students, you can decide whether the activity will be more teacher or student led. Some activities suggest coming up with a list of words, questions, or phrases. Teachers of younger students could generate these themselves.
  • Depending on how much time you have, many of the activities can be either quickly modelled by the teacher, or extended to an hour-long lesson.
  • Some of the activities could fit into more than one category.
  • Looking for simple articles for younger students for some of the activities? Try DOGO News or Time for Kids . Newsela is also a great resource but you do need to sign up for free account.
  • Why not try a few activities in a staff meeting? Everyone can always brush up on their own research skills!

how does web research help you with activities online

  • Choose a topic (e.g. koalas, basketball, Mount Everest) . Write as many questions as you can think of relating to that topic.
  • Make a mindmap of a topic you’re currently learning about. This could be either on paper or using an online tool like Bubbl.us .
  • Read a short book or article. Make a list of 5 words from the text that you don’t totally understand. Look up the meaning of the words in a dictionary (online or paper).
  • Look at a printed or digital copy of a short article with the title removed. Come up with as many different titles as possible that would fit the article.
  • Come up with a list of 5 different questions you could type into Google (e.g. Which country in Asia has the largest population?) Circle the keywords in each question.
  • Write down 10 words to describe a person, place, or topic. Come up with synonyms for these words using a tool like  Thesaurus.com .
  • Write pairs of synonyms on post-it notes (this could be done by the teacher or students). Each student in the class has one post-it note and walks around the classroom to find the person with the synonym to their word.

how does web research help you with activities online

  • Explore how to search Google using your voice (i.e. click/tap on the microphone in the Google search box or on your phone/tablet keyboard) . List the pros and cons of using voice and text to search.
  • Open two different search engines in your browser such as Google and Bing. Type in a query and compare the results. Do all search engines work exactly the same?
  • Have students work in pairs to try out a different search engine (there are 11 listed here ). Report back to the class on the pros and cons.
  • Think of something you’re curious about, (e.g. What endangered animals live in the Amazon Rainforest?). Open Google in two tabs. In one search, type in one or two keywords ( e.g. Amazon Rainforest) . In the other search type in multiple relevant keywords (e.g. endangered animals Amazon rainforest).  Compare the results. Discuss the importance of being specific.
  • Similar to above, try two different searches where one phrase is in quotation marks and the other is not. For example, Origin of “raining cats and dogs” and Origin of raining cats and dogs . Discuss the difference that using quotation marks makes (It tells Google to search for the precise keywords in order.)
  • Try writing a question in Google with a few minor spelling mistakes. What happens? What happens if you add or leave out punctuation ?
  • Try the AGoogleADay.com daily search challenges from Google. The questions help older students learn about choosing keywords, deconstructing questions, and altering keywords.
  • Explore how Google uses autocomplete to suggest searches quickly. Try it out by typing in various queries (e.g. How to draw… or What is the tallest…). Discuss how these suggestions come about, how to use them, and whether they’re usually helpful.
  • Watch this video  from Code.org to learn more about how search works .
  • Take a look at  20 Instant Google Searches your Students Need to Know  by Eric Curts to learn about “ instant searches ”. Try one to try out. Perhaps each student could be assigned one to try and share with the class.
  • Experiment with typing some questions into Google that have a clear answer (e.g. “What is a parallelogram?” or “What is the highest mountain in the world?” or “What is the population of Australia?”). Look at the different ways the answers are displayed instantly within the search results — dictionary definitions, image cards, graphs etc.

