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A journalist who engages in computer-assisted reporting uses a computer to gather or analyse information for a news story. In particular, the Internet has dramatically increased the scope of information available to reporters and the ability to organise, retrieve and analyse it. Search programmes have revolutionised finding data on the web. Some of the best known are DuckDuckGo and ‘meta-crawlers’, which search four or five search engines at the same time. The trick to efficient web searches is to select keywords and phrases with enough precision to exclude results that are irrelevant. You can set your search preferences to get the maximum results. On DuckDuckGo, you can filter time, region, and language or use research methods to limit the number of results for each search.

Keywords provide a simple way of narrowing down your focus, but often, keywords alone are not enough. Some researching tricks can be found on the website of Research Clinic or in this video:

Say you are researching information about a man named John Smith. Simply typing in John and Smith into a search engine will generate every document where both of those names appear, likely hundreds of thousands of documents. To avoid drowning in these search results, you should identify unique features of the John Smith you are looking for, like his hometown or profession. Always remember when conducting Internet research, to close any revealing tabs and remove compromising information if you plan to use a screen grab that could be shared publicly.

Get more tips about online searches from Margot Williams, investigative journalist at The Intercept:

It is better to build your own database in a structured, searchable way that works for you. When you save documents from the Internet or save transcripts of interviews or notes, do so in a way which will allow you to find information again easily. Try using the aforementioned project management tools for this purpose.

Lastly, bear in mind the following ethical considerations to practice computer-assisted reporting:

  • !   If possible, publish detailed references or links to sites where original documents can be read; be transparent about the data you find and use.
  • !   Verify your data very carefully, including checking the date of the information.
  • !   Draw correct conclusions from statistical and numerical data; your readers may not be able to do the calculations and have to trust your math.