Digging Beyond the Typical Search Engine to Find Better Research Online

by Eric Hebert

Okay tough guy, so you think you're the man when it comes to doing research for that term paper. Or maybe you're so confident in your abilities that you'll not only get a passing grade, but actually impress your professors? Well, you're absolutely right. I mean, all you have to do is type some words in the search engines and BAM, you'll find all the documents you need, right? Not so fast, bucko. While it is true that search has made finding information faster and easier than ever before, the train doesn't stop there. You're not going to find everything you need in a search engine result, and if you don't get prepared to look elsewhere, you better have a good excuse when it comes time to hand in that paper.

Sometimes it takes more effort to find the information you're looking for, the kind that will not only get you through school, but also win you the admiration of your professors and peers. What you need is the ability to dig deeper into the online research world and find some serious resources that the big boys use. So here you are, kid: 15 online resources that will increase your researching abilities and have every other student begging you to help them with theirs.

1. Library of Congress

What better way to research a topic than to use the same resource that Congress uses? The Library of Congress is the nation's oldest institution of its kind and is also the largest library in the world with, "130 million items and 530 miles of bookshelves." That's a lot of media to use in your research. Now, we all don't have the time to scour through miles of books, but we can jump online and check out the Library's web portal at loc.gov. The site features plenty of resources for you to use, including maps, photos, and other multimedia for free. The site also features information from past exhibits at the Library in addition to Thomas, which catalogs our country's current and historical legislative information.

2. ThomasNet

ThomasNet is the, "most comprehensive resource for industrial information, products, services, CAD drawings, and more." Powered by the popular Thomas Register and Thomas Regional services, ThomasNet is the place to go when doing industrial research. Whether it's companies or manufactures, information about product material and development, or resources regarding a specific industry, ThomasNet will point you in the right direction. Some of the resources ThomasNet provides include:

  • Thomas Global Register - over 700,000 suppliers of industrial product information from all over the world.
  • Industrial Newsroom - up to date news on industrial product releases.
  • Market Trends - daily blog and bi-weekly newsletter that covers industrial trends.

No matter what subject you may be researching, consider the industries it may have an impact on. Use ThomasNet to find information regarding these industries that you may have not thought of including in your results.

3. BBC

The BBC, or British Broadcasting Company, has been covering news since its formation in the early twentieth century. The BBC publishes its news in 33 languages and provides a century of research covering news in print, radio, and television. This is a great place to not only study events of the U.K. but a resource to document events of the entire world.

4. British Library

The BBC isn't the only resource the U.K. has to offer. If you to see, "five items each day, it would take you 80,000 years to see the whole of the collection" of the The British Library. The Library is their answer to our Library of Congress containing over 90,000 images and sounds online in addition to virtual exhibitions. Other resources include the Library's specialist journals, the online newspaper archive, and resources offered in conjunction with the European Library.

5. Poynter Online

Poynter.org is the online portal of the Poynter Institute. The site is a fantastic resource, which boasts, "everything you need to be a better journalist." Some of the features included on the Poynter.org site include the Poynter career center, resources on writing, editing, and journalism ethics, broadcast radio and television articles and techniques. A wonderful resource to not only assist you in locating information but also in communicating that information back to the world, Poynter Online also includes:

  • Over 200 English-language "current news" outlets from all over the world. These include print, broadcast, and online resources and are picked by Poynter based on geographic spread, so you can find information and views from all over the world.
  • 155 journalism associations, schools, organizations, and publications.
  • 174 newsroom "beats," websites that showcase particular benefits for those involved with journalism and the newsroom.

When conducting a search using Nelson, you automatically have various choices in each of these search databases. For example, if you were searching for a topic but wanted to exclude international news, or you wanted to limit your search to just consumer "beats," it's only a matter of checking or unchecking a few boxes to make it happen. By using Nelson Search and Poynter Online, you'll have the ability to focus and refine your research through a trusted journalism resource that you might otherwise overlook using a larger search engine. You're also bound to become a better writer at the same time.