What is the population of Australia

  • Watch the video How Does Google Know Everything About Me?  by Scientific American. Discuss the PageRank algorithm and how Google uses your data to customise search results.
  • Brainstorm a list of popular domains   (e.g. .com, .com.au, or your country’s domain) . Discuss if any domains might be more reliable than others and why (e.g. .gov or .edu) .
  • Discuss (or research) ways to open Google search results in a new tab to save your original search results  (i.e. right-click > open link in new tab or press control/command and click the link).
  • Try out a few Google searches (perhaps start with things like “car service” “cat food” or “fresh flowers”). A re there advertisements within the results? Discuss where these appear and how to spot them.
  • Look at ways to filter search results by using the tabs at the top of the page in Google (i.e. news, images, shopping, maps, videos etc.). Do the same filters appear for all Google searches? Try out a few different searches and see.
  • Type a question into Google and look for the “People also ask” and “Searches related to…” sections. Discuss how these could be useful. When should you use them or ignore them so you don’t go off on an irrelevant tangent? Is the information in the drop-down section under “People also ask” always the best?
  • Often, more current search results are more useful. Click on “tools” under the Google search box and then “any time” and your time frame of choice such as “Past month” or “Past year”.
  • Have students annotate their own “anatomy of a search result” example like the one I made below. Explore the different ways search results display; some have more details like sitelinks and some do not.

Anatomy of a google search result

  • Find two articles on a news topic from different publications. Or find a news article and an opinion piece on the same topic. Make a Venn diagram comparing the similarities and differences.
  • Choose a graph, map, or chart from The New York Times’ What’s Going On In This Graph series . Have a whole class or small group discussion about the data.
  • Look at images stripped of their captions on What’s Going On In This Picture? by The New York Times. Discuss the images in pairs or small groups. What can you tell?
  • Explore a website together as a class or in pairs — perhaps a news website. Identify all the advertisements .
  • Have a look at a fake website either as a whole class or in pairs/small groups. See if students can spot that these sites are not real. Discuss the fact that you can’t believe everything that’s online. Get started with these four examples of fake websites from Eric Curts.
  • Give students a copy of my website evaluation flowchart to analyse and then discuss as a class. Read more about the flowchart in this post.
  • As a class, look at a prompt from Mike Caulfield’s Four Moves . Either together or in small groups, have students fact check the prompts on the site. This resource explains more about the fact checking process. Note: some of these prompts are not suitable for younger students.
  • Practice skim reading — give students one minute to read a short article. Ask them to discuss what stood out to them. Headings? Bold words? Quotes? Then give students ten minutes to read the same article and discuss deep reading.

how does web research help you with activities online

All students can benefit from learning about plagiarism, copyright, how to write information in their own words, and how to acknowledge the source. However, the formality of this process will depend on your students’ age and your curriculum guidelines.

  • Watch the video Citation for Beginners for an introduction to citation. Discuss the key points to remember.
  • Look up the definition of plagiarism using a variety of sources (dictionary, video, Wikipedia etc.). Create a definition as a class.
  • Find an interesting video on YouTube (perhaps a “life hack” video) and write a brief summary in your own words.
  • Have students pair up and tell each other about their weekend. Then have the listener try to verbalise or write their friend’s recount in their own words. Discuss how accurate this was.
  • Read the class a copy of a well known fairy tale. Have them write a short summary in their own words. Compare the versions that different students come up with.
  • Try out MyBib — a handy free online tool without ads that helps you create citations quickly and easily.
  • Give primary/elementary students a copy of Kathy Schrock’s Guide to Citation that matches their grade level (the guide covers grades 1 to 6). Choose one form of citation and create some examples as a class (e.g. a website or a book).
  • Make a list of things that are okay and not okay to do when researching, e.g. copy text from a website, use any image from Google images, paraphrase in your own words and cite your source, add a short quote and cite the source. 
  • Have students read a short article and then come up with a summary that would be considered plagiarism and one that would not be considered plagiarism. These could be shared with the class and the students asked to decide which one shows an example of plagiarism .
  • Older students could investigate the difference between paraphrasing and summarising . They could create a Venn diagram that compares the two.
  • Write a list of statements on the board that might be true or false ( e.g. The 1956 Olympics were held in Melbourne, Australia. The rhinoceros is the largest land animal in the world. The current marathon world record is 2 hours, 7 minutes). Have students research these statements and decide whether they’re true or false by sharing their citations.

