As you learn to become a better student and strive to improve your work, the more important quality research will become. And by far the chief research tool you have in your arsenal is internet access. The internet is the largest collection of information that has ever existed in human history, and it regularly updates itself. With the right query, you can learn practically anything, or at least set yourself on the right track to do so.
Don’t know where to start? Here are 15 great sites that can kickstart you to researching greatness:
Social media can be great, but it’s generally not the greatest for the scholarly sort. That changes with ResearchGate, which is a network with researchers and students in mind. Millions of researchers have put their work on a site where anyone can read them, and there are search options available. It might not be a complete database, but you can be sure you will find some interesting scientific papers and potential connections on the site.
It’s a great site to randomly go through to see what you can find, and there are also questions you can search for as well. Try out a few different questions and queries in your field of study. Even if it seems too advanced for what you are doing right now, it will give you an idea of what is possible in your field.
WorldWideScience is an engine dedicated to finding scientific information. It might not be the sleekest or fastest site on this list, but it has all the fundamentals of a good research tool and you can filter down the results by quite a bit, saving yourself time when due dates loom.
If you need resources or stats, then look through WorldWideScience to see if they have something directly (or indirectly) related. If you are more focused on the humanities, then you may be best serviced by another site. It is available in multiple languages, and the site is maintained through the Office of Scientific and Technical Information (ultimately a part of the United States Department of Energy).
An online library of various journals, books, articles, and more, JSTOR is part of a non-profit organization that hopes to help students around the world get more access to the information they need to live up to their potential. You can create a search using the engine they have, then refine it to get the exact results you are looking for.
Naturally, JSTOR does not have every paper ever written, so you’ll want to make it one of several resources and engines that you use, but you will want to try it out and see if there is something about your field.
Want something like Wikipedia (more on that later), but nicer? Scholarpedia is an online resource that proclaims itself as a “peer-reviewed open-access encyclopedia”. It is a bit like Wikipedia in the sense that you may not want to cite it directly unless you feel confident that it will be accepted, but you can use it to get a better idea of your subject matter and you can use the cited sources as your own sources if they fit well. Instead of just anyone, writers of articles on Scholarpedia are generally experts in their fields, raising the bar for what is available.
You might want to get a cup of tea before exploring, though. The entries are more detailed and often more complex than what you will find on the rest of the internet. There will be equations and there will be terms you don’t recognize. And that’s all right because you can look up anything you need to.
5. Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is more than just another library that serves the United States Government. It is also one of the largest collections of helpful research in the United States and the world on top of that. There are plenty of journals, books, and articles in their collection that can help you, and just by exploring their site, you can learn more about how to conduct research and learn more about what might be best for your needs.
You can learn more about the Library of Congress by checking out its website. You can also visit in person, but you usually need to schedule a time and you cannot check anything out. Also, it would likely involve a great deal of travel. If the information is available online in some way, we recommend that you consider working with that.
The Library of Congress can be more than just a research tool as well, as it has virtual programs and options on the site. Explore and see if you can find new things you are curious about.
Another scholastic search tool that you can use to find out more about a topic, iSEEK is built for researchers of all types to learn more about their chosen field. Better than Google and some other engines in that it only pulls its results from trusted sources, iSEEK is perhaps the place you want to start when you know what you want and want to have as accurate data as possible.
And once you get some results, you can refine them as needed. Need to narrow it down by people or place? You can do that, and there are more options on top of that. This is another tool to experiment with ahead of time before you need it, so you can dive right in when you need to.
One last note is that this is one of the safest engines to use, featuring editor-reviewed content and options for safe searching. If you’re at a very public computer, then using iSEEK will give you nothing to fear. This and a few other features make it a great option for teachers to use to demonstrate to students how to better use a search engine and academic sources.
You might be wondering if there are any other academic search engines, and you can bet there are! RefSeek is another of the well-known search engine, and it searches a database of more than five billion documents to get you the sources and answers you seek. Despite this, it isn’t as intensive on the eyes and on your attention as other search engines, and focuses more on the potential scholarly sources and uses available. RefSeek does have a general results page, but one tab over you’ll find the “documents” page, which is what you’re there for.
