My friend Mario Callegaro and I have been talking for years about pulling together a series of posts that are all "How to Find..." mini-tutorials for a number of topics. Our plan is to put out about one post each week, each post covering another specific "How to Find.." topic area.
This week, for example, is all about How to Find "Do-it-yourself (DIY) information." In future episodes we'll discuss how to find other topic area like medical information, or educational content, or recipes, or travel information.As we've taught people how to search over the years, we've noticed that for every special domain (DIY, medicine, education, recipes, travel) that there's often something else to know about searching in that area--some additional bits of information about the domain that would help you search more effectively.So, to address this, we've written about 10 such posts, and will put them out at about one post per week for the next couple of months.At the end, we'll pull all of the searching tips together into a compendium that will be very SearchResearch-like as a summary.THEN we hope to pull all of these posts together into a single document that you'll be able to print for yourself, use in your classes, or (with luck) buy as an online book.Our hope is to provide a bunch of easy-to-read information about how to search in a given area. So we're really looking for feedback about each chapter, and about the idea overall.Please leave comments in the comment area below. We'll read them with interest, and will try to make this series into something truly useful for everyone.Enjoy.Dan & Mario
A common thing people search for is “how to” information. Sometimes called “do it yourself” (DIY), this kind of how-to-do-something is an important part of how people share their craft with others. In the past few years, plenty of web sites have sprung up to teach people how to sew, repair broken appliances, darn socks, or do thoracic surgery. Once this kind of information was the area of hobbyists and obscure, difficult-to-find speciality magazines and specialized books. But now, the DIY and Maker movements have extended boundaries with some sophisticated DIY information that’s easily findable and widely available. (Think about examples like “how to build your own surfboard,” “how to set up your own Minecraft server,” or “how to do fire spinning.”)
Sometimes, getting the DIY information rapidly is critical--the water is gushing out of my plumbing NOW and I need to stop it instantly. Most of the time, getting the DIY information is leisurely--you can learn how to fly a drone or build a Minecraft server pretty much any time. Other times you want to save time and money and fix or build something yourself, instead of calling a company or person to do that for you. In the get-it-to-me-now case, you don’t want to spend a lot of time futzing around… and that’s why you’re reading this article now. In the leisurely case and save time and money case, you probably want to find pretty reliable “how to” information so you don’t crash your drone on its first flight, or spend lots of time building a broken server.
What is DIY content?
DIY--or “how to do it”--information tells you (or better yet, shows you) how to do some particularly skilled thing. Usually DIY info is for topics where it’s really not obvious how to do it (for instance, how DO you cut glass to make stained glass artwork?), mysterious (how do you make a fishing net out of a long string?), or involves steps where doing it wrong is really dangerous or expensive.
Lots of DIY content these days is in video form, although printed manuals and how-to guides are sometimes easier to use.
While there are MANY kinds of DIY information, we’re going to look at just the most common kinds:
- How to do a particular skill? (Think twirling a fire baton, riding a unicycle, replacing car brake pads, play a musical instrument, or how to strum a power chord on your electric guitar at max volume.)
- How to fix something that’s broken? (Your blender / TV / phone computer is broken. Your socks need repair. Your kitchen faucet needs replacing. What now?)
- How to make something from scratch? (Learn to bake a cake, build an igloo, make the best paper airplane, or write a strong resume.)
- How do you use a tool or piece of software? (You need to learn how to fix up old photos using a software photo editor. You’d like to learn how to use an awl correctly, without sticking it into your hand.)
DIY searching: What do you need to learn?
Luckily, the internet is full of people who have created tutorials and written-up how-tos for even the most obscure topics. (Need to know how to take care of a pet spider? There are tutorials written for you. Really. If you're an arachnophobe, don't search for this.)
Consider what you already know. If you’re looking up DIY information about creating a new Mardi Gras costume, think about how much you already know. Are you a sewer? Do you have a closet full of needles and thread, ribbons and bolts of fabric? Are you already an expert in the field?
When starting a DIY search, first consider what kind of information you need. If you’re a beginner, you’re going to need an overview or quick introduction to the field, if only to learn the language and to assess whether or not this is a good thing to start doing. (It could be that you’re taking on something way over your head or budget. That’s the point of up-front research: Find this kind of thing out before sinking lots of time and money into a project. Learning how to bake bread is fairly straightforward; learning how to bake a beautifully decorated cake involves more time, money, and practice.) Check out the results all the way to the end. (Don’t be surprised by a suddenly large amount of time you need at the end of the recipe when your dinner party is TONIGHT.)