Staying Organised

how does web research help you with activities online

  • Make a list of different ways you can take notes while researching — Google Docs, Google Keep, pen and paper etc. Discuss the pros and cons of each method.
  • Learn the keyboard shortcuts to help manage tabs (e.g. open new tab, reopen closed tab, go to next tab etc.). Perhaps students could all try out the shortcuts and share their favourite one with the class.
  • Find a collection of resources on a topic and add them to a Wakelet .
  • Listen to a short podcast or watch a brief video on a certain topic and sketchnote ideas. Sylvia Duckworth has some great tips about live sketchnoting
  • Learn how to use split screen to have one window open with your research, and another open with your notes (e.g. a Google spreadsheet, Google Doc, Microsoft Word or OneNote etc.) .

All teachers know it’s important to teach students to research well. Investing time in this process will also pay off throughout the year and the years to come. Students will be able to focus on analysing and synthesizing information, rather than the mechanics of the research process.

By trying out as many of these mini-lessons as possible throughout the year, you’ll be really helping your students to thrive in all areas of school, work, and life.

Also remember to model your own searches explicitly during class time. Talk out loud as you look things up and ask students for input. Learning together is the way to go!

You Might Also Enjoy Reading:

How To Evaluate Websites: A Guide For Teachers And Students

Five Tips for Teaching Students How to Research and Filter Information

Typing Tips: The How and Why of Teaching Students Keyboarding Skills

8 Ways Teachers And Schools Can Communicate With Parents

Learn how to teach research skills to primary students, middle school students, or high school students. 50 activities that could be done in just a few minutes a day. Lots of Google search tips and research tips for kids and teachers. Free PDF included! Kathleen Morris | Primary Tech

10 Replies to “50 Mini-Lessons For Teaching Students Research Skills”

Loving these ideas, thank you

This list is amazing. Thank you so much!

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So glad it’s helpful, Alex! 🙂

Hi I am a student who really needed some help on how to reasearch thanks for the help.

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So glad it helped! 🙂

seriously seriously grateful for your post. 🙂

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So glad it’s helpful! Makes my day 🙂

How do you get the 50 mini lessons. I got the free one but am interested in the full version.

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Hi Tracey, The link to the PDF with the 50 mini lessons is in the post. Here it is . Check out this post if you need more advice on teaching students how to research online. Hope that helps! Kathleen

Best wishes to you as you face your health battler. Hoping you’ve come out stronger and healthier from it. Your website is so helpful.

Comments are closed.

Stanford University

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How to use the internet to study wisely.

BY ALEX HASLAM

The internet is the most powerful research tool on the planet, but as any fellow student will tell you, it can also be a distraction. If you want to stay productive, start with the basics and then build from there. A well-equipped browser will allow you to collect your resources in one place, and a reliable internet connection will let you work as quickly as possible to meet deadlines. Once you have the basics, you’ll also want robust tools to help you research, review, write, and focus.

As studies have noted , some of the best resources are the hardest to find online—so we’ve done the digging for you. Here are a handful of useful free apps and websites available to help you use your time online wisely and get down to the business of studying without the distractions.

Collaborate with StudyStack

Create free flashcards and share them with your study group, or use a deck from the database. StudyStack makes it easy to stay efficient and collaborate with other students. You can also use StudyStack to create and play games with flashcards so cramming doesn’t feel like a chore.

Edit with Grammarly

If you’ve been staring bleary-eyed at the same paper for hours, let Grammarly do the cleanup for you . This free writing assistant catches most simple spelling mistakes, sentence fragments, and significant grammatical errors. Advanced versions of Grammarly may be worth the additional cost as they also check for plagiarism and offer suggestions to align the writing to your audience.

Read with Gutenberg

When you’re scrounging for resources and access to books online, don’t forget about Project Gutenberg . It offers more than 57,000 free e-Books, many available for download or to read online. You’ll also find books in several languages including German, French, Italian, and Portuguese.