With RefSeek you might not get as high-quality or focused results as some of the other results on this list, but you will get a longer list of options. You will also not have as many options in the menu to narrow down your results to what is relevant, but there are some text-based commands and options. We recommend seeking additional guidance on how to use it.
8. Google Books
Google Books is a huge index of books available from Google, almost something of a searchable library in itself. And if you’ve been to a research library recently, you know how much time can be wasted just trying to find relevant books. Google Books will cut down on some of that time for you.
Google Books can be a little hard to get used to (at least to its fullest) without some outside help so we recommend using some additional resources to help you understand exactly how to use it. At its base level, though, you can use it as another form of Google search, just a little more focused.
Google Books is also very handy if you are looking for a book out of copyright or a passage thereof. In those cases, Google Books has the entire book uploaded, free for you to download. If it is not freely available, it will tell you where you can buy or borrow the book. It might not be the cheapest at times, but it is incredibly handy when working with more modern subjects. Combining Google Books and an engine that will search through journals and articles for you makes for a great combination!
9. Google Scholar
Google has plenty of resources that relate specifically to scholars, and they are mostly compiled and searchable in Google Scholar, which is much like the search engine but so much better if you are looking for a good source for your paper. Experiment a little with the search settings and you wouldn’t believe the interesting things you can find. Whether it’s court opinions or obscure scholarly papers on old literature, you’ll likely find something for your own paper on the engine.
You might be thinking about doing a basic Google search about your topic to get some sources. Try using Google Scholar instead. You’ll get better results that will make your paper look much more well-researched and professional. There is even a specific search for case law, making it the perfect option for law students.
10. Wolfram Alpha
Wolfram Alpha is something of an interesting resource compared to the others because it is so much more than a search engine or tool. It is something of an information engine or a tool more focused on helping you find the answer you are looking for instead of a massive list of resources to sift through. Even its home page features links to all sorts of topics you could use help with, and any of them will feature help with problems you didn’t even know existed.
At times Wolfram Alpha might seem a bit too vague or hard to understand to use in your research, but it can do amazing work with other questions. Perhaps out of all the tools and resources on this list, Wolfram Alpha is the one that you should experiment with the most to see if it is a right fit with your information-gathering and research practices. After some time, you’ll know how to phrase questions better and what information to look for with it.
It might seem like a rather broad website, but Science.gov has a lot to offer people looking for facts, figures, and more information on the various sciences. The United States government does a lot of scientific research and work that might not otherwise reach a mainstream audience, but that doesn’t mean it is not accessible. It is authoritative in its collection of federal studies and science information, and it is also useful in providing some helpful information on how to learn more than what it provides.
Its search feature might not be as flashy as some of the other options, but all the essentials are there. You can narrow it down by category, search for specific titles or authors, and pick out a range of dates for your search.
12. MIT Research
MIT is well known as one of the top learning institutions in the country, and as such, there is a reason for thinking that anything they would put out to help with research would be great. This is a correct assumption. While there are some fields that MIT is not known for specializing in, there are still many distinguished academics that come from the field that are worth learning more about.
MIT Open Access Articles is effectively a database of resources that MIT makes available to the public. That is something valuable to scholars for many reasons. It might not boast the largest library of resources out of this list, but you know that what you will be looking at is worth looking at. If you want to know more about the cutting edge of your field or new ideas, MIT Research might be worth a look.
To start with, you’ve certainly already heard that you should not use Wikipedia for your papers as a direct source. Wikipedia might not be reliable, and it changes too frequently. Yet that’s not why you’re on Wikipedia. As a student, you want to use Wikipedia as a springboard. You can’t use Wikipedia as a source, but you can likely use what Wikipedia uses as a source. Furthermore, what Wikipedia mentions are things that you should look up more closely yourself if you need more information on your topic. Think of it as something of a guide to get you going in the right direction.
