How to Become a Pro at Finding Information for Your Papers

By Karen Palmer on February 2020
Category: Essay Writing

books in the library

Every time you get assigned to another research paper, analytical essay, or almost any kind of paper, you are expected to conduct in-depth research. It is the first step that you usually take before outlining your piece – you open Google or go to the library and start searching for the needed info.

If you would like to become a pro at finding the right sources and data, then this post is for you.

We All Do That

Every student is expected to be not only a good researcher but an analyst who is able to sort, organize, and analyze the data that they find. Your professors also hope that you actually understand and retain the information that you research. That is what being a good student means.

Almost every piece of academic writing implies conducting research. It might be the process of collecting some primary data, like through surveying or observation. But it also means that you should know how to collect secondary data too by working with various sources, archives, reports, etc. Of course, now it’s much easier since we have the Internet, but this is also pretty hard to define what exact information you are looking for and if the source that you have found is credible enough. The Internet is huge but also full of garbage.

Knowing how to sort the information is key. It’s hard to do, considering the amount of information that we perceive every day but is crucial in order to improve your critical thinking. We have a post on critical thinking and its importance for your studying, so you should check it out. There, we have already discussed that a critical thinker doesn’t just believe every piece of information but investigates instead.

So, we all are researchers at some point. But not all of us know how exactly one should conduct research and what techniques can help find the needed material faster.

Get Started

Before you start searching for the needed information for your essay, make sure to answer the following questions first:

  • What is the purpose of your work?
  • What is the question that you should answer with your essay/paper/report?
  • Do you fully understand the question?
  • Are there any specific requirements regarding the sources?
  • Are you supposed to provide your opinion/view/solution, or should you compare various works and analyze them?
  • What do you know regarding the topic of your work, and what blank spaces you should fill in while searching?

After answering these questions, you will have a better understanding of what you should do next. For example, if the topic or the question of your assignment contains any words or phrases that you don’t know or if you don’t fully understand the question (as some might be worded very confusingly), the first thing that you should do is to clarify the task, and start your research only after you are sure you understand what is expected from you.

This might seem like an unnecessary step, and you even might be wondering, “Who would not understand what they need to write about?” However, there are many cases that professors recall poorly written papers due to a lack of understanding of the topic or just lack of attention. For example, you might be assigned a complicated question that contains a few questions in it, e.g., answering where, when, and how or providing a comparative analysis of X, Y, and Z. Thus, if a paper doesn’t contain all the needed components and doesn’t fully answer the question, it will be graded poorly.

Collect Background Information

Once you start diving into the topic, find the basic information first. Get a better understanding of what the topic is about, what relevant works are there, and what related fields there might be.

A good start is to learn some general terminology and facts. This is what you can use the following encyclopedia websites for:

Though it’s never great to cite Wikipedia itself, you can get some basic knowledge from its pages and also get a useful list of sources to check for more data. Be sure always to doublecheck the information found on Wikipedia pages as they might be edited by people who are not completely competent in the topic.

You should also make some notes to retain the information better and be able to use the notes while writing your piece.

You might also need to find some information regarding the history of the research of phenomena or events that you cover in your work, read about the people who contributed to the topic, etc. Find any background information that you can. The simpler it is written, the better as you will be able to understand the basics of the topic that you research.

Work Through the Material

There are numerous sources of information that you can use for your academic work, both offline and online. Many students prefer going to the library and searching through the materials that it can provide. It’s definitely the right way to find every book from the reading list if you were given one or use the library database to find works related to the topic that you are discussing in your work.

You might find the database pretty hard to navigate, so it is always a good idea to ask a librarian for help. Don’t be shy; you will save a lot of time asking a professional for help.

Besides taking notes while you go through the sources, don’t forget to write down the unknown words. Keep your dictionary on hand and write the definitions down – chances are you will need to use this terminology in your work, so you need to know how to use it properly.

Be Organized

It’s always great to be organized and focused when doing research for your paper. You should definitely have a system to organize your notes as it will help you navigate through facts when putting your work together.

For example, you might use the following method:

  • Write the bibliographic reference at the top of the page
  • Write down quotes that you have chosen and the page numbers they come from
  • Write down your thoughts or other notes, key points, or phrases that you find important for your work.

This way, you will be able to insert the needed quote instantly and the source it came from into your bibliography list (you should also build it as you go, and not after the work is written).

Choose Reliable Online Sources

The main difficulty that every student faces when searching for information for their academic papers online is the reliability of the sources used. It might not seem as such, but the majority of the material on the Internet is not as reliable as it should be to meet the criteria of academic writing. A lot of articles are written by amateurs and use outdated information, which is especially crucial when it comes to statistics, scientific researches, or jurisprudence.

However, how can one tell if the source is credible or not? Well, first of all, you should pay attention to the sources that are known for their accuracy and academic value. Besides the encyclopedia websites that were mentioned earlier, you should also check the following sources:



This is where you can find bibliographies, academic journal articles, reports, latest news, and statistics that you might need for your paper. Make sure to use the latest data.

Other Sources

If you are using some other sources, you might pay attention to their domain name – websites that come from .gov and .edu are usually credible. Pay attention to the content itself. Here is a checklist for you:

  • The article that you have found has its depth – it’s at least two pages long and contains the abstract and references.
  • The article has a defined audience – researchers, professors, professionals in the field.
  • The article mentions the authors’ names, which are proved to belong to real people relevant to the field.
  • The article has supporting materials attached if it mentions any in the text.

Be sure to check if the article can be found on other sources.

Use Specific Search Commands

It’s not a secret that Google, as a search engine, has its commands – search operators that make the search query more specific, and the list of search results narrower. It can really save you a lot of time and make you a search pro. Here is the list of the main commands that you might find useful for your academic online search.

google search commands


Pretty useful, isn’t it? If you haven’t used these commands yet, you should definitely print this out.  And don’t forget to leave your request if you need the help of our writers.


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