For many students, the hardest part about writing a research paper is the research. Even the best students often don’t know how to properly conduct research or even where to start.

But you’re in luck:

This article provides step-by-step details for doing online research.

This article also ends with a list of reliable online research paper sources, from online public libraries to dissertation databases.

By the way:

You’ll find a full list of the numbered online research tools throughout this article at its end. (This list also includes brief descriptions.)

But first:

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1.  🏁  Start Your Research: Pick a Topic

Sometimes, picking a topic is the best part of a project. But it can become a nightmare. The plus side? Infinite choices. The minus side? Infinite choices.

(Are you a planner? Then check out an overview of the entire research paper writing process.)

Want to narrow the infinite choices? Look for inspiration. Check out your local library. Try the Random article feature on (1)Wikipedia. Or skim through a list of research or dissertation topics.

Start your research: Pick a topic

There are many ways to try this last suggestion. Consider the links at the end of this article, like the (2)Proquest dissertations and theses search. This is a searchable archive of over 2.3 million dissertations and theses. These topics were good enough to be the focus of a Ph.D. They’ll be good enough for your research paper.

2.  🔍  Start Your Research: Identify Search Terms

So you’ve decided on a topic? That’s great. Now it’s vital to start your research as soon as possible. Don’t delay.

But first:

You should identify the search terms for your topic. There are two types of terms: common terms and specialist terms. Common terms are words or phrases used by novices. But specialist terms are used by academic experts, especially in scholarly writing.

Common terms are useful for finding research sources in your early research. But specialist terms are best for finding research paper primary sources.

Start your research: Identify search terms

For example, if your research topic is “tomatoes,” you may first use common terms like “cherry tomato.” These first searches will help you learn more. But you will eventually use specialist terms like the tomato species name, Solanum Lycopersicum.


When your write your research paper, use specialist terms. Do not use common terms.

3.  📕  Identify High-Quality Research Sources

So you’ve picked a topic and found important key phrases? Great! Now start your research.

But wait just a second:

Where do you go to research? The final section contains 30 great internet research tools and research paper resources. But there are many more. Here are some tips to help you find all types of them.

How to google it graph


Make sure you use(3) Google to its fullest. The advanced search feature lets you focus on specific websites (or even types of websites, like those with “.edu” domains), specific phrases, and specific file types (like PDFs, which are a common format for scholarly articles).

And don’t forget:

Branch out to sources specific to your topic. Is your research about internet retail? Look for online market research tools. Is your paper on a rigorous academic field? Try(4) Google Scholar. It’s the top research paper search engine for academic articles.

But you can get even more specific with academic subjects. For example, is your academic research on a biological topic? Try (5)PubMed Central. (It’s free!)

By the way, your school or local library may have access to similar commercial web services like (6)Web of Knowledge or (7)LexisNexis. These are powerful academic search engines for all sciences (including social sciences) and legal fields, respectively. (They’re expensive. But worth it.)

Last, but not least:

If you’re a university student, you may have access to commercial research software. In addition to commercial software like Microsoft PowerPoint and Adobe Photoshop, schools also offer the powerful citation management software Endnote. Endnote can manage tens of thousands of academic articles. It also lets you insert citations into Microsoft Word documents with a few clicks. Endnote can even store URLs and PDF files of papers. (Best of all, Endnote lets you instantly reformat your bibliography, no matter your specific research paper sources format. This is especially easy because Endnote is integrated with word. Endnote saves lots of time.)

However, this next point is crucial:

4.  🕵️  Avoid Low-Quality Research Sources

The above tips make it easy to find useful sources for a research paper. But beware! There are also many bad sources. Here are a few tips to help you avoid bad online research instruments, no matter how broad your research tools definition is.

First, is a research paper website offering promises that are simply too big? Then, it is probably a scam. Free research papers are likely plagiarized. Instant writing services? That is absolutely plagiarism. It might even be junk text produced by research paper software. Look for websites that offer realistic services at fair prices. It’s that simple.

Tip: Avoid low-qualiy research sources

Second, when you find a website that offers research help, look for a social media presence. Does the research source have a Facebook page? Is there a Twitter account? If not, have a little doubt about the source, especially for unprofessional looking websites. Most importantly, searches on social media can turn up some very honest assessments of products. Dissatisfied users and customers always complain about social media.

5.  💡  30 Online Resources to Help You Finish Your Research

The above tips will help you with your research. But these internet research tools will ensure you get the job done.

First, here’s a summary of the online research resources that have been mentioned.