Review with Crash Course

Have you forgotten the basics of a subject and you need a quick review before you start cramming? Crash Course is a fantastic place to start. This free YouTube channel, founded by author John Green, breaks down complex topics across a variety of areas like statistics, history, computer science, and study skills. These bite-size videos are fun, dynamic reviews of concepts that get you prepared for a deeper dive.

Focus with Cold Turkey

Sometimes we all need a little help with self-control. Cold Turkey has your back with a free filter that blocks distracting websites and helps you impose time limits for studying online without surfing social media. There’s also a free version for writers that doesn’t let you exit until you’ve reached your selected word count goal.

Stay Productive with RescueTime

It’s said that awareness is the first step towards resolving a problem. RescueTime takes that to heart , monitoring your productivity online and producing weekly reports about how you’re spending your time and which apps or websites might be the most distracting. It also lets you set goals and alarms to keep you focused and give each activity a productivity score so you can track your improvement over time.

Alex Haslam graduated from the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah in 2017. Today she is a freelance writer who focuses on consumer technology, entertainment, and higher education.

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When Online Content Disappears

38% of webpages that existed in 2013 are no longer accessible a decade later, table of contents.

  • Webpages from the last decade
  • Links on government websites
  • Links on news websites
  • Reference links on Wikipedia
  • Posts on Twitter
  • Acknowledgments
  • Collection and analysis of Twitter data
  • Data collection for World Wide Web websites, government websites and news websites
  • Data collection for Wikipedia source links
  • Evaluating the status of pages and links
  • Definition of links

Pew Research Center conducted the analysis to examine how often online content that once existed becomes inaccessible. One part of the study looks at a representative sample of webpages that existed over the past decade to see how many are still accessible today. For this analysis, we collected a sample of pages from the Common Crawl web repository for each year from 2013 to 2023. We then tried to access those pages to see how many still exist.

A second part of the study looks at the links on existing webpages to see how many of those links are still functional. We did this by collecting a large sample of pages from government websites, news websites and the online encyclopedia Wikipedia .

We identified relevant news domains using data from the audience metrics company comScore and relevant government domains (at multiple levels of government) using data from get.gov , the official administrator for the .gov domain. We collected the news and government pages via Common Crawl and the Wikipedia pages from an archive maintained by the Wikimedia Foundation . For each collection, we identified the links on those pages and followed them to their destination to see what share of those links point to sites that are no longer accessible.

A third part of the study looks at how often individual posts on social media sites are deleted or otherwise removed from public view. We did this by collecting a large sample of public tweets on the social media platform X (then known as Twitter) in real time using the Twitter Streaming API. We then tracked the status of those tweets for a period of three months using the Twitter Search API to monitor how many were still publicly available. Refer to the report methodology for more details.

The internet is an unimaginably vast repository of modern life, with hundreds of billions of indexed webpages. But even as users across the world rely on the web to access books, images, news articles and other resources, this content sometimes disappears from view.

A new Pew Research Center analysis shows just how fleeting online content actually is:

  • A quarter of all webpages that existed at one point between 2013 and 2023 are no longer accessible, as of October 2023. In most cases, this is because an individual page was deleted or removed on an otherwise functional website.

A line chart showing that 38% of webpages from 2013 are no longer accessible

  • For older content, this trend is even starker. Some 38% of webpages that existed in 2013 are not available today, compared with 8% of pages that existed in 2023.

This “digital decay” occurs in many different online spaces. We examined the links that appear on government and news websites, as well as in the “References” section of Wikipedia pages as of spring 2023. This analysis found that:

  • 23% of news webpages contain at least one broken link, as do 21% of webpages from government sites. News sites with a high level of site traffic and those with less are about equally likely to contain broken links. Local-level government webpages (those belonging to city governments) are especially likely to have broken links.
  • 54% of Wikipedia pages contain at least one link in their “References” section that points to a page that no longer exists.

