2.3. Digital sleuthing

The Internet has dramatically increased the scope of information available to reporters and the ability to organise, retrieve and analyse it. Some of the best know search programmes are DuckDuckGo and other ‘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 for 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 are not enough. 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 results, you should identify unique features of the John Smith you are looking for, like his hometown or profession. Remember to close any revealing tabs and remove compromising information if you plan to use a screen grab that could be shared publicly.

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

  • !   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.

Some researching tricks can be found here: researchclinic.net or