  1.  Wikipedia
    Even professors and world class scientists begin researching new topics using the 5 million Wikipedia articles. (Tip: Use article footnotes to find reliable primary sources.).
  2. Proquest dissertations and theses search
    Every year, many thousands of graduate students finish their studies. And they all write up a dissertation. This Proquest archive contains 2.3 million of those dissertations and theses. And this is free.
  3. Google
    Everyone uses Google. Still, it’s a top research tool. The most used internet search engine contains tons of useful “Advanced search” features. These can power the early stages of your research project. (Best of all, Google is obviously free.).
  4. Google Scholar
    The same company that produced the world’s top search engine also offers the world’s top scholarly search engine. Google Scholar works just like Google. But it directly links you to only publications in countless academic journals. (Tip: Look at the right-hand side of the search results. There, Google Scholar shows you if a PDF is available for each article.).
  5. PubMed Central
    The U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine offers PubMed Central.This is a free source for almost 4 million academic articles in the medical and biological sciences.
  6. Web of Knowledge
    Many academic research services that charge a fee. But Web of Knowledge is the most widely used. And this is for a good reason. It provides search features missing from Google Scholar. Definitely, check to see if your library offers access to Web of Knowledge.
  7. LexisNexis
    This is the research resource of choice for law school students and lawyers. (Of course, this is an expensive service for individuals. But your school may have free access.).

    Now: the above research tools will help you get started with your online research. But the remaining 23 will make sure your writing is a wild success.First, let’s review some excellent sources for published books.

Sources for Published Books

  1. Google Books
    Google Books was launched in 2004. Today, it offers full text searches of over 25 million books. (That’s a lot of reading.).
  2. The US Library of Congress
    As a leading research library, the Library of Congress has an incredible number of online resources. Their website lets you search for nearly every book ever written. You can also skim their vast online collections.
  3. Project Gutenberg
    The goal of Project Gutenberg sounds crazy. They aim to digitize every book that is not under copyright. In brief, they offer almost every classic book published before 1900.
  4. National Library of Australia
    The online public library from the smallest continent offers searchable access to half a billion different online items. (Tip: This is a great tool for Aussies.).
    Most of the research tools on this list are free. But here are a few especially good commercial tools that your school might offer. (And they are great!).

Commercial Tools

  1. JSTOR
    No website offers as many academic journals as JSTOR. If you’re on a college campus, check out this valuable resource.
  2. Questia
    This digital online library contains plenty of material that is still under copyright. In other words, if your school has a membership, you can save money on books! (Check out this demo for more info.).
  3. Ingenta Connect
    Ingenta Connect offers academic content from 300 publishers. Obviously, this is a great resource for published scholarly papers.
  4. ScienceDirect
    Elsevier is one of the biggest publishers in the sciences. Through ScienceDirect, Elsevier offers access to their entire archive.
    The following sources are great specialty web tools for your research in specialty disciplines. (And they are all free!).

Specialty Disciplines

  1. Project MUSE
    This web resource is hosted by Johns Hopkins University. It mainly focuses on digital articles and book chapters from humanities and social sciences researchers.
  2. IEEE Xplore
    This is the place to start if your research is focused on any of the many engineering fields.
  3. The Association for Computing Machinery Digital Library
    The name says it all. This is a go-to search engine for technical computing research.
  4. arXiv
    Cornell University’s arXiv is the largest collection of open-source papers in mathematical fields. Subjects range from physics to statistics to finance. (Tip: It’s pronounced “archive.”)

    Are you a graduate student? If so, look through these last few web tools especially hard. There are countless dissertations available instantly here. (You could even call this section of the article “dissertations express.”)

Web Tools for Graduate Students

  1. Open Thesis
    This free repository of theses and dissertations includes powerful search tools.
  2. Proquest Dissertations and Theses Open Access
    Proquest is the biggest indexer of dissertations. And this is the place to search all those texts.
  3. Dart-Europe
    It’s just one website. But it lets you search dissertations from almost 600 European universities.
  4. MIT Theses and Dissertations
    This archive contains every dissertation and thesis completed at MIT since 2004. But some date back to the 1800s.
  5. Stanford University Libraries
    The graduate work of over a hundred thousand Stanford students is searchable from anywhere in the world.
  6. University of Colorado Libraries
    Since 1997, the University of Colorado has archived every one of their Ph.D dissertations here.
  7. Swedish University Dissertations
    Scandinavia has produced a huge number of scholars. Now you can search the almost 60,000 available Swedish dissertations. (And in English!).
    Students at the University of Illinois have the option of depositing their theses on IDEALS. (And you have the option of searching their dissertations.).
  9. Deutsche Nationale Bibliothek
    Is your German as good as your English? If it is, check out this archive of German dissertations.
  10. Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard
    Last but not least, check out Harvard’s archive of dissertations begun in 2012. It’s one of the most famous universities in the world for a very good reason.Hopefully, these online research tools help.

    If your research stalls, try another! There are 30 to choose from. One of them is the source your paper needs!

    But if not: maybe your research has gone nowhere. Maybe your research paper is due tomorrow. If this ultimate research tool kit in this article are insufficient, contact the academic writing professionals at Custom Writing! Get a free estimate today.

Further reading:

🔗  References