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Tips for Using the Internet for Academic Research

Like anything else, using the internet for academic research takes time and patience. There are plenty of useful tools for you to use when researching your next scholarly paper.

Conducting Academic Research Online

Searching by Subject

If you’re studying at a university, the campus library will likely catalog online information in journals by subject. If your library is lacking, there are many other websites appropriate for academic research. The best databases include:

  • HathiTrust Digital Library: This online library has digitized and preserved thousands of important texts from library collections around the world. It has more than 10 million volumes of texts, making it one of the largest online library databases available to the public.
  • STOR: JSTOR provides scholarly content across a wide range of disciplines. You may be able to access JSTOR if your school is already partnered with them; if not, the site has other options for individuals to peruse their archives for free or, if you need greater access, for $19.50 per month.
  • Elsevier: Elsevier offers free and low-cost access to scientific and medical journals. This resource offers thousands of eBooks, but you can also purchase hard copies of textbooks, journals, and more.
  • CORE: CORE aggregates data from research publications in over 66 million articles available through the site. Users have free access to important content and can perform searches based on keyword, publication type, year, journal, repository, and author.

Searching by Keyword

Very specific topics are more likely to crop up with a keyword research rather than a subject search. Keep in mind that there are no standard conventions for keyword research, so your topic could be nestled under variant forms of one word. Start with your favorite search engine—Google is the most popular—and think of synonyms or phrases related to your topic. Here are a few tips for conducting keyword research:

  • Enclose your phrase in quotation marks to phrase search for words you want to appear together.
  • Narrow down a search by adding more keywords to specify your topic.
  • Use a minus sign in front of a word that you don’t want to appear in your search results. This will also narrow down your search results.
  • If you use “OR” to join two words, Google will return results for either word. For example, searching for “sad OR depressed” will return results that are relevant to either “sad” or “depressed.”

The Limits of the Internet

The Internet is undoubtedly the tool of choice for most students conducting research; however, even the Internet has limitations.

  • Many advanced research topics aren’t available on the Internet. Your best bet may be to find books and manuscripts written by knowledgeable people on your chosen topic.
  • Information on the Internet is capricious and subject to constant change. Websites and information can be altered or removed entirely. If you do find copious information on your topic, make sure the information is reliable and current.