By Michelle Ricker September 21, 2021
Summary: School is in full swing, and if you’re a student, that means research papers and projects are probably on your to-do list. But how do you know where to start finding reliable information? And how should you organize all those tabs? We’ve got 5 ways to ace all your papers this semester, and how to make sure your high-speed internet connection is up to the test.
You’ve probably heard your parents (or teachers) lament that they had to walk all the way to the library, sort through the Dewey Decimal System, and sit surrounded by tons of dusty books when they worked on a project. Now, they say, you have it so easy — you can just type something into Google and get your answers.
Well, while you probably don’t have to sort through a card catalog, you do still have to sift through plenty of information, contend with an ever-growing amount of misinformation, and hope your internet connection can keep up. But there is a better way to find the information you need than just hoping you’ll find your answer on the first page of search results.
Let’s hit the (e)books.
While Google is easily the most popular — reaching roughly 5.6 million searches each day — it isn’t the only search engine you should be using. Your school, university, or public library likely offers access to scientific journals, full-length books, and more. Two popular databases include Summon and GALILEO, which serve as doorways to more than 150 databases and resources such as encyclopedias, business directories, journals, government documents, and more.
The benefit of using a database provided by your library or school is that the materials are more likely to be scholarly, accurate, and relevant to what you’re looking for. The database has already gone through the initial process of only allowing reliable information, so you don’t have to sort through spam websites. Don’t be afraid to go past the first page (or even two!) of results, either. If you dig a little deeper, you might find gold.
Keep in mind that you will need a login for these resources. The results are non-indexed pages, so they’re behind a closed door. In other words, you can’t find these results through an easy Google search.
Sometimes you won’t need such a specific search engine, and Google will do. But there are a few tips to make your search more effective.
First, check out Google Scholar. Essentially a cross between the databases we just mentioned and traditional Google, it’s a more intuitive way to search scholarly articles and citations. Pro tip: Look for the links on the right-hand side. Those denote a site or PDF that’s accessible without logging into your institution or paying for access.
If you’re sticking with the classic Google experience, there are a few shortcuts, too. On any of Google’s search platforms, you can restrict results to a specific time period — handy if you’re only interested in studies from the last 5 years, for instance. If you’re looking for words in a specific order, use quotation marks (for example, “civil rights movement” instead of civil rights movement) — you’ll only get results that have an exact match. Finally, if you’re looking to exclude a word, use a minus sign. If you’re researching cowboys, but don’t want results about the Dallas football team, try searching: cowboys –football. Your results will exclude anything related to football and you won’t have to sift through irrelevant information.
While a reliable, high-speed internet connection can mean that information is at your fingertips, it’s much easier to make sure that information is relevant first.
Now you’re using the right search engine for your project. How should you organize everything you find? Hint: it’s not just using bookmarks.
If you tend to have so many tabs open at once you can’t find what you’re looking for, consider using OneTab. It’s a browser extension that allows you to send specific tabs (or all of them!) to the device, holding your place until you’re ready. It even saves memory space, so your device just might function faster. You can label each batch, too, and once you reopen them, they’re no longer in OneTab. While it functions similarly to bookmarks, it’s easier to organize (and your findings are less likely to be stuck in limbo forever).
If you’re more focused on keeping specific data points or quotations (and their sources) handy, opt for a tool that evokes the feeling of index cards. You can label and reorganize them easily, and they contain the relevant snippets of information. One popular choice in this category is Evernote. It allows you to take photos of physical sources (handy if you are making the trek to the library) as well as clippings of web pages, PDFs, and other electronic sources.
Proper citations are extremely important in college. How you’ll write your citations will depend on what your major is and what class you’re writing for. You’ll probably be using Chicago, MLA, or APA style. Be sure to have a clear understanding of the type you’re using and get your guidelines from a reliable place on the internet.
If you’re using Chicago style, you can use the quick guide on their website. But note that their website only offers the basics. If you’re in a graduate program or using Chicago style professionally, you may need to invest in their book.
MLA and APA style are more easily accessible. The most popular website for these is the Purdue Online Writing Lab (affectionately known as Purdue OWL). Whether you’re using a website, PDF, podcast, book, or just about any other source for your research, you can find out how to properly credit the authors. Or you can opt for an automatic citation creator, such as EasyBib, Citation Machine, or Scribbr. The automated creators will ensure your information is in the correct order and your punctuation is always in the right place.
Finally, you should make sure your high-speed internet connection is a reliable one. With a spotty connection, you could quickly lose access to all those tabs or fail to upload your paper on time. If you’re living on (or near) campus, you might not have a lot of choices when it comes to your internet service provider.
But there are a few steps you can take to improve your WiFi signal in your dorm or apartment. Try moving where your router is (other electronic devices or even stacks of books can interfere with the signal), securing your network with a strong password (and avoid sharing your network login with neighbors), or consider using a WiFi extender or mesh network.
If you’ve tried all of that but your network is still weak, consider looking for a new internet service provider. EarthLink has the largest network in the U.S. — we’re able to serve more than 75% of homes — and has fiber internet with speeds up to 1 Gbps and no data caps. That means you can keep streaming reruns of your favorite shows while working on your papers at the same time.
Your homework deserves a home internet connection that, well, works. Get in touch with one of our Internet Experts today by calling 866-383-3080 or checking out our serviceability map.
Michelle Ricker is a Copywriter for EarthLink. She recently graduated from the University of Cincinnati with an M.A. in Communication and has more than 5 years of writing experience. She thrives on storytelling and well-placed punctuation. She currently lives and works in Atlanta.
See all posts from Michelle Ricker.