Searching versus Researching

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Difference Between Search and Research

“I searched the topic…”

“Did you research it?”

In a time where controversial topics and issues abound, the word research tends to come up a lot. During an argument or debate, someone inevitably pulls that card, claiming to have done their research or asking if you have. It’s the trump card. Claiming an argument win because they’ve done their homework. But have they?

For most of us, we confuse searching for researching. The former is superficial; the later is an in-depth exploration. It’s right there in the word, one has a re in front of it, implying multiple “searches.” In a world where nearly every answer is at our fingertips, we’ve mistaken the act of googling for understanding. We’ve confused the feel-good hit of neurochemicals that we when we think we’ve “answered” our question, with actual knowledge.

So let’s clear things up. When I think about the path to understanding, I see four different layers: search, explore, review, and research.

Search: This is the superficial level. Where we look for the quick answer. It’s googling and checking the first website that pops up, or listening to the news and taking whatever the anchor says as the answer. It’s all about convenience and speed. You’re hoping for an answer that is easy to find, takes minimal effort, and hopefully puts you close enough to correctness for comfort. There’s nothing wrong with searching, but we should understand its limitations.

Explore: The next level down is when we go a little deeper than the convenient answer. We go beyond the easy to find resources and explore multiple sources. We take the time to look around, to explore. To seek out information.

Review: When I was in graduate school, the hardest and most worthwhile thing I did was a literature review, combing through studies and trying to make sense of a particular topic. It was the deepest of dives. But it wasn’t research, it was a review. This is the deepest level of searching for knowledge or an answer, without actually putting your ideas to the test.

Research: The final level is when we actively test our theories and ideas. It’s not the collecting of information or sifting through it, like in the explore and review levels of understanding; it’s in putting this knowledge to the test. That could be in the traditional scientific research way of conducting experiments or it could be in an informal way. Always emphasize testing your knowledge.

It’s not that any level is ‘better’ than the other. They all have their uses. A simple google search is perfect for finding the name of that song or person that you can’t quite recall. It works well for checking easily verifiable facts, but as the nuance and complexity increases, you must go deeper. Of course, the expectation isn’t to  go down to the review and research level for every issue and every problem. But it’s to be aware when you don’t. To stop from claiming the argument victory or a comprehensive level of knowledge when your quest ended far short.

—  Steve

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