An Exercise in Searching the Web and Validating Content

Two skills covered in both the Modern Workplace Learning’s Social Learning Practitioner Program and Harold Jarche’s Personal Knowledge Management in 40 Days are advanced online search techniques and validation of online content.  One quick peek at the internet in real time to watch the mind-boggling rate at which content on the internet is growing confirms the value of these skills.

The Purpose of my Search

At one level the purpose of my search was to try out new search skills.  However, I needed to look for something specific so decided to search for resources that would help middle managers to identify what actions they could take to effectively develop their team members.  Given that my organisation uses the 702010 framework for learning I started by searching for resources about how they could use 702010 approaches.

Searching Using Google

I used Google as my search engine and started with a broad term which I gradually refined to see how it would impact the number of results.  As shown in the table below, simply adding one word at a time to the search string reduced the number of results to 1% of the starting point within 3 search iterations.  However, over 3,000 search results was still a large number.

Search

I realised that the search term “702010 for middle managers” would include resources about how middle management skills could be developed, which didn’t fit the purpose of my search.  I wanted to shift the emphasis to the role of middle managers in using or implementing 702010, so searched the term: middle manager role in 702010 implementation.  While this may have shifted the emphasis, it didn’t reduce the search results.

In Jane Hart’s Top 100 Tools for Learning 2014 Guidebook I read that Google ignores common words like ‘the’ ‘an’ ‘in’, but will include them in a search if you add a ‘+’ before each one.  My next search was on the term: middle manager role +in 702010 implementation.  This significantly reduced the search results to just 6.  Oddly, none were relevant.  They were mostly about strategy implementation.

Search Results 6

Jane’s next tip was to use quotation marks to use a phrase string to search for an exact phrase rather than just the occurrence of the words entered. I searched on “middle manager role” +in “702010 implementation” and received just 3 results.  While one of these was relevant and included a list of ideas for activities that could be used to develop people through experience and exposure, it was not written for my target audience. Perhaps I had been too specific in my search.  I changed tack again and searched on “702010 outline” +for “middle managers”.  Interestingly, while Google found no search results for this term it automatically searched without the quotation marks and brought back 9 results.

Search Results 9

The second item, 50 suggestions for implementing 702010 (5), was a blog post by Jay Cross, an authoritative source on this topic.  The post referred to quantitative research by the Corporate Leadership Council that identified three management practices that significantly improved performance.  I had seen this research quoted in more detail previously and recalled it contained useful information.

Google Advanced Search

Before I move on to validating content, it is worth noting that the Google Advanced Search page could have been a quicker alternative to constructing powerful searches.  However, it was valuable to learn the mechanics of refining searches by going through the manual exercise described above.

Validating Online Content

While Jay Cross is a credible source on informal learning and 702010 I wanted more detail so followed a hyperlink from his post that I thought would take me to the original research.  While it was a document from the research organisation, it did not contain the referenced research.  At this point it became more important to me to validate the content, ensuring that it was accurate, authoritative and current.

Searching on the report title led me to three further secondary sources quoting the research including Charles Jennings and the 702010 Forum.  I now had three sources I knew to be authoritative discussing the research conclusions consistently, and two sources providing the same detailed findings.  Even so, I wanted to increase my confidence that the content had been interpreted / reported accurately so added the name of the research organisation to the report title in the search.  While unable to access the full report I did find a presentation by the Corporate Leadership Council with enough information to cross-check the secondary sources.

So, although I couldn’t access the ‘members only’ original report from the Corporate Leadership Council, I was satisfied with the validity of the data available from other sources and had enough detail to effectively communicate with middle managers about what they could do to effectively improve performance of their team members.

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