Wikipedia also has the benefit of being available in multiple different languages and being regularly updated, at least for the popular topics. It is one of the biggest websites on the internet for a reason, and it is completely free. As long as you are using it in the right ways, there are only good things to say about it.
Another site that has limited usage to most people but is a fantastic resource for people in that field, BioMedCentral (BMC) is a site that focuses on open-access publishing, particularly when it comes to biology, medicine, and related subjects. They have a base of more than 300 peer-reviewed journals that you can use, and you can find that there is at least something that will help you in their collection.
BMC may be something you’ve already heard of if you’re in a related field, but we hope that this article is a reminder to you that the resource is there and is one of the best ones on the internet. It can change the course of your studies and keep you abreast of what is important in the field.
15. Your Local Library’s Site
Your library is not just for books. It is for information and media of all types, and that includes what you might be able to find online. Your library card might allow you to access scientific journals normally found beyond expensive paywalls or other blockades. You might be able to search databases of papers that can give you exactly what you need. Finally, you might be able to contact the reference desk of your library, which will be a huge help to any student of any level.
Furthermore, instead of scrubbing the stacks for a book that might help your paper, you will likely be able to make much faster searches with the right keywords and ideas of what you are looking for. Perhaps the book you need is checked out and you would need it otherwise. Perhaps you might want to find a book that is not at your local library but is in the interlibrary loan system. Some exploration is warranted, as every library and site is just a bit different.
It should be noted that not all local library sites are made equally, but at the very least you should take a look to see what is on offer. If you are currently enrolled in college (whether in person or remote), you likely have access to plenty of resources through your college library as well.
Additional Sites and Tips
We couldn’t possibly list everything that might help you as a student in this article. To get the most out of the internet, we encourage you to keep the following in mind as well:
- If you are studying deeply in a specific field, it may benefit you to invest some time into finding the top sites for that field, whether they are related to a journal, publication, conference, or the like. You might be able to use such things as a source. You will most certainly find great connections to other people and sources that you will be able to use down the line.
- Bookmark and favorite pages liberally, using folders within the bookmarking system if you need to. You’ll be able to go back quickly to a page that way, and it’ll remind you of what sources and sites are most helpful.
- A site or resource that is great for one topic or field might not be so good for another. Always keep searching for new resources and ideas even if you are comfortable with what you have. How else are you going to grow as a student and scholar?
- Spend some time learning the proper notation for your field, or in all the major fields if possible. While some programs and apps can create a citation for you (if not perfectly), learning to do it yourself also makes it easier to read these citations. That lets you scan through the back of books or the end of papers more easily for further information.
- When all else fails, try the personal touch! Most professors and researchers would be happy to share their research with you and talk with you about what they are doing. Connecting with people in person can also open up opportunities for you in the future.
- If you don’t know where to start, just do a simple Google search on your topic of choice. It will at least tell you what people are talking about and tell you what Google thinks is related to your topic.
- While we’re on the topic of regular Google searches, learn all of the special commands and tools you can use to refine a Google Search. With such tools, you can get a specific date range, rule out specific words, and so much more. It’s one of the best possible investments of your time from a research perspective, and the knowledge is a gift that keeps on giving.
- Ask other people what they use. There is always something on the horizon and what works for colleges or classmates might work for you. Just use your judgment.
- Even if you find one of the more specialized sites that only have peer-reviewed articles, that doesn’t mean you cannot be careful when you are reviewing your sources. Not every article remains relevant over time, and there might be conflicting information you should at least address before putting your scholarship into the world.
Whether you’re a high school student, in college, or working on that master’s degree, having the right resources at your fingertips is vital to your success as a student. While not all of the above sites might fit your current needs, we hope you make note of them and we hope that some of them will help you in your studies ahead. This is a marathon, not a sprint, so don’t get discouraged if everything doesn’t come to you at once. Keep at it, keep an open mind, and we wish you the best of luck with your future endeavors.