Yesterday, I ranted talked about the role of Google in obtaining useful information on an academic level. Today, some ideas on going ‘beyond’ Google. Or, if you really do like Google, how to get the most out of it. Let’s sniff out the winning ways:
- Show positivity in your quest for accurate data and important information – There’s no point in making your search casual. Research is just as important as the coursework itself. In fact, it’s probably more vital, given that you’re meant to back up your claims and sources and reasoning. As a result, take your search seriously and allow a positive attitude while you work.
- Make good use of librarians and use their expertise in taking what you need to help in your study – Ask questions and explain what you’re trying to find. You’re not looking for the librarians to give you the answers to life, you’re looking for them to point you in the right direction. A good librarian can help uncover amazing resources that you can then use to your full advantage.
- Use your own initiative too! – Librarians can help you out, but I bet you could surprise yourself with how much you could unearth yourself. Actively pursue what’s available at your institution and beyond. The more you consider for yourself, the more focused your questions will be when you do need to ask others for guidance.
- Discover books outside the library (and still borrow them) – Searching the library catalogue in isolation may not uncover all the books available to help your study. Go beyond the library catalogue…use COPAC, check the British Library catalogues, browse your subject and specific keywords on Amazon. And when you find the books that sound useful, borrow them through the inter-library loans system. All libraries have a slightly different way of dealing with inter-library loans, so ask how your system works.
- Use a multiude of resources – That is to say, exploit the Internet and libraries to the full. Most libraries subscribe to a number of journals and collaborative sites that will keep you knee-deep in the latest word on what you study. Citing the latest papers in your field (so long as they’re relevant!) will help show you know your stuff.
- Public libraries hold additional benefits – Don’t ignore public libraries just because your institutional libraries hold so many goodies. One benefit of a local library is that they subscribe to various online services too, giving you free access to useful databases, encyclopedias, business stats, and so on. If you’re living away from the family home, sign up with the library where you’re now staying. Then you’ll be able to use the resources from two different library areas, because they do all differ slightly.
- Use subject portals – If Google really does impress you that much on search, use it to find ‘portals’ on the broad topics you’re studying. But if you can bear to go beyond your own attempts at search, check your library website (or ask a librarian) for their online list of handpicked websites that cater to your specialist subject. The less work you have to do finding the sources of information, the more time you get to read through the information itself.
- Use Search Operators – Sticking with Google again, when you want to make sure you’re getting worthwhile results, you need to make sure your query is damn good. Google Guide can help you along the way with references on search operators like this and this.
- Improve your Google search with date-related articles – If you want only the latest information, or if you’re researching something that hadn’t happened longer than a fortnight ago, Google cannot help with just a standard search. However, if you add &as_qdr=d to the end of the web address when you make your search, Google adds a little dropdown menu after the search term, allowing you to find results from the last 24 hours, week, month, 2 months, 3 months, 6 months, or year. As an example, check the difference between a standard search for ‘university’ and a search for ‘university’ in only the past week.
- Check other search engines – Maybe search is the way you like to work. Google is just one of many search tools. For other ways of researching the Internet, check out the alternative search engines out there. They all have unique benefits and may be just what you’re looking for to bring the quality of your Web search forward.
- Check forums, news sources, online journals and anything that carries up to date research and information – Not all pages get indexed by Google, even if Google points to their main homepage. And when Google does index it, that doesn’t mean it’s updated straight away. Get bookmarking!
- Make the most of RSS feeds – Save time and bring the information straight to you. If you aren’t using a feed reader, or you don’t know what RSS is, check out the following links to discover the magic…Road 2 Graduation (What is RSS?) / Angela Maiers (The Power of RSS Feeds) / Mashable! (RSS & Giving Away Music) / Internet Duct Tape (Really Simple Syndication) / Pelf-ism (Step-by-step to RSS) / Problogger (What is RSS?) / Back in Skinny Jeans (How to explain RSS the Oprah way)
- Don’t rely on a single source for an ‘answer’ – Whether it’s a reference book or a trusted website, they don’t always get their facts 100% right. If you want to be sure, use a number of resources. That’s pretty much the point of this whole post.
- Remember your own reference books – You have set texts and reading lists for a reason. Hopefully your bookshelf has at least a few books. The detail may be easily accessible within the pages of these books. See what you can find here first, because it might help you save time looking elsewhere.
- Don’t give up – Academic research is not meant to be easy. Sometimes you have to work hard to uncover the best references. You won’t find what you want in a single 30 minute session. It just isn’t going to happen.
- Your resources are tools, not answers – Reference, information, data…it’s all out there to help you create the best work and achieve the most in your study. Treat your sources as tools to do the job and you’ll be less likely to think you’re ‘missing’ the solution. The solution comes with your skill in using the tools. From that point, it just needs to be set out on the page.
Do you have any solid ways of uncovering the information you need? Are you a winner when it comes to research? Where do you generally find your best information?