Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Google Alerts: Online Research for Dummies...like me!

Does the word "curling" ring a bell?
(Photo Jean Mills)
In my role as online content writer for the Canadian Curling Association, and as a past contributor to The Curling News, I am always on the lookout for stories featuring the people and issues that drive the sport. Yes, believe it or not, curling does have its intriguing celebrities and hot-button issues, and I'm always trolling for something new and interesting.

But you may have noticed this phenomenon: the sport of curling doesn't make it into the headlines - or even on to the sports pages - very often. On the internet, you have to know where to look. That's a lot of research time.

So to facilitate the research and fact-finding process, I subscribe to Google Alerts. It's like having your own electronic clipping service automatically send you links to articles that fit your search criteria. In other words: Online Research for Dummies.

To activate your own Google Alert, go to the Google home page. On the tool bar, select "More". From that list, select "Even More". A page with numerous Search options will appear, with Alerts at the top of the list. Simply click on it and follow the instructions to set up your own robo-researcher.

I have multiple alerts, all of them containing words/phrases that will pick up the stories I need to write my columns and stay on top of the news in the curling world. You might want to set an alert for, say, IT governance, or accounting jobs, or risk management. Or a certain writer or business leader. Or yourself! (But be warned - my classic old-lady name usually results in alerts for obituaries. And there are other Jean Millses out there who write about cool things like Wiccan, and early learning skills in young kids. You might find yourself associated with all sorts of unexpected activities. Just saying...).

Sometimes you end up with obscure items that don't seem to fit but do, actually, contain the words you set for your Alert. For instance, my "curling club" keywords sometimes turn up soccer stories from the UK: someone "curled" a shot into the net, or a particular football "club" just fired its manager. Sometimes the curling club just hosted a book sale or was the scene of a car accident. Oh well. All grist to the mill.

Easy to set up, easy to use, and a time-saver: Google Alerts is a great online tool that you can customize to suit your research needs.

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