To see how digital decay plays out on social media, we also collected a real-time sample of tweets during spring 2023 on the social media platform X (then known as Twitter) and followed them for three months. We found that:

  • Nearly one-in-five tweets are no longer publicly visible on the site just months after being posted. In 60% of these cases, the account that originally posted the tweet was made private, suspended or deleted entirely. In the other 40%, the account holder deleted the individual tweet, but the account itself still existed.
  • Certain types of tweets tend to go away more often than others. More than 40% of tweets written in Turkish or Arabic are no longer visible on the site within three months of being posted. And tweets from accounts with the default profile settings are especially likely to disappear from public view.

How this report defines inaccessible links and webpages

There are many ways of defining whether something on the internet that used to exist is now inaccessible to people trying to reach it today. For instance, “inaccessible” could mean that:

  • The page no longer exists on its host server, or the host server itself no longer exists. Someone visiting this type of page would typically receive a variation on the “404 Not Found” server error instead of the content they were looking for.
  • The page address exists but its content has been changed – sometimes dramatically – from what it was originally.
  • The page exists but certain users – such as those with blindness or other visual impairments – might find it difficult or impossible to read.

For this report, we focused on the first of these: pages that no longer exist. The other definitions of accessibility are beyond the scope of this research.

Our approach is a straightforward way of measuring whether something online is accessible or not. But even so, there is some ambiguity.

First, there are dozens of status codes indicating a problem that a user might encounter when they try to access a page. Not all of them definitively indicate whether the page is permanently defunct or just temporarily unavailable. Second, for security reasons, many sites actively try to prevent the sort of automated data collection that we used to test our full list of links.

For these reasons, we used the most conservative estimate possible for deciding whether a site was actually accessible or not. We counted pages as inaccessible only if they returned one of nine error codes that definitively indicate that the page and/or its host server no longer exist or have become nonfunctional – regardless of how they are being accessed, and by whom. The full list of error codes that we included in our definition are in the methodology .

Here are some of the findings from our analysis of digital decay in various online spaces.

To conduct this part of our analysis, we collected a random sample of just under 1 million webpages from the archives of Common Crawl , an internet archive service that periodically collects snapshots of the internet as it exists at different points in time. We sampled pages collected by Common Crawl each year from 2013 through 2023 (approximately 90,000 pages per year) and checked to see if those pages still exist today.

We found that 25% of all the pages we collected from 2013 through 2023 were no longer accessible as of October 2023. This figure is the sum of two different types of broken pages: 16% of pages are individually inaccessible but come from an otherwise functional root-level domain; the other 9% are inaccessible because their entire root domain is no longer functional.

Not surprisingly, the older snapshots in our collection had the largest share of inaccessible links. Of the pages collected from the 2013 snapshot, 38% were no longer accessible in 2023. But even for pages collected in the 2021 snapshot, about one-in-five were no longer accessible just two years later.

A bar chart showing that Around 1 in 5 government webpages contain at least one broken link

We sampled around 500,000 pages from government websites using the Common Crawl March/April 2023 snapshot of the internet, including a mix of different levels of government (federal, state, local and others). We found every link on each page and followed a random selection of those links to their destination to see if the pages they refer to still exist.

Across the government websites we sampled, there were 42 million links. The vast majority of those links (86%) were internal, meaning they link to a different page on the same website. An explainer resource on the IRS website that links to other documents or forms on the IRS site would be an example of an internal link.

Around three-quarters of government webpages we sampled contained at least one on-page link. The typical (median) page contains 50 links, but many pages contain far more. A page in the 90th percentile contains 190 links, and a page in the 99th percentile (that is, the top 1% of pages by number of links) has 740 links.

Other facts about government webpage links:

  • The vast majority go to secure HTTP pages (and have a URL starting with “https://”).
  • 6% go to a static file, like a PDF document.
  • 16% now redirect to a different URL than the one they originally pointed to.

When we followed these links, we found that 6% point to pages that are no longer accessible. Similar shares of internal and external links are no longer functional.

