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How to Conduct Open Source Research

What Is Open Source Research?

Open source research is research that utilizes publicly available sources. Examples of open sources include the internet, social media sites, public documents, and news articles. Research institutions or intelligence agencies may choose to use open source intelligence since it has a much lower cost when compared to other methodologies [1]. Additionally, open source information can be accessed at any time and provides a way to measure and assess public opinion on certain issues without institutional review board (IRB) approval. However, while the advantages of open source research are evident, there are various challenges to open source research.

Challenges of Open Source Research:

Challenges to open source research include: (1) large amounts of information, (2) unstructured information, (3) misinformation/unreliable sources, and (4) time consumption. When conducting open source research, search engines may provide millions of results when searching specific keywords; therefore, it is not feasible to consume millions of sources in search of certain information. Additionally, Google searches are ordered by relevance, but the most relevant sources determined by algorithms may disclude useful sources [2]. However, even the relevant sources are not filtered by source type, such as blog posts, opinion pieces, news articles, or social media posts; there is no coherent structure to open source information. When conducting open source research, sources on the internet are typically not fact-checked, so the consumption of misinformation or unreliable sources becomes a concerning issue. Finally, open source research requires a significant amount of time. For instance, even when narrowing down search engine results, one must still discern relevant sources from irrelevant ones and analyze the information presented.

Recommendations for Challenges to Open Source Research:

  • Large Amounts of Information: Google operators are helpful when narrowing down or specifying search engine results.

    • For instance, the Google operator “AND” includes multiple keywords in a search, while the operator “OR” specifies results to include multiple relevant keywords [3]. Using “quotation marks” filters for specific key phrases, while using “filetype: pdf” only includes results that are in a pdf format [4]. This may prove useful when searching for official documents such as court documents.

  • Unstructured Information: Google Chrome extensions and Inoreader can create organization to search engine results.

    • OneTab: For example, the extension OneTab allows for the consolidation of all open tabs by saving them in one easy-to-access place, without managing individual tabs open on your computer [5].

    • Pocket: Another useful Google Chrome extension includes Pocket, which allows for the saving of a web page or article for easy viewing later [6]. The Pocket mobile app also includes a speech feature which translates text to audio, allowing for easy and convenient listening [7].

    • Inoreader: Inoreader combines all subscribed news feeds into one, easy-to-read location [8]. For instance, news from various different outlets is consolidated into one page, and Inoreader allows for the consumption of each source right within the application, without the need to open each source in a new tab. Additionally, Inoreader can combine Google Alerts with news subscriptions to include a comprehensive list of all essential sources [9]. The ability to add Google Alerts to Inoreader is extremely useful when conducting research on a current topic.

  • Misinformation/Unreliable Sources:

    • Since sources on the internet may not be reliable or provide accurate information, it is important to check the credibility of sources. This may be accomplished by cross referencing facts with reputable sources. Subsequently, skepticism of unfamiliar sources mitigates the influence of misinformation [10].

  • Time Consumption:

    • Sorting through open source information is time consuming, but using Google operators to filter results and utilizing Google Chrome extensions, Inoreader, and Google Alerts to create organization helps cut down the time required to consume open source information. However, because open source information includes all publicly available sources, open source research will be inherently time-intensive.

Implementation of Recommendations for Open Source Research

Because many research questions for disciplines such as political science, international affairs, and social sciences cannot be accurately measured in lab settings, open source research provides an alternative method of gathering valuable data. Therefore, understanding the challenges to open source research and ways to mitigate them can be very useful in both academic experiences such as research assistantships and professional settings such as internships with research institutions. Information on how to effectively use Google operators and the instructions for downloading and operating OneTab, Pocket, Inoreader, and Google Alerts can be found here.


[1] “Advantages & Limitations of Open-Source Intelligence.” OSINT Solutions, Inc., October 7, 2016.

[3] Pallaris, Chris. “Online Research Skills.” [Powerpoint Presentation]. Center for Strategic and International Studies Research Workshop, Washington D.C., June 12, 2019.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Lewandowsky, Stephan, Ullrich K. H. Ecker, Colleen M. Seifert, Norbert Schwarz, and John Cook. “Misinformation and Its Correction: Continued Influence and Successful Debiasing.” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 13, no. 3 (2012): 106-131.


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