Access to the internet makes everyone seem capable of learning what they need to know on their own. However, the sheer volume of information available online—not to mention the knowledge which remains exclusively offline—means there’s a premium placed on finding exactly what you need to know and making sure that information is accurate.
This is where becoming a paid researcher becomes a potential opportunity to earn income. By knowing how to cut through the irrelevant noise, isolate reliable sources, and search for the truth, graduate students can make some decent money and gain valuable experience in the process.
Let’s take a look at the important things to know and know about before getting started:
While much of what you do as a freelance researcher will be done online, there’s a good chance you’ll also find yourself visiting traditional libraries and archives. This is especially true if conducting historical research on behalf of a client, particularly if it involves finding information about a local community, building, or individual from the past. With this in mind, it’s important to have a few tools available. The first is a document scanner you can use on your smartphone. This enables researchers to digitize book pages, newspaper articles, maps, and other pieces of information they find in hard copy format. Another useful tool for freelance researchers is a compact laptop for quick data entry and on-the-go digital detective work.
The first stop for most research – both paid and unpaid – is Google. The right recipe of words can lead you down the right path. But since the internet is full of unreliable sources full of conjecture and – sometimes – outright lies, those earning money via research need to be more selective about where they get their information. While by no means impervious to error, academic databases and journals are where key sources of reliable, peer-reviewed information can be found. The content produced by reputable news agencies is another valuable source of accurate accounts and trustworthy information.
Most subjects, no matter how esoteric, have articles and books devoted to digging into the details. Accessing these condensed sources of information can save researchers a lot of time and trouble, but those being paid to get to the truth about a topic need to avoid relying on a single source of information. Always make an effort to get to the primary sources on which the information found in articles and books is based. Personal accounts, contemporary journalism, scientific data, and legal documents are just some of the primary resources worth uncovering.
Learning how to be an expert researcher is one thing, but finding people willing to pay for that service is another. Graduate students can start by putting fliers and posters up on campus. Billboards found in most university buildings are seen by hundreds of people every day, many of whom are going to consider the benefits of paying someone else to do research for them. Word-of-mouth generated from this base group of clients can lead to other opportunities as well. Affordable online advertising is another avenue to consider.
Most people don’t carry cash anymore and checks can potentially bounce. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to get acquainted with a service like Paypal or Venmo. Create an account and have clients make their payments that way. Send invoices once you’ve collected the information they want, and wait until the money is safely in your account before handing your findings over to them. Money in an online account can be transferred to your personal bank, making them ideal for doing research on behalf of anyone anywhere.
Doing professional-grade research on behalf of clients can give grad students an incredible amount of relevant experience. You’ll most certainly need to do similar research of your own in pursuit of your master’s or doctoral thesis. Years of conducting paid research on a wide variety of subjects will introduce you to the tools, techniques, and resources which will be used to get your advanced degree.
It might seem like everybody is capable of learning anything thanks to the internet, but doing so requires a specialized ability to weed through the irrelevant and unreliable. This is a skill that can be used to earn income, so why not give it a shot?