Tech Tricks to Being a Better Student: Search Tips

The Education Techie writes about tech tools that can help students and teachers. In this series, the Techie will share some tips for using technology to become a better student. Today's tips are about performing more effective searches.

How Will This Help?

Research is a vital part of academic life. New college students are likely to have some experience performing searches for schoolwork while in high school. The skills you learned before college will probably be helpful, but chances are that there will be a lot less hand-holding once you enter postsecondary life.

Though many colleges and universities offer research seminars and resources to help students, the task of searching for information can be daunting. There's so much out there that a supposedly simple thing, like coming up with a research paper topic, can seem overwhelming. Here are some general ideas to keep in mind when you're searching for something.

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Know What You're Looking For

This may seem like a no-brainer, but you might be surprised how easy it is to get turned around and lose sight of what you were looking for in the first place. Before you start searching, have a specific question, phrase or term in mind, and base all of your searching on that foundation.

Try a Variety of Keywords

If your first search doesn't yield useful results, don't give up. Try again with a different phrasing, or think of some other keywords that are similar to what you're looking for. For instance, if you're trying to find information about photorealistic painting, you can try searching for similar terms like hyperrealism, or you can search for painters who are considered to belong to this school, like Rackstraw Downes, Ralph Goings or John Salt. Effective searching can often be more about building a web of connections rather than hitting directly on a specific thing.

Be Flexible

Walking into a large university library, it can seem like there are enough books and papers out there that every single idea will be covered. Though it's probable that you will find what you're looking for, it's not guaranteed. Sometimes the information you're looking for simply doesn't exist. Time management is as important in searching as it is in other areas, and at a certain point, you might have to be willing to move on to a different idea.

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Use Search Commands

In Google and other search engines, you can often target your search results by using some simple commands. If you type university biology department lab into a search bar, you might get results that use any of those four keywords. If you are looking for that specific phrase, though, you can add quote marks to the search, making it 'university biology department lab'. If you want to limit your search to a specific type of site, one that is a .edu address, for example, type followed by your query.

If You're Stuck, Start With Wikipedia - But Don't Stop There

If you're going to use Wikipedia for help in a search for a college-level academic assignment, you should really only treat it as a jumping-off point. To begin with, few professors are going to accept Wikipedia as a valid source. The reasons for this should give you pause as well: while the public encyclopedia can be correct, there are often gaps in its information. If you're not an expert in a subject, you probably won't be able to pick out these gaps.

The most useful part of any Wikipedia page is its bibliography. This is the site's own means of quality control, and you should use it not only to verify information, but also to go further in-depth. Use the external links to gather more information and make sure they go to reputable sources, such as university or academic journal websites. If you're in doubt about the reliability of a source, ask your professor.

Ask a Librarian

Librarians aren't just there to keep order and quiet in the library. They're also trained professionals who know a thing or two about research. As digital technology becomes more prevalent in library practices, librarians are becoming some of the most tech-savvy resources on a college campus. If you just can't find what you're looking for, ask a librarian for help. They might have some insider secrets, whether it's a database you've never heard of or a search technique you've never tried, that can help you find what you need.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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