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How to Research

Searching the Web

Web Resources               Web resources include publicly accessible websites often found through Googling or other search engines.

Types of Web Resources

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Websites have become increasingly common on the Internet and are usually found using search engines. Websites are made to fulfill different purposes, whether it is to communicate messages, promote a non-profit's cause, promote a for-profit's brand, educate citizens through a government research page, or provide information about an educational institution.

Source: The Learning Portal

Pros Cons
  • There are hundreds of millions of active websites available containing a large variety of information.
  • Students can find information easily using powerful search engines.
  • Websites provide current information, news, statistics, and reports that libraries would be otherwise unable to provide. 
  • Information found on the internet may range from general to increasingly specific.
  • Publishing on the web is so easy anyone can do it, especially with the advent of content management system platforms (e.g., WordPress) and website building platforms (e.g., Wix). Check out our tips on evaluating sources to find bias, inaccurate, or misleading information.

Source: Milwaukee Area Technical College Libraries

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Grey Literature

Grey literature is information that is published by authors (individuals, organizations, associations, etc.) rather than commercial publishers in order to reach a wider audience and share the information more quickly than by publishing in a book or journal.

Grey literature includes:

  • Technical reports
  • White papers
  • Standards
  • Conference proceedings
  • Datasets

A potential benefit of grey literature is that it may avoid publication bias by presenting both positive and negative results. While grey literature may be considered "official", it may or may not be considered scholarly or academic and should be evaluated.

Open Access

Image of Open Access logo which is depicted as an orange unlocked combination lock Open Access Journals

  Open access journals are online academic journals that researchers can access free of charge. Often, these journals are peer-reviewed; however, some open access journals select and evaluate articles using an editorial team. Open access resources often extend beyond academic journals and may include: conference papers, theses, monographs, book chapters, and images.


Types of Open Access

There are multiple types of open access; however, we will focus on three:

Gold OA journals are publications in which articles are made free to access immediately upon publication. An example of Gold OA is the International Journal of STEM Education published by Springer Open.

Green OA refers to the process of authors opting to self-archive their academic works in repositories, independent of a publisher. An example of Green OA is Fanshawe's FIRST Repository in which students, staff, and faculty can upload their academic work.

Hybrid OA journals are publications that combine open access with paywalls (closed access). Often, only some individual articles are made open access.


Value of Open Access

Open access publishing is an incredibly legitimate resource used in research all over the world. Some major benefits of open access include:

  • Used in advancing research, improving society, and accelerating discovery. Open access is particularly useful for regions that do not have the financial means to purchase traditional journal publication subscriptions.
  • Under a Creative Commons license, authors own the rights to their work. In contrast, the publisher often owns the rights to articles in traditional publications.
  • The online format of open access publications allows articles to be published at a faster rate than traditional journals. This is particularly important in the sciences when research results or clinical trials need to be published in a timely manner.

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Newspapers & Magazines

Newspapers and magazines are forms of periodicals that report on current news and trends within regular (daily, weekly, etc.) publications. Traditionally, news and magazine articles were published in a physical format; however, most news and magazine outlets employ a hybrid model consisting of both physical and digital publications.

News and magazine content are intended for a broad audience. For this reason, news and magazine articles are not considered scholarly resources.


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Social Sites

Social sites consist of:

  • Social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram).
  • Blogs.
  • Videos (e.g., YouTube, Tik Tok).

These resources are great for quickly learning about a subject; however, as content is self-published on these sites, be wary about including them as references in your research paper. 

Using Search Engines

What is a Search Engine?

Search engines crawl existing webpages using web crawlers that scan website content. This information is then indexed and stored in a database for retrieval at a later date. Once a user types in search terms, the search engine then searches through its database and retrieves a set of results. These results are usually sorted by relevancy based on the user's search terms.

Source: Mongools

The most common search engines include:

Image of Google's colourful logo     Image of Yahoo! search engine logo in purple     Image of Microsoft's Bing search engine logo

How to Search Effectively

  • Filter your search results by type (e.g., news, videos, images, etc.).
  • Change the advanced search option of Google to refine your search (e.g., date, country, region, language, etc.).
  • Use quotation marks (" ") around a phrase to search for that exact phrase
    • Example: "APA Citation"
  • Refine your search with Boolean operators
    • AND to include all search terms, NOT to exclude search terms you do not want, and OR to search for synonyms).
  • Simplify your search terms by removing prepositions (in, of, on), conjunctions (and, but), and articles (a, the).
  • Insert a hyphen (-) before a word to exclude it from the search
    • Example: marketing -digital 
  • Search within a specific website by typing site: followed by the website's URL and a search term
  • Try different search engines (e.g., Google, Yahoo, Bing) and academic search engines (e.g., Google Scholar).

Sources: MindTools and The Learning Portal

Top Search Engine Picks

Academic Search Engines

Screenshot of Google Scholar's home page

What is an Academic Search Engine?

Academic search engines function similarly to regular search engines (e.g., Google, Yahoo); however, their purpose is to retrieve academic search results to user queries.

Many of the results retrieved from academic search engines are open access documents. These documents are not always final versions of research articles - often, they tend to be pre-print (author manuscript prior to peer-review) and post-print (an article after it has been accepted for publication but before formatting) copies of research articles.


Unpaywall Logo 

Having issues with paywalled (not free) journal articles? Unpaywall is a Chrome browser extension that searches across its vast database of open access (free) articles to provide you with an article you can use. Unpaywall is easy to download and is completely legal.

Why Use an Academic Search Engine?

  • Determine the credibility of an article or author.
    • Copy and paste an article citation into the search bar. You will be looking for the article's citation count and publication name.
    • A high citation count is a good indicator that other authors have found this article to be reputable.
  • Google Scholar provides author profiles with links to their academic work. You may also want to look for institutions the author is affiliated with (e.g., universities) as well as their impact (e.g., number of citations, impact metrics).
  • To find additional sources to complement existing library resources.

How to Use an Academic Search Engine

  • To use an academic search engine, type your query as you would in any search engine or library database.
  • You may want to include some Boolean operators for more specificity in searches.
    • Operators include AND, OR, quotation marks (" ") around phrases, and hyphen (-) to exclude words or phrases.
  • If you know the citation for an article, try a search using that citation.

Academic Search Engine Top Picks (by discipline)


Google Scholar
  • Retrieves results that are both open access and locked behind a paywall.
  • Great for checking the credibility of an article by locating citation counts and author profiles.
  • Collection of open access research papers from repositories and journals globally.
  • Majority of resources indexed in BASE are open access (~60%).
  • Multilingual.
  • "Provides access to more than 12 million academic journal articles, books, and primary sources in 75 disciplines".

General Sciences

Semantic Scholar
  • Used to find peer-reviewed scientific literature.
  • Designed to highlight the most influential papers.
  • Few paywalls and many sources are full text.
  • arXiv (pronounced archive) is an open access repository of pre-print scholarly articles within the sciences.
  • Provides access to scientific open access journal articles.

Computer & Information Science

  • Retrieves full-text resources from publicly available websites.
  • Covers the sciences, particularly fields of computer and information science.


  • Searches the MEDLINE database and retrieves resources on life sciences and biomedical topics.
  • Provides access to biomedical and genomic information, including journals and eBooks.

Biological & Environmental Sciences

  • "Database of over 200 subscribed and open-access titles in the biological, ecological, and environmental sciences".


  • ERIC is a digital library of open access articles pertaining to education research.


  • Covers journals, working papers, and conference papers in business studies and economics.