How To Teach Students Effective Online Research Skills

When I was in school (We walked uphill both ways! In the snow! With no shoes! Oh, the hardship!) and the internet was just a glimmer in the eye of Al Gore (I joke!), “doing research” mostly involved the library. As in, physically going there, finding books via a card catalogue, and using the index of said books to find the relevant information contained within. With vast amounts of information online, much time is saved in the research process, but do your students really have effective online research skills?

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What does “effective online research” even mean? Type in a search term and get going, right? While on one hand, it literally is that easy, if you want to find good quality, highly relevant materials, you need to move far beyond a quick Google search and visiting your old pal Wikipedia. We have some great, easy tips for how to make the most of online research coming your way. How do you make the most of online research? Share your favorite tips and tricks by leaving a comment below, dropping us a line on Twitter, or heading over to the Daily Genius Facebook Page and leaving us a note there! We always love to hear about your favorite tools and more.

Building Effective Online Research Skills

We’ll start with the idea of a basic online search query, and move on from there. Using one or two word search terms yields you some results, especially in a large, popular search engine like Google.

Find the Best Search Terms

If you’re not finding what you’re looking for with a basic search of a word or two, expand your horizons! Try asking an exact question (i.e., “How many people have been on the moon”) – surely someone else has asked it before! If you’re not getting the results you’re looking for, try using synonyms or similar phrases, they may yield you better results!

Use Search Operators

No, no, not Smooth Operator! A search operator is a parameter that you set (either a character or string of characters) that help define your search query. Google offers a short list of search operators here, as well as a useful tip: When you search using operators or punctuation marks, don’t add any spaces between the operator and your search terms. Some of the more common search operators you’ll use are:

  • AND: (To find results with both terms you’ve identified)
  • NOT: (Pages listed in search results should not contain this particular word or phrase after it)
  • OR: (Results should include any of the terms on either side in the query rather than pages that contain both or all terms)
  • ” “: (To find the exact word or phrase within the quotation marks)
  • -: (Put a minus sign to indicate results you don’t want)
  • 11..350: (Two periods indicate you’re looking for results within the identified range. You can add a unit of measure if you’d like, as well)
  • site: (Displays results from a specific site)

There are many (many!) more search operators available – and you can also use combinations of operators to further narrow your search. Check out this list of advanced search operators, or use Google’s handy advanced search page, which eliminates the need for memorizing the operators.

More Specific Resources

Web searches may yield you many results, but when you need something that goes more in depth, you may need to turn to some other types of resources. Here are a few of our favorites:

The Single BEST Resource Out There

With all of the technology available, many people have forgotten that there is a really (really) amazing resource out there that can help you find absolutely anything – your LIBRARIAN! Whether you’re checking in with your school librarian or your local public library, these folks are well versed in using the tools we’ve talked about above as well as many more to help you (efficiently) find what you’re looking for. Take tips from them – these are the research pros! Just because you have a computer in front of you doesn’t mean they can’t offer you a solution. This is especially true if you find yourself stuck. They’ve probably been there before – and lots of people have asked lots of questions before you!

Featured Image via Flickr

Written by Katie Dunn

Explorer, eternal learner, animal lover. Perpetually drawn to the ocean. Adventure ready. Suffers from wanderlust. Likes chasing things down the sink with the little sprayer thingy.

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