The American College and Resource Libraries, ACRL, is a division of the American Library Association dedicated to, "lead academic and research librarians and libraries in advancing learning and scholarship." Through the ACRL you will find many resources dedicated to libraries and resources that benefit them. Becoming a member becomes an option for the professional in constant research, as the ACRL has many ties to libraries and organizations that will assist you in your studies. For casual users, their online resources include articles on various subjects from their publication dating back to 1998.

7. Citeulike

Known as "everyone's library," Citeulike is a privately run website that enables users to store academic papers they are reading in one location simply by adding a button to the user's browser. The site is targeted for the advanced researcher and is a great place to find and share papers on more involved subject matter like mathematics and the sciences. Keep up to date using the site's RSS feeds; you can view feeds by subject or by your favorite researcher. Citeulike mimics many Web 2.0 sites by offering a social dynamic to academic research.

8. Social Science Resource Network

The Social Science Resource Network's homepage boasts it is, "devoted to the rapid worldwide dissemination of social science research and is composed of a number of specialized research networks in each of the social sciences." Free registration allows users to subscribe to a number of the research networks available, covering topics such as accounting, economics, and entrepreneurship. The network's library consists of over 200,000 research papers and downloadable text documents, in addition to ties with several paid subscription services.

9. Cornell Law School

The LII (Legal Information Institute) is the online research arm of the Cornell Law School, one of America's premier law schools. The Institute does what many cannot, which is interpret U.S. constitutions and codes as well as Supreme Court decisions. When researching, you'll have options to search by state, nation, or international law, or browse by specific type of code or procedure. The site also features directories showcasing relevant lawyers, organizations, and journals.

10. U.S. News Archives

The U.S. News Archives is an older directory of newspapers from all across the United States. This is a great resource when looking to find information regarding a specific state or major city, especially to see what local journalists were saying regarding a major event. The archives provide the dates and may require costs to retrieve articles or information, as some papers require fees or subscriptions to do so. They also provide archives of several international news sources if you need to search overseas.

11. Open Educational Resources

The OER Commons, or Open Educational Resources, is a wonderful concept that allows teachers from any grade level the ability to share and collaborate on school course material, which you can also do for free. What better way to impress a professor than to actually gather data from one? Examples of some of the material you'll find using the OER are full courses, modules, lectures, and simulations.

12. Resource Shelf

Imagine having access to targeted search results used by other researchers? That's the premise of Resource Shelf, which was founded in 2001 and is updated daily with databases, lists, and other web multimedia. The "Shelf" also provides news and commentary about the web and information sector, and has sister sites that provide additional resources and communities.

13. iTools

One of the oldest research tools on the Internet, iTools saves time by searching through many different aspects of the Internet in one central location. Using iTools, you can perform different focus searches through engines like Google and Ask, translate phrases into other languages, or search through millions of Usenet group messages. In addition, the site offers the chance to search through the largest human edited Internet directory in the world, the dmoz open directory project.

14. Google Scholar

Google Scholar is a newer search function of Google that offers, a "a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature." Resources included in a Google Scholar search include articles, papers, and books from "scholarly" organizations such as academic publishers and universities.

Some of the advanced search capabilities of the search program include the ability to search by author, to restrict a search to a specific scholarly publication, or to search for information that is not older then the date specified. With the popularity of search continuing to grow, expect more and more researchers to turn to Google Scholar to acquire information.

15. Diigo

Interested in a web application that integrates your favorite bookmarking sites with sticky notes, blogging editors, and interaction with any text? If so, then Diigo may be your answer. Diigo works in a number of ways to make your research experience a lot easier by annotating and highlighting information then storing it in a central location, which of course can be tagged, bookmarked and shared with a number of web communities. The service also has an integrated blogging editor to make posting to your site faster as well as a customizable toolbar to keep your favorite research sites only a click away. Use the service to keep all your newfound research in one place so you don't go crazy!

There's no excuse for you to be tapping your pencils or chewing on those pens any longer. It's time to get to work, and you'll now be done faster and write better assignments than ever before. You may even want to share some of these fantastic resources with some of your study pals. The better research we can all achieve, the more educated we all become.

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