5 steps to beat Information Overload when researching

how to deal with information overload, technology overload, research methods, research tips, information overload, computer work, technostress
I just finished a draft of a thirty-page teaching module I will be paid for writing. It is still far from complete, but now I can heave a sigh of relief after weeks of research and trying to write it. I realized how difficult writing is! I was trying to apply for online jobs involving writing, but I failed in one of my applications because I couldn't write on the topic they gave. When this opportunity came, I grabbed it so I can test myself if I can tackle these kinds of writing projects.

When I was given the task and the deadline, the first step I did was research on Google. My, was I overwhelmed with the search results! So many information, so many useful data, so many reliable (and not-so-reliable) sources, but so little time and it felt like my brain couldn't process everything! So I closed the browser first and shut down the computer so I can think clearly. Being online tempts me to click and click, that in the end hours pass, I have read a lot, yet I have written nothing. So I tried a more systematic way of dealing with it.

The following steps worked for me:

1. Start with an outline.

I was given a general outline I can modify to suit the writing project. But if you don't, you can research on general sources (like Wikipedia) to give you a glimpse of all the aspects of the topic and choose what to focus on. I was researching about human trafficking, so my outline went like this:

Human Trafficking

  • Introduction: Defining terms, current world statistics, and profiles of victims and traffickers
  • Human Trafficking in the Philippine Setting: current statistics, agencies involved, and laws
  • Individual and Organizational Roles in Trafficking: what we can do, responsibilities of government agencies and the private sector
  • Current Problems, Challenges, and Recommendations

2. Research and choose a few (but enough) reliable sources.

There may be a lot of available resources, but one must not be tempted to use all of them right away. Set aside time to research the best resources available and just choose a few but good ones.

I was overwhelmed by all the sources I saw on the internet, so my first step was to go to the library and research there. Using the library has an advantage: most likely, books contain more useful information than the net. Fortunately, I always find great and reliable sources in our university library. If you are not familiar with the nearest library, I recommend visiting it and asking the Librarian who is ready to help. Also, familiarize yourself with the Online Catalog and how to use it.

The library is also a great place to work on your research project. It is usually quiet which is great for concentrating on your work. There are many sources other than books like periodicals, journals, magazines, and online databases.

3. Read one thing at a time.

Now that you have your sources, it's time to scan and read them for the information you need. Read them one at a time, and take notes in your own words on the relevant information you need for your research. Now, you can fill the outline with key information. Don't forget to keep careful citations of the resources you use.

4. Accept that you can't use everything, so use few sources and stick to them.

There are lots of resources available on the net, but most of the time they contain duplicate information. Stick to a few but good resources as much as possible, and just do more research on things that need additional information.

5. Take a break.

Overwhelmed? Maybe it's time to stop for awhile and let your brain process all the information you have read. After many days of working on the writing project, I stopped for a couple of days. But when I went back working, I found that my mind had a clearer picture of what needs to be written. Taking a break also fuels your enthusiasm when you go back to an otherwise boring project. I got back to the work after a short break and I finished the complete draft today!

Sometimes breaks don't delay but are needed to create quality work.

But don't take a break that lasts too long or you may be unmotivated to finish it, or you may find yourself procrastinating near the deadline.

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