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What Is 'Hard' Versus 'Soft' Internet Research?

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Question: What Is 'Hard' Versus 'Soft' Internet Research?
To keep your research pointed in the right direction, there is an important distinction to keep in mind. 'Hard' Internet research has different expectations than 'soft' research. About.com explains the differences below.
Answer: (Continued from the student guide: How to Properly Research Online)

A) 'Hard research' describes scientific and objective research, where math, figures, statistics, evidence and proven facts are absolutely critical. Hard research expectations apply to anything that is scientific, medical, or legal, or when the topic is going to result in lofty philosophical claims, organizational policy, or have large-scale political impact. In hard research, the credibility of every resource must be able to withstand intense scrutiny.

Examples of hard research topics:
  • Is income tax illegal in the USA?
  • The BP oil spill is going to cause cancer in Mississippi residents within 5 years.
  • Chronic back pain can be treated by a combination of anti-inflammatories, caffeine, and fish oil.
  • Duct tape can cure warts.

B) 'Soft research' describes topics that are more subjective, cultural, and opinion-based. Soft research depends less on facts and evidence and more on the presentation skill of the researcher. Soft research sources will be less scrutinized by the readers.

Examples of soft research topics:
  • Android phones are better than Apple iPhones.
  • Flickr is the best free photo gallery online.
  • Why the Episcopalian Church is more youth-friendly than the Catholic Church.
  • Savannah cats make good housepets.
  • The best high definition TV set is the Sharp Aquos.

C) Combined soft and hard research requires the most work, because this hybrid topic broadens your search requirements. Not only do you need to find hard facts and figures, but you will need to debate against very strong opinions to make your case. Politics and international economy topics are the biggest examples of hybrid research.

Examples of hybrid soft-and-hard research topics:
  • The Tea Party Movement will save America from financial ruin.
  • The European economy will collapse by 2017.
  • Israel purposely attacked the Gaza flotilla without provocation.
  • The CERN hadron collider will eventually create a black hole that will destroy Switzerland.


(Back to the student guide, How to Research on the Internet)


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