How To Organize Your Research With The Power Of Google Drive

Saikat Basu 19-08-2013

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 Quickly Research, Organize, & Automatically Cite Information Using Citelighter There are web highlighter tools and then there are citation tools. Both are different types of study aids. A new Firefox plug-in, or let’s accurately describe it as a Firefox toolbar combines the two and... Read More 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.

Researching with Google Drive

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.

Researching with Google Drive


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.

Researching with Google Drive

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.

Researching with Google Drive

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.

Researching with Google Drive

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.

Researching with Google Drive

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 Making the Most of Google Drive With Integrated Apps Google Drive can be used to sync files between your computers, but that’s just one of its many features. Google wants Google Drive to be your new cloud hard drive, accessible from any device. To... Read More 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 Try MindMup Mind-Mapping Via Google Drive If you've ever tried to create a mind-map for your brainstorming sessions, you'll know that using the right tool is essential. There are many sites with mind-mapping tools to choose from, and choosing between them... Read More 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.

Researching with Google Drive


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 Conquer Your Next Research Project The Easy Way With These Tools Whether you’re in school or you have a job, you likely have or will have to research at one point or another. And if you’re like most people, you will have to do it several... Read More . 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?

Related topics: Google Docs, Google Drive, Writing Tips.

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  1. fzr
    January 9, 2015 at 9:16 am

    I need a notepad for quick work online with cloud storage because a web-based notepad take minimum times from Google drive .

    • Saikat
      January 9, 2015 at 3:00 pm

      For simplicity, Google Keep suffices. Searching for "online notepad" will give you lots of results, even ones that are protected like

  2. Amanda
    October 24, 2013 at 1:24 am

    Some issues with the formatting in the citations. Don't trust that they're correct, especially for college level work. I'd fail those citations.

  3. Nicolas Casel
    September 14, 2013 at 10:38 am

    Thanks for this very useful post. It is well-explained with right screenshots, nice work!

  4. Kris
    August 27, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    This is terrific information! I'm so glad you took the time to write this article. I had no idea you could do stuff like this. I'd like to share it with my administrative assistant's group. What are the rules for using this article? Can I use the whole article (with appropriate acknowledgements, of course) or just provide a link to it?

    • Saikat Basu
      August 27, 2013 at 7:46 pm

      You can use it either way as long as you acknowledge the source and the writer :)

      Thanks for liking the post. Glad it helped.

  5. Josue A
    August 23, 2013 at 6:13 am

    This article is excellent. Thank you

    • Saikat Basu
      August 23, 2013 at 6:45 am

      Thanks. Hope it helped.

  6. Guy M
    August 22, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    I can't believe I didn't know about apps for Google Drive. Thank you Saikat!

    • Saikat Basu
      August 22, 2013 at 12:59 pm

      WHAT! That's difficult to believe.

  7. Anders. Timms
    August 22, 2013 at 5:12 am

    I've been reading these articles for a long time and now I'm so inspired I wish to comment and ask a question :-).

    First this article is excellent. I've wanted to know how to use Google Drive and Google Docs and now I have a way to get started. I've been thinking for ages about writing a mini book about my boarding school experiences and this article is just what I need to get started. My wife is an osteopath and is just about to start a two year specialist course in paediatric osteopathy. This article will help her write her essays immensely. So thank you for writing the article in such an easy to understand way.

    Now for a few requests for future articles - or some helpful hints to at least get me started.

    1. How do I write and publish a (mini) book on the internet?

    2. My local Scouts group would like to have their own website. They would like to have a parents-only (password entry) to share documents, share photos of the childrens activities etc. They would also like a "shopping" area to collect annual subscriptions, sell uniform and use for fund-raising activities, like their annual plant sale. They don't have the funds to pay for a commercial website or the skill-set to create one. I was thinking of helping out and did some internet searches but got confused by all the jargon and options and put off by the costs. I'm sure Google must be able to provide a solution by somehow combining Google Drive, Docs, Sites and some apps? I have no idea how to get started or set everything up. Could an article be written to explain it in plain English and use the Scout group as a typical voluntary organisation to use to give an example?

    I do hope this isn't a dead end and that youi can help with one or both of the above requests. If you can give some helpful hints upfront, or use me as a test case to prove the articles, I'd be most grateful and willing to help.

    In case its helpful, I live in Macclesfield, UK, am a 44 year old professional manufacturing engineer and am married with 8 year old twins (boy and girl).

  8. Robin
    August 20, 2013 at 3:01 am

    "You can filter your results by image and include copyright free images in your research document. "

    In theory. Google seems to randomly chose a license. I tried my own images, all copyrighted... Google shows them as "free to use". So be very careful!

    • Saikat Basu
      August 20, 2013 at 10:34 am

      Very true. With any image it's important to not only check the sharing license but also the correct way to attribute it.