Resources for the investigative journalist

Helen Brown readers of her blog to Bookmark these five great deep web research resources (Helen Brown Group, July 16).

Two are handbooks for investigative journalists which I have blogged about also. Stunning.

Two are the work of Paul Myers, an investigative journalist in the UK. Research Clinic has some collections and articles. However, be aware that collections and tip sheets are hard to keep current. For example, the page of Google’s search syntax lists ~ tilda as an operator – no – that was dropped; and link: as an operator for picking up pages that link to a site is so unreliable as to be useless.

If your interest is in genealogy, the best gem will be PIBuzz by Tamara Thompson. She’s in California and has collected many US records databases.

Best Biz Web Newsletter and Site

There were more good items in the Best Biz Web Newsletter this month. This newsletter is available for free but you must have a subscription. If you have any interest in business resources, sign up now at Best of the Business Web. When you visit, check the blog – Thinking Out Loud – for thoughtful postings by Robert Berkman on the research process.

Of interest to me in the June newsletter were:

CORE – Connecting Repositories — aggregates open access research outputs from repositories and journals worldwide. CORE provides “services for different stakeholders including academics and researchers, repository managers, funders and developers”.

Lies, Damn Lies and Viral Content at TOW Center for Digital Journalism that describes and links to a report by Craig Silverman on “How News Websites Spread (and Debunk) Online Rumors, Unverified Claims and Misinformation.” Beware the viral story.

Journalists today have an imperative—and an opportunity—to sift through the mass of content being created and shared in order to separate true from false, and to help the truth to spread. This report includes a set of specific and, where possible, data driven recommendations for how this anti-viral viral strategy can be executed.


Learning about a topic area

Dan Russell provides strategies and tactics of what to do when “you need to learn about a topic area very quickly”. Start with thinking about the “domain” of interest – subject area / topic, and “frame” your question – you don’t want to know everything about the topic. He reminds readers that a librarian can help in shaping the question and in selecting resources – to which I add, you may be able to get that advice through online chat with your public library. But, you can also interview yourself – and his worked examples show the type of scans you can do of online resources.

To these I would add tools that can help in clarifying the question (disambiguate). Today, Duckduckgo is the main search engine that can help with pointing out aspects of topics.

Subject directories used to be excellent tools but today are either closed or poorly maintained. But it can still be beneficial to browse the subject tree – such as at the Toronto Virtual Library, or (dare I say), Open Directory Project for its categories.

The ways people search

Research by BlueNile into search practices shows an even split in the nature of queries, where half are fragments (or phrases – just 2 or 3 words) and the other half fully expressed queries. Another cut showed queries that were statements vs those that were done as questions. The study claimed to find that searchers have distinct approaches, but I think it’s more likely that searchers vary their approach depending on their knowledge and need.

Psychology of the Searcher Nathan Safran, BlueNile Research (Apr 28)

Google Search Operators

Jeremy Gottlieb gives some pointers on using search operators at Google for researching competitors in the SEO industry.

Competitor Research Using Search Operators | A Launch Point For Beginners, distilled (May 21)

He recommends

  • searching for keywords in the title – using intitle:
  • limiting the search to a particular site – using site:
  • limiting the search to part of the url – using inurl:

All are good, but you may run into problems with inurl. Repeated use of inurl: triggers Google’s anti-hacker system that will drive you crazy with captcha to prove you are human.

Google removed reading level

One by one Google strips itself of the features that made  the Google search engine  excellent for web search. This time it’s the reading level search filter. Presumably it wasn’t used much, but that is hardly a good reason – not when it was a feature valued by a key segment of the user population.

Google Drops Another Search Filter: Reading Level, Barry Schwartz, Search Engine Land (May 8)

Karen Blakeman, a professional searcher, is one who feels the loss. She commented in – Google dumps Reading Level search filter that feature helped to separate the technical, serious articles from “consumer or retail focused pages” – which I think we could call the trivial. She wonders, as do I, which of the few remaining advanced search features Google will drop next. Pray that it won’t be number range.

Site: for power searching

Site: is one of the most useful search operators at Google, Bing, Yahoo, Duckduckgo.  It permits searching the pages indexed by the search engine at that web site.  Form is site: followed by the domain name – eg – for everything in the  University of Toronto’s domain.  There are refinements – may search a subdomain – eg, or a subdirectory – eg

This video prepared by the Google Media team is very good – clearly describes how and when to use site: through good examples.  Find the video and Dan Russell’s introduction at Search Research — A new video on SITE: from Google’s Media team (May 4)

Of interest – Google Media Tools has many more helpful tools and tips.