Ranking the Web’s Research Tools

When it comes to doing the best research possible, using the internet can be all too overwhelming. With millions of websites at your disposal, completing a simple Google search or thumbing through relevant Wikipedia pages can take hours. To research more efficiently, the following is a list of links to powerful and reliable online research tools. Each tool is free and easily accessible (no registration is needed with any of these sources), with articles and data written and supported by qualified experts and authorities. Several of these research databases also include photographs, online exhibitions and collections, as well as audio recordings and films.

  • Google Scholar: Google Scholar is a search engine that indexes millions of scholarly literature across an array of disciplines, including the arts and humanities, business, science, medicine and mathematics. Released in 2004, Google Scholar retrieves abstracts, as well as full articles, with an emphasis on catering to professional researchers. As the logo states, Google Scholar is, “Standing on the shoulders of giants.” The site points to libraries that keep hard copies of research sources that are referenced online, such as rare folios, documents and books. Although Google Scholar does not yet let researchers subscribe to newsfeeds for search queries, it does offer one of the most diverse scholarly resources out of all free online research tools. An example of how Google Scholar works is when researching the word, “psychology,” over two million articles are retrieved.
  • FindArticles.com: Founded in 2000, FindArticles provides access to articles previously published in over 3,000 journals and other sources. Currently, it retains articles from about 500 print periodicals with coverage back to 1998. The site offers readers over 11 million resource articles. While the site does not currently include articles from more highly circulated magazines,  the collection maintains resources from a broad range of topics. When retrieving information on “psychology,” over 25 million links and articles are retrieved.
  • Digital History: Digital History, which is housed out of the University of Houston, primarily focuses on events and sources concerning U.S. history, from the 1400s to the present. It offers an up-to-date textbook and a broad range of essays on film, the arts, science and technology. The collection also contains beautifully rendered visual histories about Lincoln’s America and America’s Reconstruction post-antebellum. In addition, Digital History makes use of primary sources such as gravestones, historical advertising and letters, and organizes these unique sources in the database. The site includes numerous links to reference materials other than their own.
  • Internet Public Library: The Internet Public Library is a nonprofit database run out of Drexel University. It is the first public library created specifically for the Internet community. This cyber-based public library contains a collection of online resources that are organized by subject and includes topics on everything Internet. The Internet Public Library also features standard library services such as cataloging, educational outreach, information on exhibits, government documents, special collections and archives and online-only services such as a helpful list of blogs.
  • Library of Congress, National Digital Library Program: In 1995, the Library of Congress created a digital library featuring reproductions of selected primary source materials, including several in-house collections. This includes books, pamphlets, motion pictures, manuscripts and second recordings. Collections include the American Memory Collection, which contains materials on American history such as thousands of photographs, documents, maps and sheet music. The Digital Library also includes collections of cities and towns, African American History, Native American History, the Performing Arts and Music and fascinating work on several other topics. In addition, the website offers online exhibits and well as online librarians.

Research skills are essential for anyone and everyone. But regardless of how invested you are in research, it takes time and training to hone your skills. This includes the ability to identify what information is needed, understanding how information is organized, identifying the best sources of information for a given topic, locating these sources, evaluating the sources critically and being able to apply all relevant research to a task.

Finding reliable research sources is key, especially when the amount of available information is constantly growing due to the sophistication of online platforms and resources. Using authoritative and current online resources, such as those mentioned here, as opposed to biased and misleading sources is one of the first steps to becoming a successful researcher.