General Research Guides

Web Starting Points

Why would I need this research guide? I know how to search the web!

In many cases, you will find print and electronic resources purchased and provided by the library more appropriate for your research than information you find available on the "free web." However, there is an increasing amount of information available for free online that could be valuable for your research. In some cases, this information or research is not easily accessible elsewhere. Collection of digitized primary source collections, grey literature, statistics and data, publications of academic and professional societies, and recent news are all examples of the kinds of sources that could be accessible to you. The availability of useful resources depends on many factors, including your discipline, field of study, and specific assignment.

Finding relevant, high quality information that complements your research can be time-consuming and challenging. The following is a list of strategies and resources you can use to make your search more focused and relevant, resulting in more manageable and hopefully authoritative results. This guide also includes guidance on how to think about information that you find online.

Strategies for using the Internet in Academic Research

Use a specialized search engine

A specialized search engine is one that searches specific parts of the the web and/or for content that is contained in a database, which is not easily accessible by regular search engines. This part of the web is sometimes called "deep web" or the "invisible web."



Discipline-Specific Engines

Below are a few examples of search engines that have a disciplinary focus. **There are numorous other search engines specific to a discipline or field of study that may be useful for your research.

Browse the Subject Research Guides for more suggestions.

Consult the experts!

Subject Guides
Researchers, professors, and librarians put a lot of thought and energy into creating guides designed to help students and scholars find the best resources on a subject. These guides are often categorized and annotated.

Start with a guide you know: Subject Guides (Gould Library)

Academic and Professional Association
Organizations often provide links that point you to resources and people who are interested in similar topics.

There are several ways to identify an organization affiliated with your with your discipline or area of research. The web site for your department may direct you to the major associations for your field.

Another way is to do an internet search for keywords describing your field or topic, the terms "association or organization," and limit this to the .edu or .org domain.

EX) Google search: historians association yields: American Historical Association: Affiliated Societies

Web Directories
Web directories pull together sites on similar topics and categorize them. The level of evaluation and intervention can vary.


Take advantage of advanced search options

Many search engines have some form of an advanced search that gives you more control over your search. Look for "Advanced Search" or "Options" in your favorite search engines.

Some Examples:

  • Limit your search to a particular domain.
    For example, if you know that non-profit organizations are interested in your area of research, you may want to limit your search to .org domain. Or, limiting your search to .edu sites usually reduces the amount of search results
  • Use quotes to search for phrases, use operators to indicate proximity or importance of terms used.

Search options vary by search engine. Use the following charts to identify the options supported by your favorite search engine:

Remember to evaluate and document what you find online carefully!

It is always important to think critically about the information that you find, regardless of format. When thinking about the appropriateness of a web content for your research, it is often useful to ask yourself several questions about the site's authority and relevance.

Ask yourself questions about the authority of the site: Who is responsible for this site? What are their credentials for writing on this topic?

It is equally crucial to think about how what you find online fits into what you already know or have found on a topic. Could the information you are interested in be covered better elsewhere?

Many web guides exist that provide further explanation of concepts. Below are a few:

Take lots of good notes!

It is equally important to document the sites you browse carefully. Part of being an effective and responsible researcher is being able to retrace your steps. (And, it will also save you lots of time.)

Coming Soon! There are also an increasing number of tools, freely available, that can help you to manage your online research.


Other Resources