With billions of pages on the World Wide Web, how do you find needed information without spending too much time?
What works for me is considering this a research challenge rather than an Internet challenge. And the most important first step in a research project is asking the right question or questions. That’s true whether you’re looking for information on the Web to support an editorial presentation, finding sales leads, or doing market research.
So the goal is mastering a three-step process–(1) thinking about what you need, (2) asking the right questions, and (3) using the Web to help you meet your needs.
A lot of information is, of course, available without sleuthing, if you’re willing to pay for it. To find valuable information that’s free, begin by asking yourself two simple questions:
- What do I need to know?
- Where can I find it?
The Market Size Example
The search I probably do most often on the net involves finding the size of a market for a particular title. Preparing a presentation for an acquisition meeting, I might pose the questions as “Is there a market for this book?” and “If so, what does the market want or need in the book?” Preparing presentation points for sales, I might ask, “How big is the market for this book?” and “Where is the market for this book?”
I often start at Google.com, with the word “statistics” and my subject area. That’s the search engine that consistently gives me the best results most quickly.
Sometimes the hardest part of asking the right question is knowing what words to put in the search box. To some extent, it’s an intuitive thing, but you also get better at it as you use a search engine more. It’s a bit of a drill-down process, one that involves using the results of one search to find leads for others.
With Google, I advise using the keywords “demographics” and “association” as well as “statistics” with the word that sums up your subject.
As for non-Google sources, I recommend that you:
- Look at company Web sites for research firms that cover the industry/area you’re interested in to see if they’ve shared relevant data in press releases.
- Read the industry reports on Hoover’s Online (http://www.hoovers.com/). Then, think “drill down.” Read the reports of companies mentioned.
- Browse through PRNewswire (http://www.prnewswire.com/), where you can read releases on research others have paid for.
- Look for news reports/columns on TheStreet.com (http://www.thestreet.com/).
- Read SEC filings (http://www.sec.gov/edgar.shtml). This takes a bit more work and requires that you have Adobe Acrobat Reader, but it can be worthwhile for publicly traded companies.
- Check out Statistical Abstracts of the United States, a book that its author, the U.S. Census Bureau, has referred to as “Uncle Sam’s Reference Shelf.” Available via Adobe Acrobat at http://www.census.gov/statab/www/, this has lots of categories. It’s the quickest way to find Census data, though you can get lots more if you dig deep into the Census Bureau site (http://www.census.gov/). A drawback at the moment is that there is still a lot of 1990 census data, but the 2000 census information is becoming more available.
- Access other government sources, using your Adobe software. Many government agencies do extensive reports that have great data on the sizes of markets. Look for these by identifying the relevant agency, then going to that agency’s site and browsing or searching for “statistics” or “demographics.”
Word for the Wise
Just as you can’t believe everything you read, you shouldn’t trust everything you find on the Internet. Think about how credible the material you’ve found is. For instance, if it is from an industry association, remember that the group’s goal is to influence on behalf of its members. If the information is based on market research, look for the demographic analysis of the respondents, a valid sample size, and margins of error. And cite your source–after all, you like to be credited for your work.
Dianne M. Cutillo is Acquisitions Editor at Storey Publishing, LLC, in North Adams, Massachusetts.