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Google Docs has made its home on Google Drive. So after one year, it’s high time to get used to calling it by the new account name. Some digital habits die hard, and in my case I find it’s still kicking as I continue to call it by its former name. I am one of the stragglers here. But then there’s one thing which hasn’t changed – my continuing reliance on Google for my web research. Google Drive might be jogging steadfastly behind Microsoft Office, but Google Drive is adding muscles to its legs; at least enough to help out a writer-researcher with the basic features he needs to get his job done.
There are certain advantages to using Google Drive for your research work. It’s free and available from everywhere of course. Everyone with a Google account has it by default. Tied to your Google account, it gives you a range of collaboration options. It only gets better from here as you can use the Research tool to power all your probes and quests.
The Twin Benefits of the Research Tool
A Smoother Workflow
The Research tool on Google Drive can be compared to a Google assistant who helps you search for the relevant content, images, maps, and other bits of information to include in your document. Think of it as an extension of Google Search which helps you navigate the web without moving your focus away from the document you are working on. As you can write and research at the same time, your thought process is not interrupted by the constant shifting from research to writing. This allows you to shave a few seconds and add to your productivity.
Citing Your References
The Research tool comes to the fore when you have to cite the sources of your information. With a single click you can insert a citation, automatically formatted, into your document. Citing sources improves the credibility of your document while at the same time pointing out the data that has come from secondary data collection methods like online articles, press releases, blogs etc. Citations are an organizational key to a good document, and if you try it out once, you would know it takes considerable time to do it right. There are many citation tools available online, but Google Drive gives you one right there.
With these twin benefits in mind, let’s set up a new document with the Research tool.
Creating a Research Document
Sign into Google Drive with your Google ID. Hit the red colored Create button to open a blank document. You can also start with a Presentation.
After entering some information (or even at the start), you can activate the Research tool in three ways.
- From Tools – Research.
- With a keyboard shortcut (for PC: Ctrl + Alt + Shift + I, for Mac: Ctrl + ? + Shift + I).
- From the context menu by selecting and right-clicking on a word.
As you can see in the screenshot below, the Research pane opens up on the right. If you have some content typed in, automatically senses the context and gives you a few initial results. You can continue your search here by typing in a keyword.
The Research tool gives you a slew of features to move around with all the information. Here’s an overview of ten features…
1. Click on the bi-directional arrows and go back or forward through all the searches you performed.
2. The search also retrieves relevant information from your Gmail Inbox.
3. Mouse-over any search result and click on the Preview button to get a glimpse of the specific webpage. You can click on it to open it in a new browser tab.
4. Drag and drop any selected text from the Research tool into the body of your document.
5. Click on Insert link to add a link to the source website into the body of your document.
6. Click on Cite to enter the reference to the source material as a footnote. You can pick from MLA, APA, and Chicago citation styles. Citation styles are applicable for web results, images, quotations and article citations.
7. Filter your results (see screenshot below) and narrow down to the results you want to include.
8. You can filter your results by image and include copyright free images in your research document. The preview pane allows you to check out an image before you insert it. The image link is also cited in the footnote automatically according to the citation style selected.
9. Use the Research tool’s dictionary to search for definitions, synonyms, and usage examples. You can also go to Tools – Define.
10. The Research tool also taps into documents, presentations, and spreadsheets from your Drive, also images from Picasa, and posts from your Google+ stream. You can pick them up for inclusion from the general search stream or filter them by selecting Personal.
Other Google Drive Features You Can Use For a Research Project
It goes without saying that Google Drive is also a collaborative environment. You can share your document with others and put in a joint effort to complete a research project. Sharing is as easy as a right-click on the document title on Drive and inviting others via an email.
There is a library of Google Apps you can use in the Google Drive ecosystem to aid with your research. Any app you connect with, is immediately added under the Create menu. Angela mentioned MindMup as a possible brainstorming solution with the help of mindmaps. You can use Drive Notepad for impromptu notes. I would recommend the Google Docs Template gallery which has hundreds of templates for quick use.
You can use the search feature to get research specific templates like MLA Style Research Paper Template or a Background Research Plan Template among the hundreds available. The templates can help you get started quickly and improve your turnaround time with a research project.
Finally, you can move the research document and any other you might have created to a separate folder. This organizational step at the very beginning should be habit forming if you want to avoid the job of sifting through a pile of documents later.
Google Drive is one of those research tools that’s right there and available for free. Perhaps, it gets ignored in the scheme of things…but we underestimate its utility at our own loss. There are many ways to conquer your next research project. The question is would you be using Google Drive as your steed? Tell us about your love or hate relationship with Google Drive. What other tips do you think could help with research or writing productivity?