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3 Helpful Tips on How To Research Newspaper Archives

December 21, 2022

Billions of internet searches are made every day--but how many are made well?

Even experienced researchers can find themselves wasting time on inefficient searches that yield questionable results. The problem? Open web search engines with endless answers. Using open web search engines is second nature for most people, but answering casual questions about a restaurant’s hours is a far cry from doing in-depth professional research.

The convenience of constant access to search engines combined with the off-hand approach to using them makes it easy to become careless when conducting research--even for professionals. Good news, however, you can do better research with better strategies and tools. These include narrowing the scope of the question, wording it carefully, and choosing the right search engine to use.

The best news? Nexis® for Media Professionals can help you with all of that. Here are three top ways to find credible sources and save time on news archive research. 

1. Carefully consider the questions you need to answer

Before you start your project, try to get your questions as specific as possible so you know what to look for and why, cutting down on the time it takes to do your research. This also helps you: 

  • Narrow the search to the specific nugget of data you require, streamlining the process of finding the information so you can move on to higher value tasks
  • Filter out unnecessary details, helping you reduce wasted effort
  • Define the goals of your research
  • Plan out the direction of your research

These efforts pay off in the long run, proving more efficient than stumbling along searching for data that may or may not prove relevant. For example, if you are putting together a documentary on the Watergate break-in, it will be more helpful to research questions surrounding that event than questions about Nixon in general. Narrowing your search this way will save you time in the long run because you'll get exactly what your looking for, faster. 

Another benefit to this careful thinking is that it provides the perfect opportunity to consider the ideal sources to find the kind of information needed. Maybe you'll want to look at the 1972 news archives to see what reporters were saying at the time. Or maybe you'll need legal data or public records covering people involved in the scandal. Whatever you need, you're going to want a research platform that gets you accurate sources--and gets you behind the paywall so you can read  the whole article (good news, Nexis does!). 

2. Use clear and specific wording

Each word put into a search engine influences the results. While a natural language search—“best restaurants near me”—may get you the results you want from Google, more precise search queries will deliver more relevant results when you’re conducting background research in a professional setting.

Unnecessary words, such as those whose only purpose is grammatical, serve only to widen the net cast in the search. So, they lengthen your list of results while lowering the quality. However, using Boolean search or specific keywords can target the search for more relevant results. Using the example above, searching "'Watergate break-in' AND 'Washington Post'" will yield more specific results about what The Washington Post published than asking "What did The Washington Post publish about Watergate?"--which could bring up any source that published something about the Watergate scandal. That's why being specific will save you time as you wade through your research findings. 

Even when confining the search criteria to keywords, consider carefully whether any of the words could have a different meaning if taken out of the context of the research. A search engine will include all possible meanings, so you need to be considered the possibilities to avoid clogging the list of results with irrelevant material. The more precise the list, the less time it takes to sort through the results and access the needed information.

Also important is the word order. Careless phrasing can negatively affect the usefulness of the information generated.  If you’ve ever used a voice assistant like Siri or Alexa, you’ve probably had one of those frustrating moments when the result you get is not remotely what you think you asked for. The more precise your search query is—whether you’re typing it into a search engine or speaking to a smart device—the better your results will be.

3. Choose the appropriate search engine

With a wide variety of search engines from which to choose, how do you choose the best option for your purpose?

For simple, straightforward questions with easily verifiable answers, using general search engines may be a reasonable choice. But open web search engines also surface content based on SEO and pay-per-click keywords. So, your search results may be a hodgepodge of marketing materials and questionable content, which can be particularly frustrating when you're combatting fake news.

And therein lies the problem. Small pieces of information can form the basis of later research, determining the direction it will take. One inaccurate or misleading bit of information on its own can easily be rectified, but when further research is done based on that information, the damage is compounded--as is the effort it takes to correct it.

That's where Nexis comes into play. A powerful research platform like Nexis for Media Professionals focuses on reputable sources for news archives, company information, legal data and more. Plus, it has filtering options to fine tune the search parameters to weed out irrelevant information. 

Next steps

  1. Want more tips for conducting research more efficiently and effectively? Check out our Guide to Quality Research
  2. Learn more about Nexis and arrange a personalized demo.
  3. Share this blog with your colleagues and connections to keep the conversation going.