Once you’ve started finding your research, think about building up a collection of articles, evaluating which one(s) you think are the best. Are they in a language you understand? Is it clear what’s involved?
Pro tip: Always search for at least two or three different how-to articles (or videos) before diving in. It’s often the case that one article will illustrate the method in a way that doesn’t make sense until you read another take on the same topic.
Depending on what you are attempting to fix or a skill to learn, remember that most online resources are written by professionals or individuals very familiar with the topic. In case of doing electrical work, for example, you might want to disconnect the power first, before plumbing work you want to shut off the main shutoff water valve in your place, or before deboning a chicken for the first time you might want to watch some knife skills tutorials.
The less you know for a topic the more you want to search not only for the skill to learn or the component to fix, but also how to do it safely.
An example is the infamous “avocado cut” which is referred to in emergency hospital rooms as a knife cut on the palm hand when attempting to cut an avocado.
DIY search process
Start broadly: When I’m doing a DIY search in an area I don’t know much about, I start broadly, usually learning a lot about the field before I dive into the specifics. For instance, I know very little about knitting. So if I wanted to get into knitting as a spare-time activity, I’d first look up more general articles about knitting to get a sense for what’s involved. Use queries such as:
[ knitting overview ]
[ introduction to knitting ]
[ beginning knitting ]
(Here, the bold-blue text are the kinds of context terms that you might use to focus your search on a particular kind of result. I'll use this convention to point out aspects of the search you should pay attention to.)
I’d look at the high end to see the things I’d like to aspire to do one day, and then go back and look at the entry-level, or beginner’s level materials. Can I get there from here?
Dive in: If I already know what I’m doing (or if I’ve learned a lot already), I’ll start to dive into mechanics of searching for teaching material. I start broadly, casting out a wide net, and look for specialty sites along the way. Let’s take the example of guitar playing:
[ how to play guitar ]
[ guitar instruction ]
[ guitar lessons ]
And if you know what style of guitar playing you’d like to pursue, add that in as well:
[ how to play flamenco guitar ]
[ gypsy guitar instruction ]
[ jazz guitar lessons ]
Then, once you start to become more expert in the field, you can search for specifics, for example, a strumming technique that’s used in flamenco guitar playing is rasgueado--if you know that, use it in your search:
[ flamenco guitar rasgueado ]
Or, you can search for content that’s specifically labeled as advanced (or intermediate):
[ flamenco guitar advanced ]
Broadly speaking, these methods are all ways to translate what you know about an educational need into search-engine specific strategies.
1. Use specific terms that are used in your interest area. For instance, a cable weave is a kind of knitting stitch, while a cable braid is a way to manage all of those pesky computer cables under the desk. A “caliper” is part of a car’s brakes, but also a machinists measuring tool. You can use specific terms like this to get very on-target search results. (Caution: Be sure you know what your speciality term means! Don’t search for “penny whistle” if what you’re really looking for is “recorder.” Use [ define <term> ] to double check that your term means what you think it means!)
[ cable weave knitting pattern ]
[ woven cable headphone ]
2. Check out different kinds of media. Remember that there can be many different kinds of content. Often we turn to videos to find out how to do something physical (e.g., fix plumbing or learning a dance move), but printed documents can also be very helpful, especially when they’re specifically for the thing you’re trying to repair. Sometimes an exploded parts diagram that you can refer to is exactly the right thing. Also look for images for your topic. Electronics repairs often require a schematic diagram to help you understand how things are put together.
[ repair manual PDF Cuisinart blender ] (will find PDFs for a Cuisinart blender)
[ furnace schematic ] (Image search)
[ replace hose bib ] (Video search)
And while it might seem odd, remember that Books can be a useful place to learn how-to do something. Be sure to checkout Google Books. (Books.Google.com)
3. Look for Q&A or Forum sites. A Q&A (questions and answers) or Forum site can be a superb source of information. These sites are usually run by enthusiasts in that particular field to answer questions that come up for people.
[ forum tile repair ]
[ Q&A bicycle repair ]
[ DIY bike repair ]
4. Search for online communities in your interest area. Many social media networks (Facebook, Pintrest, Instagram, Tumblr, etc.) have communities of people with a shared interest. It’s simple to look on a social network for things like:
[ piano enthusiasts ]
[ woodworking ]
[ surfing ]
and get quickly linked into those communities, usually full of people who are more than willing to answer your questions.
