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For homework or any other project that requires theoretical research, the internet offers a wealth of information. Instead of having to head to the library, everything is comfortably accessible straight from your desk. However, the flood of data can be quite overwhelming if you’re not using the right tools. Also, you may run into sources that are not credible. Thus it helps to know where the kind of information you’re looking for is best searched for.

Wikipedia for example may be a great start to get a general overview or an idea about a topic. But in most cases it does not provide in depth information which is required for any serious work.  Plus all arguments about Wikipedia’s accuracy aside, in the end it is not accepted as a reliable source in academia. Neither is Google. Instead of quoting something that is already the quote of a quote, you must be more accurate and go straight to the original source or a first hand review of original sources.

So where do you find credible material? Here is where…

Google Scholar

This is the straight path to non-trivial information. In general, searching Google Scholar is no different than searching the regular Google. However, as the name suggests, Google Scholar relies solely on scholarly work, which includes peer-reviewed papers, abstracts, theses, books and further research literature.

As with the regular Google, the best results are yielded with exact search terms. For this you can use operators. For example if you’re looking for a specific author, type author:”first name surname”.  For more details about how to properly use Google Scholar and about how to understand the search results, are found in the Help section.

google scholar homework

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Google Book Search

You would think that Google Book Search is Google Scholar limited to books. But you would soon realize that the search results are quite different. The Google Book Search includes more trivial information, in other words both mundane literature, such as science fiction, fairy tales or romance, but also non-fiction, including philosophy, mathematics, biology, and some random subjects, for example computer history, love or the history of medicine. Thus, although limiting searches to books, Google Book Search encompasses many more fields and requires a much more refined search specification than Google Scholar.

The results returned by the Book Search can include all listed books, a limited preview or a full view of books. If you need full text material, you should determine your preference by using the “Books Showing:” pull-down menu on top of the search results.

NCBI Bookshelf

If you happen to be looking for material to support your life sciences homework or thesis, I highly recommend the NCBI Bookshelf.

This is an example of a very specified book search engine. Its focus clearly lies on biomedical subjects, but the material is by far not limited to disease. You will find dozens of books on biology, biochemistry, bioinformatics, and more.

From the results page you can select whether you would like to view all results or only the figures. This is helpful if you’re looking for a good cartoon of a biological process.

ncbi bookshelf

The NCBI Booksearch may appear a little dry. There are lots of tabs and links and pull-down menus. You don’t need to use them. However, if you’re going to use the site regularly, I recommend looking into its features because they will help you organize your searches, collect details for references or even access even more detailed information.

If the life sciences are not your field, Google may pave the way to a resource in your field.

Finally, if you are going to use any of the material you found online, make sure that you quote your sources. (And while we are talking about bibliography you should check out EasyBib and BibMe.)

Obviously, it is illegal to just copy and paste text and images. However, with some rewording and diligent quoting of your sources, you may use almost any material found on the above mentioned sites. That’s for personal, educational purposes, not for re-publishing!

How do you go about researching material on the internet? What are your favorite resources?

  1. Frank
    November 26, 2008 at 10:58 am

    I suggest the following to study Biology: biology-questions-and-answers.com

  2. Bill Bell
    November 7, 2008 at 3:38 pm

    Google Scholar is best for those with access to the research libraries typically available in universities. Most of us without this kind of access will need to pay to obtain copies of many or most of the articles identified by Scholar. Here's a tip for those who want to see easily which items returned by Scholar are free. It's a Greasemonkey script (for Mozilla Firefox) that I wrote within the past couple of days at userscripts. Any and all feedback appreciated.

    • Aibek
      November 11, 2008 at 5:55 pm

      Thanks for sharing, that's one useful userscript.

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