Introduction: Answer Your Own Questions Online!

About: I've been a student of machine learning / intelligence since 2011.

So you want to know how to ____________?
That's great!

But how do you find out what you want to know?
Should you ask a friend? Or search the local library for a book?
Where do you even begin on this valiant quest(ion) for knowledge!? ... and hopefully, comprehension!?

The correct answer: a search engine

search en·gine


a program that searches for and identifies items in a database that correspond to keywords or characters specified by the user, used especially for finding particular sites on the World Wide Web.

Already knew that eh?
This instructable is all about how to find the answer you are looking for online and how to avoid some common or dangerous pitfalls. This is not a collection of specific tips and tricks, rather, a collection of general principals that, while obvious to read may slip from our minds mid-quest.

Step 1: Don't Give Up

How many different searches have you made for the information you are seeking?
If the answer is "five" or less, then you are giving up waaaay too easy.

That being said, there's a right way to find answers and alot of wrong ways that won't help your quest!
In the next step we will look at how to find answers.

Step 2: Ask the Right Question.

Providing a search engine the correct terms is key to getting the results you need!
Often though, we begin our search not knowing what the correct terms to use actually are.
If that's the case with your quest, do not let it frustrate you.

You are not alone in that situation. Very likely, many before you have made the same journey and have littered the internets with vague, un-precise inquiries for the same knowledge that more educated have successfuly answered.
In other words, even if you aren't sure how to ask the question, give it your best shot and read some of the results. Even if you do not find the answer you are looking for right away, you may learn a few things about your inquiry such as better terms to use or a better way to ask the question.

Found some conflicting or wrong answers?
The next step addresses how to sort them out.

Step 3: Read, Compare and Scrutinize

If you have found conflicting answers or incorrect answer, then it's time to learn how to sort them out.
This is more of an art than a science but experience will help you become proficient at it.

Common answers are not necessarily the correct answer.
The internet is home to large flocks of 'parrots' that will gladly repeat anything they find online that looks popular so that people will come to their website. Just because an answer is common does not make it the right answer.

The right answer for someone else may be the wrong answer for you.
Often this sort of mis-identification can be prevented by reading the answers carefully for details. The counter catch here is that you have to know which details are correct.

Don't step in a trap.
Sad but true, there are cruel people out there who will intentionally deceive you with wrong answers just for a laugh. Thankfully, that isn't too horribly common and a good portion of the 'definitely wrong answers' are so obvious as to be meant as an open joke. The easiest way to avoid these is to simply not take just any-ones word for it that a thing is how they put it.

Passed the 'best by' date.
As institutions of learning go, the internet isn't all that old (yet) but it's been around long enough now that it contains quite the collection of out-of-date information. The only way to avoid out of date info. is to make sure that you got your answer from the authority AND that it is still current. Surely we can trust government agencies and national organizations to keep their information up-to-date, right? No. Most of the time we can, but not always. Also, some information on line is there for historic purposes only, so always check the date!

What does a right answer look like?
Details, the devils tend to inhabit them. If you aren't sure about an answer, check the details. While this isn't a fool-proof method, it will usually help clarify the matter for you. Compare what you know to what you read.

Last warning:
Consider the matter at hand. Some things you just shouldn't try on your own, even with all the right answers. I'm guessing this will fall on deaf ears but I'll say it anyway. Consider what you are wanting to attempt carefully. Some projects really do need knowledgeable and experienced supervision or assistance. Just because you found an instructable on how tore- wire your house doesn't mean you should up and try it on a whim.

Step 4: Ask the Search Engine How to Search.

Try searching for 'how to search _________' (insert the name of your search engine of choice.)

Tips and tricks can be very useful in finding what you want. One of my favorites is the 'don't include this' which consists of a minus symbol followed by the word you do not want to have come up in the results.

Step 5: Consider the Source

This is the most important advice I can give you. Most subjects you need to learn about, this is probably not a major issue but if your inquirey has anything to do with money, watch out! The internet is home to many theives, shysters and crooks who will gladly help you give them your money! NEVER follow a scheme that suggests or promises wealth quickly and easily.

Step 6: Final Thoughts

Sometimes finding the answer you need online is a long laborious task but that is rarely the case and finding the treasure you were seeking makes it well worth the effort! The internet is full of instructions on everything from how to bake a cake to how to build solar panels and program robots! If you want to learn how to fly, or build a house, or whatever, just ask your search engine and start studying!!

Best wishes and be safe out there!

If you want to comment or advise on this instructable, I'd love to hear from you!

The inspiration for this article was the well meaning induhviduals who haven't tried to find the answers to their problems because they "just don't understand that kind of stuff."