I recently gave a ‘whistle stop’ training session to all of the year 12 pupils at our school, and this was followed by in-depth sessions to some of our HPQ and EPQ pupils at the end of last term. It was encouraging to see how enthusiastic pupils were after this training, as they had clearly learned a few new tricks to aid their research. Best of all, each of these tools is FREE! I thought I would share them with all of you, in case you are considering doing some training soon in this area; and, of course, if you have any tips/tools you have encouraged pupils to use, please do let me know in the comments below!
TOOL 1: Use Google Codes
As all information specialists know, Google is renowned for quantity of information, but this does not mean everything in the search list if relevant to what you need. However, we know it is often the first port of call for research of pupils. Thankfully, Google has various ‘codes’ which can be used to sift through all of the results, here are a handful of them:
Search for an EXACT Phrase
Use quotes to search for an exact word or set of words. Only use this if you require a very precise phrase; it will narrow all of the results to only include that exact expression.
Exclude a word
Add a dash (-) before a word to exclude it from all search results.
Search within a domain
Add ‘site: ’ & a website for results from a particular website using the following:
Search within a domain ending
This can also be used to search websites with a particular web address ending, such as those of universities. UK universities end in ‘.ac.uk’ and USA universities end in ‘.edu’ – try searching these to find results which are more likely to be high quality.
TOOL 2: Use Google Scholar
Pupils are far more likely to find quality resources here; even if you do not hold subscriptions to the journals in the results or own the books, there are still some nifty tricks you can teach them to employ…
Use ‘Cited By’: Use this feature by searching for a book or an article you have already found helpful by typing the exact title. Underneath the result, you will see it says ‘cited by… #’ Click on this to see what other published works have cited the same book or article – this will likely show related works as well as demonstrate the progression of the research literature…
As noted, some of these will not be accessible, since unless you own the book or subscribe to the database, you won’t be able to view it! However, these results often show a lot of books…and with books, there is another trick you can try…
If pupils find a book that looks helpful, tell them to click on it and open in Google Books. They should then search for various keywords in the left-hand search bar to see whether they can view the paragraphs they need. Even whilst completing my MA Dissertation I often found this little feature to provide the exact paragraphs I was seeking!
Also: Use Google Codes while searching Google Scholar
As noted earlier, you can search for results only published by universities by searching within that domain ending. Do the same on Google Scholar, since you will frequently find universities do publish dissertations, open access journal articles, or sections of books which are freely available online.
TOOL 3: Use Zotero
You may be surprised to hear me recommending this bibliographic software to pupils at secondary-school level…however, it can never be too early to help them organise their research and they will likely be encouraged to use this, or something like at, at the university level. Zotero allows users to
- Keep track of and easily generate citations for all of their references in a plethora of citation styles
- Arrange their references according to folders and sub-folders – which will enable them to see which areas of their research are still weak
- Add notes/summaries of the reading directly to the references, which can then be printed in reports (through the desktop version)
- Users with the desktop version can install a widget into MS Word which allows them to add in-text citations as they are writing their essays!
- Best of all – it’s free to use up to 300MB of storage (just as a reference – I currently have 180 references with attached notes saved, and am only using 0.4 percent of my storage.
Angela Platt, BA, MSc, MA, MCLIP
Librarian and Archivist
Ibstock Place School