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Researching your Essay/Report

How to search for information

Where to Start

The best place to find information is your library. Whether you need a book, a research paper or on-line resources, your library is the best place to start. If you are at university or college your library will have the resources you need. Also you will find helpful library staff to help you find the resources you require. Most libraries also run courses to teach you how to locate information quickly and efficiently so you don't waste time. Make sure you sign up for these courses if you're not sure how to use the catalogue system, how to search on-line, what databases and journals the library subscribes to, or how to access them.

Libraries are great places to work. Apart from their bibliographic resources, they provide a quiet place away from the distractions of working at home on in a café. Many of them are also very beautiful places. Use them or they will disappear.

How to Search Online

Anyone can type a few words into a Google search box and hope to find find something useful. But that's not the smart way to get the information you need. First of all, is Google the right search engine to use? There are others and they may be more useful to you. Secondly, did you think about the search words you used? Did you think about your topic at all? Do some smart thinking about key words for your topic and you'll save a lot of time. In these pages we'll look at some useful search engines, learn how to find and use good search terms Go to the Search Terms page, and how to narrow down your search results to find the sources of information relevant to you, how to evaluate sources Go to the Source Evaluation page, and also how to keep track of your sources Go to the Source Management page.

Search Engines

  • Google: The most used search engine worldwide.
    • For: Easy to use. Fast. The biggest database of web content available.
    • Against: Collects information about you as you use it. Unless your search query is very specific it will give you far too many results to sift through.
    • Advice: Make sure you control your Google privacy settings and Activity Controls. Use very specific search terms or if you are searching in a particular content area, search journals or databases in that area.
    • Go to: https://www.google.com/.
  • Bing: Microsoft's search engine.
    • For: Easy to use. Fast. Very big database of web content.
    • Against: Collects information about you as you use it. Like Google, it's a commercial search engine so it's not designed for academic research. It collects information abut you and your searches.
    • Advice: Make sure you control your privacy settings by signing into your Microsoft account. Use very specific search terms or if you are searching in a particular content area, search journals or databases in that area. Or use Microsoft Academic.
    • Go to: https://www.bing.com.
  • Mojeek: UK based non-tracking search engine.
    • For: Non tracking. Green credentials.
    • Against: Indexes far fewer pages than Google or Bing.
    • Advice: Use if you are concerned about privacy.
    • Go to: https://www.mojeek.com.
  • DuckDuckGo: USA based non-tracking search engine
    • For: No tracking. Fast searches.
    • Against: Not as big as Google. Uses Bing.
    • Advice: Use if you are concerned about privacy.
    • Go to: https://duckduckgo.com.
  • The Internet Archive Search: "Our mission is to provide Universal Access to All Knowledge". A strong claim but a worthy one.
    • For: Great site to find material which may no longer be otherwise available. Very good advanced search controls. Offers many useful resources.
    • Against: Takes time to learn how to use the advanced search tools.
    • Advice: Keep this search tool in your search toolbox. Learning how to use the advanced search tools pays dividends.
    • Go to: https://archive.org.
  • SweetSearch: "A Search Engine for Students"
    • For: Easy to use. Safe. Directs students to suitable resources.
    • Against: Not a tool for a serious researcher.
    • Advice: A good place for students to start learning about how to research. Good introduction to research skills.
    • Go to: https://www.sweetsearch.com.
  • Google Scholar: The search engine for serious research.
    • For: Contains serious academic material. Allows you to the save articles for later reading. Gives you a citation tool for bibliographic references.
    • Against: Advanced search not very advanced.
    • Advice: If you don't narrow down your search very carefully, you'll have too many results to search through.
    • Go to: https://scholar.google.com/.
    • How to Use Google Scholar https://scholar.google.com/.
  • SearchSmart: Extensive collection of research databases.
    • For: Various search filters to narrow down results to your specific interests.
    • Against: Not for a beginner, but a very useful tool for serious research.
    • Advice: Use the tutorials to get up to speed quickly on how to use and narrow down your results.
    • Go to: https://www.searchsmart.org/?~().
  • BASE: "one of the world's most voluminous search engines especially for academic web resources, e.g. journal articles, preprints, digital collections, images / videos or research data"
    • For: Only provides serious academic content. Sophisticated search possibilities.
    • Against: Not recommended for students who are just beginning to learn how to write a research paper.
    • Advice: Get to know how to use the research parameters in order to narrow down the search results.
    • Go to: https://www.base-search.net.
  • Other Search Engines:
  • More about search engines: https://www.searchenginemap.com.

Other Search Options

The library in your university may have access to an extensive collection of databases, some of which may cover your area of interest. The library should be the first place you look for information. Library staff are there to help you. Don't be afraid to ask. They can save you a lot of time.

Make sure you sign up for any courses your library offers on how to search. If there are no courses, there may be on-line materials to help you get up to speed.

Some bibliography management software allows you to search databases without leaving the application. This can be very useful and time-saving. See Keeping Track of your Search Results

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