Surfing the Web like a pro: 5 research tips for your next paper

college student surfing the web for information

Almost every student has to write at least one paper or report at some point in their college career, and one of the key steps for these papers or reports often involves research. When it comes to research, there are numerous approaches you can take in order to write your paper, but some approaches are definitely better than others. Here are five tips to help you research like a pro, which will save you time and help your paper stick out from the rest!

  1. Know your audience

The types of sources you want to use for your paper depends on who will be reading and grading it. If you are writing a formal paper for your professor to read and grade, sources like Wikipedia or blogs are not ideal. However, sometimes professors want students to write information for their peers, and they encourage you to use much less formal sources, such as BuzzFeed or Vox. If you are unsure of what sources are appropriate for your research, always ask your professor, as this is the main starting point for your work.

  1. Switch up your phrasing

Not all Google searches are created equal. Let’s say you want to know where penguins live for a research paper in your zoology course. If you search “penguin habitat” in Google, it gives you 500,000 results. However, if you search “penguin environment,” this number jumps up to over 10 million results! This trend holds true for search engines other than Google as well. Keep in mind that different authors use different words for the same purpose, so if you are having trouble finding relevant information, try changing your phrasing. A thesaurus is a helpful tool to help you find synonyms for some of the words in your search.

  1. Know your resources

Did you know that most universities give students access to a plethora of search engines and information databases for many different subjects? These tools are often available through your school’s library. Check out your school’s library website for more information about these databases and how to use them. If this doesn’t help, drop by the library and ask your librarian for assistance. Remember, while search tools don’t have brains, people do, so if you are having trouble finding the information you need for an assignment, don’t be too shy to ask your librarian for help.

  1. Check for bias

Even sources that appear to be reputable can sometimes steer you in the wrong direction. Keep in mind that we live in a world where almost anyone can publish almost anything on the Internet, but that does not mean that it is all true, even if it has a polished, professional appearance. Whenever you are reading any type of source, ask yourself the following questions: What does the author seek to gain by publishing this information? Does the author explore possible views other than their own, or are they focused on just one perspective? Don’t be afraid to be critical of what you read, and if it seems fishy to you, it’s probably best to try another source.

  1. Keep your paper up to date

While it can sometimes be okay to base research off of a ground-breaking historical study from decades ago, most of the time, it is best to keep your sources of research up to date. A pretty standard benchmark is to keep your research based off of sources published within the last five years. If you find something relevant from an older source, try searching by the name of the author to find their more recent publications.

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Brittany is in her third year at McGill University, studying Interdepartmental Honours Immunology. She is an active member of numerous student-run groups, including Best Buddies and the McGill Students’ Cancer Society. In her spare time, Brittany enjoys travelling, reading, and exploring Montreal.