Among many other things, the internet provides us with tons of information. Unfortunately, there is no friendly librarian who knows the ins and outs of the collection, understands just what we’re looking for and can guide us. Of course there are search engines, but sometimes a search engine won’t do because what we’re looking for is too complicated or random or requires the knowledge and experience of an expert.
When searching for answers, there are three basic principles that you should follow to yield great results:
I. Know what your question is.
That’s simple, right? Wrong! Often that is the toughest part.
For example when trying to solve a problem you’re having with a piece of software, you need to understand very well what the problem is. You may assume that it’s caused by this and that, however this assumption may limit the pool of answers. The root of the problem may not be related at all to the problem you’re seeing. So as long as you’re searching for answers that deal with the software you’re using, you will be stuck.
On the other hand, if your search is too general, you will have a hard time spotting the right answers among the thousands of results you’re receiving.
Hence, the key is to ask precise questions, including the right keywords.
II. Know how to ask your question.
When entrusting a search engine with finding the right answer, this is the most critical point. Your goal is to filter out all unrelated information, but nothing more than that.
So after figuring out what your question is, you now have to translate it into search engine lingo. Please refer to my article Master the Google Operands for details on how to speak to the world’s most famous
oracle search engine for answers. Many of these tricks will work with other search engines, too.
III. Know where to ask your question.
While this part isn’t difficult to decide, it does deserve a thought. If you’re good at points one and two, stick with a search engine. However, if your question is rather challenging or too general to yield good results, turn to an expert or specific sources.
These are the top five destinations besides Google and Wikipedia to learn more about a subject or have your specific question answered:
A wealth of information packed into handy articles. The site is maintained by experts and each article contains links for further reading. The site can be searched by category (channel), topic or keyword.
Similar to About.com, but different. In general, articles are much longer, containing a lot more basic and background information. These articles are not to the point, but nevertheless very thorough. A great resource to get familiar with a topic.
Anyone can ask anything and anyone may answer. The asker can pick the best answer and rate it, other users may comment on and vote for all answers. A very flexible system and often you’ll find answers from real experts.
Similar to Yahoo! Answers, but here your question will be answered by experts and the best part is that you can pick the expert yourself. Start by selecting the respective categories until you reach a list of experts. Read their profiles and past answers, then pick the one who appears most suitable to answer your question.
The wiki-based how-to manual contains instructions on how to do just about anything. The manuals are sorted by category, the wiki is available in different languages, and naturally anyone can contribute.
There are dozens or maybe hundreds more sites that provide information and expert knowledge. Which one is your favorite?