Overall, 21% of all the government webpages we examined contained at least one broken link. Across every level of government we looked at, there were broken links on at least 14% of pages; city government pages had the highest rates of broken links.

A bar chart showing that 23% of news webpages have at least one broken link

For this analysis, we sampled 500,000 pages from 2,063 websites classified as “News/Information” by the audience metrics firm comScore. The pages were collected from the Common Crawl March/April 2023 snapshot of the internet.

Across the news sites sampled, this collection contained more than 14 million links pointing to an outside website. 1 Some 94% of these pages contain at least one external-facing link. The median page contains 20 links, and pages in the top 10% by link count have 56 links.

Like government websites, the vast majority of these links go to secure HTTP pages (those with a URL beginning with “https://”). Around 12% of links on these news sites point to a static file, like a PDF document. And 32% of links on news sites redirected to a different URL than the one they originally pointed to – slightly less than the 39% of external links on government sites that redirect.

When we tracked these links to their destination, we found that 5% of all links on news site pages are no longer accessible. And 23% of all the pages we sampled contained at least one broken link.

Broken links are about as prevalent on the most-trafficked news websites as they are on the least-trafficked sites. Some 25% of pages on news websites in the top 20% by site traffic have at least one broken link. That is nearly identical to the 26% of sites in the bottom 20% by site traffic.

For this analysis, we collected a random sample of 50,000 English-language Wikipedia pages and examined the links in their “References” section. The vast majority of these pages (82%) contain at least one reference link – that is, one that directs the reader to a webpage other than Wikipedia itself.

In total, there are just over 1 million reference links across all the pages we collected. The typical page has four reference links.

The analysis indicates that 11% of all references linked on Wikipedia are no longer accessible. On about 2% of source pages containing reference links, every link on the page was broken or otherwise inaccessible, while another 53% of pages contained at least one broken link.

A pie chart showing that Around 1 in 5 tweets disappear from public view within months

For this analysis, we collected nearly 5 million tweets posted from March 8 to April 27, 2023, on the social media platform X, which at the time was known as Twitter. We did this using Twitter’s Streaming API, collecting 3,000 public tweets every 30 minutes in real time. This provided us with a representative sample of all tweets posted on the platform during that period. We monitored those tweets until June 15, 2023, and checked each day to see if they were still available on the site or not.

At the end of the observation period, we found that 18% of the tweets from our initial collection window were no longer publicly visible on the site . In a majority of cases, this was because the account that originally posted the tweet was made private, suspended or deleted entirely. For the remaining tweets, the account that posted the tweet was still visible on the site, but the individual tweet had been deleted.

Which tweets tend to disappear?

A bar chart showing that Inaccessible tweets often come from accounts with default profile settings

Tweets were especially likely to be deleted or removed over the course of our collection period if they were:

  • Written in certain languages. Nearly half of all the Turkish-language tweets we collected – and a slightly smaller share of those written in Arabic – were no longer available at the end of the tracking period.
  • Posted by accounts using the site’s default profile settings. More than half of tweets from accounts using the default profile image were no longer available at the end of the tracking period, as were more than a third from accounts with a default bio field. Tweets from these accounts tend to disappear because the entire account has been deleted or made private, as opposed to the individual tweet being deleted.
  • Posted by unverified accounts.

We also found that removed or deleted tweets tended to come from newer accounts with relatively few followers and modest activityon the site. On average, tweets that were no longer visible on the site were posted by accounts around eight months younger than those whose tweets stayed on the site.

And when we analyzed the types of tweets that were no longer available, we found that retweets, quote tweets and original tweets did not differ much from the overall average. But replies were relatively unlikely to be removed – just 12% of replies were inaccessible at the end of our monitoring period.

Most tweets that are removed from the site tend to disappear soon after being posted. In addition to looking at how many tweets from our collection were still available at the end of our tracking period, we conducted a survival analysis to see how long these tweets tended to remain available. We found that:

  • 1% of tweets are removed within one hour
  • 3% within a day
  • 10% within a week
  • 15% within a month

Put another way: Half of tweets that are eventually removed from the platform are unavailable within the first six days of being posted. And 90% of these tweets are unavailable within 46 days.

