How to get the most from online research sources

It’s not even Halloween yet but you’re probably swamped with research paper assignments. Am I right? Your professors may assume that you know how to use research databases and how to find scholarly education resources to use. But the truth is that many college students struggle with doing anything more than a simple Google search.

So let’s take a look at some tips, tricks, and strategies that will help you gather the research you need to ace that next term paper.

Getting started

Read the instructions from your professor carefully and ask questions to make sure that you understand what is required. Then, before you start your research, you need to focus on a topic that is appropriate to the assignment. Once you’ve settled on a topic, then you can start gathering your research.

Using resources

First of all, let’s talk about Wikipedia. It’s a good place to start because it has lots of links to useful resources. But you’re going to get into trouble if you use the information on the Wikipedia page because nobody checks them for accuracy. By following the links at the bottom of the page you stand a better chance of finding a useful resource.

Google tips

Next on your list is Google. It’s still my favorite search engine because results can lead you to videos, images, PowerPoint slide shows, articles, and more.

In an October 24, 2014, post for, “10 research tips for finding answers online,” Danielle Thomson revealed some of the strategies that made her a TED Prize researcher.

“As much as I love — and begin all of my searches with — a simple Google search, Google Books is my favorite resource when a deeper dive is necessary. A majority of the books are fully readable within the digital database, and the ability to search for phrases within the books is a game changer,” Thomson said.

When you do a Google search it will tell you how many results you found. This could be in the hundreds of thousands. In an April 27, 2011, post for, “10 tips for smarter, more efficient Internet searching,” Alan Norton described several tips for maximizing your Google experience.

Another tool that will fine tune your search is found in the gear icon on the right side of the page. Use this to go back and look at your search history or refine your search to specific types of pages, files, or languages. Check it out. There’s a lot of control there.

Research tools I love

Here is a quick list of other research tools to make your life easier.

  • Questia: You almost don’t need anything else once you subscribe to this massive database. You’ll also find tutorials on how to research and write your papers and tools to save your research and cite your sources.
  • DataElixir: free curated articles on science news
  • Zotero: a free tool to help you collect, organize, cite, and share your research sources

What’s your best hack for doing online research? Tell us in the comments.

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