5. Search for DIY content for your specific device / widget / gadget. People love to talk about their particular gadget. So it’s relatively straightforward to look for how-to information that’s keyed to a particular kind of device. Notice: Be sure the article you’re reading and the device you have are the same model (or release). Nothing is more frustrating than reading an entire how-to article and then figuring out that this was all for the previous version of the device… that you don’t own.
[ GoPro Silver how to time lapse ]
[ Photoshop CC tutorial ]
6. Google can sometimes provide a DIY for some common questions. As Google continues to improve its ability to extract information in response to common questions, you’ll start to see more answers being delivered in a form like this.
Specific DIY Resources
There are many videos on YouTube for your interest area. Be sure to look not just for individual videos, but also for channels that are on your topic.
You should know about the Stack Exchange sites. They’re Q&A sites on many topics. See: http://stackexchange.com/sites Another forum DIY site is reddit.com/r/DIY/ (And once you’ve found a good site, use site: to search inside it.)
[ site:sound.stackexchange.com/ how to record a piano ] - advice on recording a piano
Popular DIY sites to consider (there are many--you could search for them). These are (currently) some of the most popular:
Note that DIY sites vary a lot by DIY area. DIY for arts-and-crafts projects are very different than ones for plumbing or gardening. Consider doing a search for your specific DIY area (e.g., “paper flowers” or “plumbing” in addition to DIY in your search).
Other Kinds of DIY Resources
MOOCs: A MOOC is a Massively Open Online Class. There are a great many MOOCs that will teach you specific things (e.g., how to code, how to do data analysis, how to play jazz guitar). Although they tend to be longer formats (multiple lessons), they’re often a great resource for life-long learning.
LinkedIn Learning: This is a commercial online education resource (you have to be a LinkedIn member to access it, and that costs real money), but much of their technical content is superb. (This is the product previously known as Lynda.com. LinkedIn has continued the Lynda commitment to quality online teaching.) If you’re looking for somewhat more in-depth how-to-do-it, this is a great resource.
Books: Search for books about [ how to …] on your topic.
Libraries, Colleges, Universities: Don’t forget about your local college and university courses, as well classes at your local library. Often these are free (or inexpensive) and can connect you with other enthusiasts in your area.
Another pro-tip: use the search [ learn to … ] pattern. For example:
[ learn to knit a scarf ]
Notice that we’re skirting the edges of searching for educational content. We’ll have another chapter on how to find learning resources / educational content. Stay tuned.
The outcome of a search will sometimes elicit a paid resource.
As we say in our forthcoming basic skills chapter, there is more content online that you can access because a part of it is under a paywall.
For example, there are many websites with tutorials and individual professors that you can hire to learn how to play a musical instrument. With more and more education content moving online, also accelerated by the COVID pandemic, you can have access to an almost infinite amount of resources.
Most paid resources have some free material that you can use to judge if that is what you are looking for and their quality. This is the case for sites that can teach you how to play an instrument or how to master a particular software.
Finally some sites provide a certification after you take some classes and generally pass an exam that you are qualified for that particular skill.In other words you can start to learn a new skill as a hobby or enthusiast and turn it around as a specific skill and even a new profession.
From online to offline
The more you get into your new skill or hobby, the more you will be interested in meeting people who share the same interest as you. For many topics that are exhibitions, fairs, and shows where you can go and attend talks, meet vendors, and meet other enthusiasts like you.
These exhibitions are now moved online because of the pandemic but they will likely resume as in person events after the pandemic is over.
Another major advantage of attending exhibitions, besides the social aspect of it, is that you can actually try and test tools, components, and machines in an easy and free fashion. Say, for example that you are into headphones. If you go to a headphone fair, you will have the chance to try many headphones in a relatively short period of time and ask questions directly to the manufacturer.
In this section we’ve shown you how to:
A. Start your search broadly, THEN narrow your focus.
B. Safety first
C. Use specific terms to locate the DIY info you need.
D. Look for multiple sources and kinds of information.
E. Search for online communities, which often have forums where you can ask you specific how-to questions.
F. Consider offline events such as exhibitions, fairs and shows
1. When searching for DIY, use context terms in your search to narrow what you’d like to find (e.g., terms like overview, introduction, beginning, advanced)
2. Use search patterns for DIY info: [ how to …] [ learn to …] [ lessons … ]
3. Use different kinds of media (not everything is in a video OR in text!) Check the web, videos, images, and books.
4. Look for Q&A (forum) sites on your DIY topic.
5. Look for online communities in your DIY area.
6. When trying to DIY something specific, put that into your search. (Especially model numbers or years.)
7. Consider searching for, and then using, specific DIY resources. (See list above.)