Stepping Up: Proper Research Methodology

One of the bare basic fundamentals of any practice is- or at least should be- proper research. Unfortunately, few people know what “proper research” actually entails.

There are over a billion websites and individual pages published to date… And the fact of the matter is that most of those pages are not worth quoting- let alone accurate in their rendition of the information presented.

In order to successfully sift through all of the information out there on any given subject- and walk away with correct knowledge? You must use proper research methods. And trust me. Legitimate research is called research for a reason: Because it is the patient and repetitious searching for information.

In other words? Legitimate online research involves much more than a 10 Google search and copy-and-pasting Wikipedia links as if they prove your point… Instead, you will need patience and persistence. Furthermore, you will need a consistent and reliable filtering method- as well as critical thinking skills and a penchant to disbelieve anything until it is intelligently validated (skepticism) in order to mentally filter that information so that you may separate the drivel from the verified content


Step One: Determine your subject

Think of a topic you’d like to know more about. It doesn’t matter where you start or what the topic is, just start with whatever interests you. Maybe that’s protection magic. Maybe you need to know if something’s cultural appropriation. Maybe you need to actually know what cultural appropriation even is. Pick something and go with it.

Step Two: Determine your context

For instance, maybe you want to know if Smudging is cultural appropriation (it is), or you are only interested in Irish Magic; maybe you are specifically looking for data from the 10th Century. Whatever you are researching, think of the cultural or other framework you’d prefer if that information is available- or if you are only interested in one aspect of your topic.

Step Three: Preliminary Searches

This is what most people consider the research phase… But in reality, it’s only the beginning of appropriate research; the first step in a long process if you hope to walk away with a fuller, more complete, and more accurate understanding of the subject being researched.

Start with broad initial researching using Search Engines. Aim for areas like the Internet Public LibraryDuckDuckGoClusty / YippyWikipedia, and Mahalo. Write any tertiary subjects or important keywords down as you go… This will give you a broad sense of what categories and related topics are out there, and give you possible directions to aim your actual research.

Step Four: ‘Hard Research’, ‘Soft Research’, or Both.

Once you complete your preliminary searches, you’ll have a much better idea of what is out there and what keywords you will need to use. After that comes the advanced searching using that data. In reality, this is the true research phase- the one skipped by most people but which is by far the most important for garnering information.

However, advanced searching is split into two main groups: ‘Hard’ research and ‘Soft’ research. These two types of research have very different expectations of data and proof, and yield very different results. As a result, they are better for different topics.

Hard research‘ describes scientific and objective research. These are topics where proven facts, figures, statistics, and measurable evidence are absolutely critical to the validity of the results; in hard research, the credibility of every resource must be able to withstand intense scrutiny, and the topics require hard facts and academically respected evidence to support them.

The Invisible Web will often be important for hard research. Furthermore, there are several possible areas to look for your hard research topic: Academic journals  (e.g.  a list of academic search engines here); Government publications (e.g. Google’s ‘Uncle Sam’ search); Government authorities (e.g. the NHTSA); Scientific and medical content, sanctioned by known authorites (e.g. Scirus.com); Non-government websites that are NOT influenced by advertising and obvious sponsorship e.g. Consumer Watch); Archived news (e.g. Internet Archive).

In other words… An opinion blog will not cut it. You will absolutely need to find publications by scholars, experts, and professionals with credentials in the field.

Soft research describes topics that are more subjective, cultural, and opinion-based. As a result, soft research sources will often be less scrutinized by the readers, and topics are often about collecting the opinions of respected online writers; many soft research authorities are not academics, but rather writers who have practical experience in their field.

sources for Soft Research include: Blogs, including personal opinion blogs and amateur writer blogs (e.g. ConsumerReportsUK politics); Forums and discussion sites (e.g. Police discussion forum); Consumer product review sites (e.g. ZDnet, Epinions); Commercial sites that are advertising-driven (e.g. About.com); Tech and computer sites  (e.g.Overclock.net).

Here are examples of hard vs. soft Internet research. Most pagan stuff at it’s foundation is “hard research”- especially when pertaining to things with historical context and use. Because of this, attempt to stick to Archaeological, Scientific, and historical data and texts when they are available.

Combined soft and hard research, though, requires the most work because it often broadens your search requirements as a Hybrid Topic. In other words, not only do you need to find hard facts and figures in order to support your claims… But you will also often need to debate against very strong opinions in order to make your case. Furthermore, you will need your case to withstand scrutiny and fact checking; politics and international economy topics are the biggest examples of hybrid research.

Step Five: Figure out Where to Search

Narrow and deepen your searching with  engines like Google and Ask.com. Once you have experimented with combinations of 3 to 5 different keywords, these 3 search engines and more will deepen the results pools for your keywords.

However, don’t remember to go beyond Google for Invisble Web (Deep Web) searching. Because Invisible Web pages are not spidered by Google, you’ll need to be patient and use slower and more specific search engines like Scirus (for scientific searching); Internet Archive  (to backwards-search past current events); Advanced Clusty Searching  (meta searching specific parts of the Internet); Surfwax (much more knowledge-focused and much less commerce-driven than Google); US Government Library of Congress

Step Six: Repeat with new keywords

Use more than one search term. Think of all possible names or other words or concepts that may be similar to, the same as, or on par with your chosen topic. Use anything relevant that you can think of and never stick to just one key word or search term. In fact, pay attention to the notes you write and information you find. Sometimes it will help give you new keywords to search, or different areas to look into that you hadn’t considered.

Switch things up, mix it around, exhaust every relevant word combination until you can’t think of any more. When you can’t think of any more, congratulations… Your research has likely ended (for the time being).

Step Seven: Results and Compilation

Read through those results and take notes while doing so. Make sure to cite your sources in your notes- including any book names, authors, and page numbers, or websites where the information was found. Once you have a fair amount of data, compile it into easily digestible, coherent bits. Record it somewhere for further reference, and draw your final conclusions.

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