Tweets don’t always disappear forever, though. Some 6% of the tweets we collected disappeared and then became available again at a later point. This could be due to an account going private and then returning to public status, or to the account being suspended and later reinstated. Of those “reappeared” tweets, the vast majority (90%) were still accessible on Twitter at the end of the monitoring period.

  • For our analysis of news sites, we did not collect or check the functionality of internal-facing on-page links – those that point to another page on the same root domain. ↩

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COMMENTS

  1. Online research: Definition, Methods, Types and Execution

    Online research is a research method that involves the collection of information from the internet. With the advent of the internet, the traditional pen-and-paper research techniques have taken a backseat and made room for online research design. Online surveys, online polls, questionnaires, forms, and focus groups are various tools of online ...

  2. Conduct High Quality Online Research: Process, Types, Tools, Tips

    The Online Research Process in 6 Steps. Broadly speaking, the typical online research project goes through 6 key steps. While you probably don't tick off all these steps every time you research something online, following them can help ensure your research is complete, accurate, and useful.. Let's talk about what those steps are and why each one is worthwhile for just about any online ...

  3. Conducting Internet Research

    TC IRB has provided a guide to help researchers determine if their activities can be considered human subjects research. Internet research is a common practice of using Internet information, especially free information on the World Wide Web or Internet-based resources (e.g., discussion forums, social media), in research.

  4. Web-Based Research: Strengths, Weaknesses, and JSAD's Guidance for

    T here is a large literature on the effectiveness of various research methods, covering a variety of topics such as recruitment, interviewing, sampling, representativeness, and response rates. The pros and cons of web-based research, the focus of this editorial, have been a relatively common topic in these articles over the past 20 years (see Couper et al., 2000).

  5. Best Practices for Online Research

    Use activities. Tasks such as photo or video sharing, card-sorting, polls, image mark-up, etc. will keep respondents engaged and help break up the monotony of open-ended questions. Build in group discussions. While a 1-to-1 approach is great to get unbiased and rich feedback, try to build in a group discussion component.

  6. 8 Tips for Effective Internet Research

    Here are eight tips to help you nail your online research each time. 1. Know what kind of research you want to do first. There are two basic types of online research you can do: Soft research and hard research. Hard research is used for looking up factual, scientific, objective topics where statistics, numbers and other rigorous evidence is ...

  7. What is Online Research?: Using the Internet for Social Science

    This book is a straightforward, accessible introduction to social research online. It covers the key issues and concerns for social scientists: online surveys, focus groups, interviews ...

  8. Internet research

    Internet research is the practice of using Internet information, especially free information on the World Wide Web, or Internet-based resources (like Internet discussion forum) in research.. Internet research has had a profound impact on the way ideas are formed and knowledge is created. Common applications of Internet research include personal research on a particular subject (something ...

  9. Top 10 Online Research Tools Every Learner Should Know About

    We have prepared a list of 10 online research tools every online learner should master. Todoist. Research is a time-intensive activity, which means you will need a tool to organize both your professional and personal life. We advise you to give Todoist a shot. Todoist enables you to manage all of your projects and access them from any platform ...

  10. How to Conduct Online Research

    Create an Annotated Bibliography. As you download and read your articles during your online research, you can keep track of them by creating an "electronic notebook" which would consist of a citation of your sources. Create an entry for each source. Use the appropriate style (MLA, APA, CBE, Chicago, etc.).

  11. Online research methods

    Online research methods (ORMs) are ways in which researchers can collect data via the internet.They are also referred to as Internet research, Internet science or iScience, or Web-based methods. Many of these online research methods are related to existing research methodologies but re-invent and re-imagine them in the light of new technologies and conditions associated with the internet.

