Quick Guide to Online Research

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Quick Guide to Online Research

Postby Paralith on February 24th, 2010, 1:13 am 

Quick Guide to Online Research

It goes without saying that the internet is a fantastic source of information. Whether you’re just curious, or you need information for a class assignment (homework, paper, or project), you can often find everything you need if you know how and where to look. But if you aren’t familiar with online research, you might not be sure where to start. Hopefully this quick guide will help.


  • Realize that research takes time.

    Depending on the subject you’re researching, a two-minute Google search may simply not be enough. So don’t worry if you don’t find everything you need right away. This is also important to keep in mind if you plan on coming to this forum to ask others to help you in your search – unless a resident expert happens to be around, you are probably asking the other members for a serious commitment of time and energy. Such requests will only be honored if someone feels interested enough to make that commitment for you.

  • Basic background knowledge helps.

    Sites like Wikipedia are great first stops when you begin your research, especially if you aren’t very familiar with your subject of interest. Doing some initial background reading can help you gain a general understanding of your topic. This will give you more ideas for search keywords, help you narrow your focus (which can be especially important for writing papers), and link you to other potential sources.

  • Acceptable References for School Assignments

    As useful as Wikipedia can be, it is not an acceptable, citable source for a formal paper or assignment. Depending on what level of school you are at, and what your teacher prefers, certain websites may be considered acceptable references. (For example, universities or publishers of scientific journals [see below] may have online magazines or informative websites with articles written by experts in the field.) However, if you’re unsure what is an acceptable source, you should always check with your teacher.

    That being said, all university or college students should assume that articles from peer-reviewed scientific journals or books written by researchers in the field are the only acceptable references. We generally refer to these sources as the scientific literature. Things like Wikipedia, youtube videos, and TED talks, can be really interesting and may even be accurate – but the information posted on them has not been reviewed and verified by other experts in the field. The peer-review system may not be perfect, but it certainly is one of the highest standards around.

    (When having a discussion on this forum, another user may request a source or reference for a statement you have made. Scientific literature is also the preferred reference in this case.)

  • Notes on Searching for Scientific Literature

    Today, every scientific journal has an online database. For the most part, anyone can view the abstract/introduction of all of the articles in the online database. Sometimes the full text of the article is also free to view and download. But for many articles, accessing the full text can be difficult, especially if you are not attending or employed by a university or college.

    Google Scholar is a particularly helpful search engine, because it will usually find every available copy of the article on the internet. If a free full text copy has been posted anywhere, Google Scholar will show you where it is. (For example, the full text may be subscription-only access on the journal’s online database, but one of the authors of the paper may have posted it on their personal website for anyone to download.)

    Increasingly, digital versions of books are also available on the internet. Google Scholar conveniently searches Google Book as well as the rest of the internet, and Google Book has full or partial previews of many different books. However, you may not be able to avoid going to the library if a book is what you really need.

    In case you are unfamiliar with Google Scholar: your initial search will yield a list of different articles that match your search terms. Below the title and description of each of these articles in the list, there will be a link that says “All # versions.” Click that link, and you will be directed to a list of all the different places that single article has been posted online. If the letters PDF appear next to the article title, that means there is a free full text article available for download at that location.

  • Where to Start Looking

    The members of SCF have been crawling across the internet for a long time now, and many of us share interesting and useful links we have found in sticky threads that you can find in every specific subforum on SCF. These may be useful starting points for your search.

    Many of the SCF members are also active members of the scientific community – graduate students, researchers, and professors. In many of the specific subforums you will find sticky threads written by these members that provide background information on major topics and issues in their field. We also have the Expert Notes forum, consisting solely of threads written by expert members on the topics they study. But if you’re doing school work, always remember to keep in mind what is and isn’t an acceptable source!

    In the post below you will find a list of links to online databases and search engines for the scientific literature.


Thank you for reading, and good luck in your search!
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Re: Quick Guide to Online Research

Postby Paralith on March 15th, 2010, 1:51 pm 

Scientific Literature Search Engines


Scientific Literature Online Databases


Online Book Databases



If you have any suggestions for this list, especially for open-access resources, please reply below and I will add it to this post. :)
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Re: Quick Guide to Online Research

Postby wolfhnd on January 9th, 2011, 1:03 am 

Thanks for taking the time to put this together.
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Re: Quick Guide to Online Research

Postby Eclogite on February 9th, 2011, 1:21 pm 

You may wish to consider this link for research on astronomy, planetology, astrophysics and cosmology.

http://adsabs.harvard.edu/index.html
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