One of the best things about the online world is the deep well of information at our fingertips. And yet, for far too many students, web research means slapping in some simple search engine keywords and calling it a day.
Oh no, this won’t do at all. The semester is quickly approaching, and before you know it, there will be loads of term papers to write, research docs to vet and bibliographies to compile. You’ll want to get your A game on, and these tactics will help, so take a look at these tips for maximizing your online research chops and be sure to bookmark it for use throughout the academic year.
Google Like a Boss
You’d be surprised how many people don’t know about the proper care and feeding of the Google search engine. Sure, everyone knows how to perform a basic query with a few terms, but not everyone knows how to finetune their searches using operators. Frankly, it’s like an art form, a super practical one that can weed out a ton of irritatingly irrelevant results in a single move.
Here’s a cheat sheet for a few particularly handy search operators:
Searching Only Specific Top-Level Domain with “site:”
To search only certain types of sites — like government websites or educational institutions online — just plug in your search terms and add “site:gov” or “site:edu”. Same goes for “org” and other top-level domains, like country-specific ones. The tactic also works if you want to limit your searches to only a particular website, like “site:technobuffalo.com”, for instance. (Don’t use a space after it.)
Searching Dates with “..”
If you want to search between, say, 2006 and 2010, type in the two years with “..” between them. This tips off Google that you want it to search all the dates in between. Of course, this works best when you pair it with a keyword or phrase. Take “The Walking Dead,” for example. If you type that in, you’ll get a ton of stuff about the AMC hit TV show. But if you’re a film student doing a paper on the Boris Karloff 1936 classic horror movie, you may want to type it like this instead: ”The Walking Dead” 1900..1960
Searching Specific File Types Using ”filetype:”
Do you need to find a particular PDF? A Word doc or Excel spreadsheet? Then “filetype:” is your friend. Just throw that in and put the file extension immediately after it. The examples listed would be “filetype:PDF”, ”filetype:DOC” and ”filetype:XLS”
Searching Titles With “intitle:”
It happens to everyone sooner or later. You need to find a book, but can’t remember the whole title, only part of it. This doesn’t have to thwart you, though; just input the phrase you do remember after the operator “intitle:”. (Again, no space after the colon.)
Searching Google Scholar
Two out of the top three standard Google search results for “Pride and Prejudice” are IMDB listings. While that’s great for the TV and film industry, I don’t think literature professors will like it when you cite Keira Knightley as a source. Good thing there’s Google Scholar. Here, it’s a snap to pull up literary articles, as well as a whole host of other content spanning legal, political, medical and more. Or dig deeper and search by “author:”, if there’s a particular scholarly byline you need.
Once upon a time, if you wanted to do research, you’d have to throw on your Pumas, grab your backpack and schlep it on down to your library. But in the last decade or more, many school libraries have gotten online makeovers courtesy of some pretty weighty research databases. While LexisNexis may be the big cheese these days, there are others you may want to keep in the old arsenal, like these:
JSTOR, a nonprofit database serving numerous universities across the United States, allows access to archived academic journals across more than 50 disciplines for its member institutions. If you’re a college student at an accredited university, your school’s library may also provide login credentials to this extremely handy resource.
Oxford Art Online is the not-so-secret weapon of art history students, scholars, curators and collectors needing access to curated online collections and articles. A gateway to numerous online art databases, Oxford Art covers Grove Art Online, the Benezit Dictionary of Artists, and other Oxford art reference resources, and access frequently comes with university login credentials.
Students or others who aren’t provided with logins can also gain access via subscription. And there are still other tools out in the greater webs:
Infomine is a free librarian-built Internet resource offering access to databases, electronic journals, electronic books, bulletin boards, mailing lists, online library card catalogs, articles, directories of researchers, and much more. It covers a voluminous array of topics — from biology to performing arts — and offers search results scored according to how well they match your search query.
Dictionary of Open Access Journals is a search engine for text-based scholarly and scientific journal articles.
The Library of Congress’ Virtual Reference Shelf offers links to a range of databases, some of which cost nothing to use.
Access Those Documents and Compiled Research From Anywhere:
No tech-driven research approach is complete without a place to house or access those all-important files, so be sure to have at least one of these on hand this semester:
Evernote: The ubiquity of this note-storage service is what makes it a must-have tool. Not only can you take written, audio and photo notes (with basic OCR, so it can text-search images) on your mobile device or desktop applications, but you can access them everywhere via smartphone, tablet, Windows and Mac computers, and online. Sign up for a free account or go for Premium for more upload capacity and sharing options, plus PDF searching and elimination of ads for $5.00 per month ($45 per year).
Dropbox: When it comes to accessing important documents, auto-syncing is the way to go. And few do it as well as DropBox. (Well, at least most of the time, though not so much yesterday.) With a free account, users get a desktop folder into which they can drag-and-drop images, text, or any other files, and access them from their phones, tablets or online. Best part: That initial free 2GB allotment can be bumped up by referring friends (at 500MB each), up to a maximum of 18GB of free capacity.
Google Drive: Google Drive may seem like just another cloud storage service, but it offers features that make it essential to students and professionals alike. Sure, with this next-level Google Docs replacement, you can access documents, spreadsheets, photos, music and videos from anywhere — whether online, on desktops or via mobile applications — but its simple-to-use approach also boasts real-time collaborative features as well, making it a must-have tool for study groups or research teams. Users can get 5GB of space free, or upgrade for $2.49/month for 25GB ($4.99/month for 100GB, and $49.99/month for 1TB).
And, before you do anything else, you could even handle the most important research prior to walking into class — checking out the professor. After all, this person ultimately will be responsible for your academic experience, so why not acquaint yourself with him or her at RateMyProfessor or myEdu?
What are your must-have school tech tools? Be sure to weigh in below, and share your essential apps, services and sites.