  12. Web-Based Research: Tips For Conducting Academic Research

    In this article, we have compiled six tips for conducting web-based academic research. These tips will cover all sorts of things such as preparation for research, some online resources for finding information as well and other tips. Now, let's take a look at them and teach you how to do web-based research. 1. Determine the Prerequisites.

  13. Is the Internet bad for you? Huge study reveals surprise ...

    To address this research gap, ... compared with people who lacked web access. Online activities can help people to learn new things and make friends, and this could contribute to the beneficial ...

  14. PDF EFFECTIVE INTERNET RESEARCH: TWO-LESSON PLAN

    The student will learn how to do effective internet research. OBJECTIVE: This two-class lesson plan leads students through a discussion of the difficulties of internet research; provides guidance on how to effectively pre-research; demonstrates online resources available for research through the Brooklyn Collection and Brooklyn Public Library ...

  15. What's That, You Want to Run an Online Experiment?

    This post will explore some of the tools and platforms that can help with a key stage of the online research process: creating your survey or experiment. Specifically, we'll be looking at options for running online experiments, with a slight focus on the more complex platforms - those designed to collect reaction time data (e.g., cognitive tasks), or to deliver complex experimental ...

  16. Improve your research with these free digital tools

    6. Visualizing data. Communicating results through images and graphics is crucial when working on a research paper, poster, or conference presentation. Making use of digital tools for data visualization can make your research easier to understand. draw.io is a free tool for online diagramming which is built for speed and simplicity.

  17. Teaching Students How to do Online Research

    Since then, no matter what project I have planned, I first teach research skills. I found a list of the six steps to online research, and have used these steps ever since in every class I teach. First, I make my students learn the list of the six steps to online research. Questioning. Planning.

  18. 7 Tips To Enhance Online Research Skills Through eLearning

    Luckily, you can help them cultivate their online research skills by using these 7 eLearning design tips. Provide them with a list of must-have eLearning resources. In order to conduct online research your learners need some tools of the trade. You can equip them with a well-stocked tool box by compiling a list of must-have eLearning resources.

  19. How to Teach Online Research Skills to Students

    5 simple steps to teaching Google search tips and internet research skills for students. This updated 2020 post and free eBook shows how to research effectively online for kids in primary school, middle school and high school. These tips are summarized in a free online research skills poster for your classroom.

  20. 10 Best Online Websites and Resources for Academic Research

    Still, Google Books is a great first step to find sources that you can later look for at your campus library. 6. Science.gov. If you're looking for scientific research, Science.gov is a great option. The site provides full-text documents, scientific data, and other resources from federally funded research.

  21. Using the Internet for Academic Research

    This guide assumes a basic familiarity with using the Internet. For assistance researching specific topics, please contact a Librarian at the Library Research Help Desk, at 364-2564, or by e-mail: [email protected] or contact the Subject Librarian for your topic directly. Things You Should Know: Not everything is available on the Internet.

  22. 50 Mini-Lessons For Teaching Students Research Skills

    It outlines a five-step approach to break down the research process into manageable chunks. This post shares ideas for mini-lessons that could be carried out in the classroom throughout the year to help build students' skills in the five areas of: clarify, search, delve, evaluate, and cite. It also includes ideas for learning about staying ...

  23. How to Use the Internet to Study Wisely

    A well-equipped browser will allow you to collect your resources in one place, and a reliable internet connection will let you work as quickly as possible to meet deadlines. Once you have the basics, you'll also want robust tools to help you research, review, write, and focus. As studies have noted, some of the best resources are the hardest ...

  24. Seven strategies for effective online teaching

    Many international school teachers are having to move teaching quickly online. To help you find your way, we've put together seven strategies based on research that will help set you and your learners up for success in your new online teaching and learning environment. You'll also find some useful tips here. 1. Know the technology This is likely to …

  25. When Online Content Disappears

    23% of news webpages contain at least one broken link, as do 21% of webpages from government sites. News sites with a high level of site traffic and those with less are about equally likely to contain broken links. Local-level government webpages (those belonging to city governments) are especially likely to have broken links.