Summer is well underway, and for many students, it’s a time to relax and forget about school. However, the fall semester is only two months away, which means it’s time to start thinking about school once again. One of the most daunting tasks for any student is writing research papers. However, you don’t have to be scared anymore because there are strategies and services available online that can help you become a better online researcher and an excellent academic writer. Here are 12 effective online research hacks that you can use to make the coming school year less stressful.
1. Check your school’s resources
Before you start searching elsewhere, check what resources your school has. Many schools offer essay writing services that give you strategies to research more effectively. For instance, Purdue Online Writing Lab is a popular resource for essay writing and research tips. Similarly, your school’s library will also provide access to academic databases like the MLA International Bibliography.
2. Use specific keywords
When doing research for the topic of your essay, use specific keywords to find relevant sources. The broader the keyword you search is, the more results your search will yield. However, most of those results won’t be relevant to your research. Therefore, use specific, unique keywords to narrow your search results to more relevant sources.
3. Use specific phrases
One of the keyword search hacks is putting quotations around the phrase you are searching. This tells Google that you are looking specifically for words in the order you are quoting, rather than searching for results that contain any combination of those words. For example, if you are researching the average income of millennials compared to Generation X, you could search “average income of millennials” to get results that use that exact phrasing.
4. Use Google Scholar
Google Scholar is an index of specifically scholarly publications. Using Google Scholar eliminates the step of sifting through all of the irrelevant and unreliable results in Google’s regular search. However, many of the articles indexed on Google Scholar aren’t free to read, but it’s still a decent way to find specific articles for your essay, which you can then look for at your school library.
5. Use Google Books
Google Books is an index of specifically book publications. It’s a great way to find reputable sources on specific topics. Typically, Google Books will only offer sample sections of books, but you can find valuable information. Plus, Google Books always displays the copyright pages in their previews, so you can properly cite the book in your essay. Google Books is a great way to see if a book will be useful before looking for it at a library.
6. Browse message boards
It might seem counterintuitive; after all, chatting is usually something you do to procrastinate. But message boards can be a great source for insights on a topic and links to useful resources, particularly if your essay is about a niche topic. A lot of message boards exist for specialized interests. For instance, if you’re working on a history project about World War I, there are many message boards for history enthusiasts, who share old photographs and documents. Places like these can be a goldmine for unique material.
7. Use the advanced search function
On the Google homepage, click “Settings” and then select “Advanced Search.” This will open up the Advanced Search function that allows you to narrow down your search by filters like language, region, and file type. You can also search for exact words or phrases, as well as eliminate results with certain words or phrases.
8. Set a search time limit
It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole when searching for something online. One page leads to another, and suddenly you’re on a site about whisky personality when you were supposed to be researching ancient Greek festivals. Setting a time limit for how long you can pursue one keyword at a time will help keep you on track. For example, set a timer on your phone for 15 minutes: this will allow you time to search a keyword, to skim various sites, and to jot down some essential notes. If you find a site with a lot of useful information, bookmark it so you can dedicate more time to looking through it later.
9. Annotate your notes as you research
Part of your assignment might be to submit an annotated bibliography. But even if it isn’t part of your assignment, writing down some notes about a source before moving on to the next one can be very helpful. You will probably look through tens, if not hundreds of pages while researching, so figuring out which source said what afterwards can end up wasting a lot of time. Create a document with the links to your sources, the author (if one is cited), and a few key points about the article. This will prompt you to remember which article is which.
10. Know which sources are reliable
The internet is full of trash. Anyone can write anything and publish it on the web. For every reputable source you find on a topic, there will be 100 unreliable sources. To sift through the unreliable sources, start with your school’s library search engine, already having an index of peer-reviewed and scholarly resources. Additionally, look into the organization that runs the website, whether it is public or nonprofit, or privately owned. Also, see if the author has cited their sources. Most reputable sources will list the sources they drew their information from.
11. Use online libraries and encyclopedias
Depending on the size of your school’s library, you may have limited access to certain books you want to use for your essay. However, several online libraries are free to access. For example, books on Project Gutenberg are entirely free to read and use. You can also access certain online encyclopedias like Encyclopaedia Britannica free of charge, which gives you access to articles on a wide variety of topics, and are credible sources that you can cite in your bibliography.
12. Use more than one search engine
Different search engines index results differently. They have different bots crawling and indexing pages. Therefore, if you feel you’ve exhausted your results on Google, try using Bing or Yahoo! to see if your searches yield different results.
Using any combination of these online research hacks will make the research and essay writing process easier and more effective. Now keep these research hacks in mind and get back to enjoying your summer! Remember, preparation is the key, and that’s why you need to start thinking about school earlier. With the above online research hacks, you will become an excellent online researcher and essay writer.