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5 Ways to Rock Your Research

Particularly once you get to college and beyond in academia, it seems like your life is spent nose-in-book, coffee-in-hand, trying to find out what the heck your next paper’s going to be about. You highlight passages, and then forget why; you spill coffee on your book; you fall asleep. Not the most fun activity.Thankfully, between Firefox and Google, doing research has been made a whole lot easier. Here are five awesome tools to make learning and writing a more enjoyable process (as long as you don’t spill your coffee on your computer- bad news):

Google Books (here): Google is working on projects with a huge number of libraries, across America, to bring the books you read online. With the growing number of books on Google, you can search for a particular word in a book (great for finding quotes), find places to buy it, find other things by the author, and use a number of other great features. Whether you’re reading, skimming or quote-hunting, Google Books makes reading for research a lot easier.

Google Scholar (here): Take Google search, remove all the ads, blogs, and amateur content, and you get Google Scholar. Working with Google Books, it helps you find professional and scholarly content on almost any subject. One word of advice- be broad. A search for “Black Panthers” didn’t bring much, but  “Civil Rights” brought a lot of information, even about the Panthers. If you need good sources and articles for papers, Google Scholar’s your first and often last stop.

Zotero (here): Bibliographies are usually a pain in the you-know-what, but not with Zotero. This easy, lightweight Firefox extension lets you store all your research materials in a much easier way than through bookmarks, as well as collecting bibliographic information for you, and storing it in any number of ways.  The site has a lot more information about its many great features, like compatibility with Office and WordPress. If you use Firefox for school, this is a must have.


Fireshot ( here): Ostensibly a screen shot tool, Fireshot does a lot more. The Firefox extension takes an image of the Web page you’re on, not just your screen. You can then draw on the image, edit it, highlight it, and export it to other editors. This is a great tool to use with Google Books to save pages and quotes you might need, but is useful on any site for saving and later finding the relevant information.

PDF Printer (here):  PDF is just about the only file format you can guarantee will open and work on any computer. Word documents get messed up, web pages go funny, but PDF is good to go. With PDF Printer, you can “print” any page or document to a pdf file, which then is saved and available for use later. It’s as simple as printing anything else, it just adds itself as a different printer to your computer. For compiling sources, this is a great one.There are many more ways to help you research better, but these are the ones I use most, and have made research a much more pleasant and efficient process.

What do you do when you research? Good ‘ol highlighter and book, or something more high-tech? Let us know in the comments!

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6 Responses to “5 Ways to Rock Your Research”

  1. Gina says:

    Those are all excellent recommendations. I would add that if you are affiliated with a university, you may be able to get full-text links to articles from Google Scholar. I only recently discovered this, and it’s made finding articles a lot easier. You can just go to Google Scholar, click on “Scholar Preferences,” and enter the name of your university where it says “Library Links.” If your university library system is hooked up to Google Scholar, then you will see it listed and be able to check the box. Check the box and save your preferences, then when you are searching, you will see links to full-text articles in the search results when they are available.

    You’ll probably have to authenticate your relationship with the university, and I think in some places you can only do this from campus computers. But in my case, I can access it from anywhere, and I just have to login with my student information one time per session, and then I can just search away. I find it much easier to find articles this way than through library databases, though the library interface is useful for certain kinds of searches. Most times, though, I’m able to find tons of information on topics I choose (even fairly specific ones), and usually get at least some full-text articles. It’s very handy.

    My other favorite student tool of the moment is Evernote ( I use it for a lot of things - for randomly jotting down thoughts, for taking notes during class, and as a form of backup when I’m writing papers (instead of/in addition to emailing it to myself). It also has web clips that serve a similar purpose to the one suggested here for Fireshot. You can take clips from the web, and then they’re just added to your Evernote notes. My favorite thing about Evernote is that it synchronizes across platforms, which makes it ideal for someone who works on multiple computers (including library computers that aren’t mine). If I write something in Evernote,I can write it on my computer then access it on the web, and vice versa, because it periodically synchronizes by itself.

    My dream research tool (damn, I’m a nerd) would probably be some kind of mix between google scholar, evernote, and zotero, that enabled me to search for information, find articles, save whole articles (and access them from my desktop or online), automatically link them to my reference manager, clip out quotes - and automatically get proper citations for those if i need them, and write up a paper or article myself while being able to seamlessly insert references along the way. Anyone want to make that for me?

  2. Zotero and Fireshot are great sources for search. Thanks for mentioning them.

  3. David P says:


    Love the comment! Evernote is awesome, too, I couldn’t agree more. The idea of using it as a backup for papers is a great one, I’m definitely going to start using that. I’m headed off to try your Google Scholar tip right now, thanks for those!

    And I love your idea of the perfect research tool, though I’d add one more thing to the list: searchability. I’d love to be able to download all my articles to my desktop, and then search through them for the name, keyword, or whatever that I’m looking for. A ton of different apps claim to do this, but I haven’t found any that really do.

    If someone makes that app for you, let me know!

  4. Mark Bentley says:

    A good set of suggestions - I agree the killer “academic productivity” app is still waiting to be written. Also agreed that an Evernote/zotero combo would go a long way towards this!

    Currently I use Evernote as a lab notebook, constantly backed up and available everywhere (office, lab, home, library etc.) and zotero sync (beta of the new zotero 1.5) as a reference manager - again, ref database plus journal PDFs sync’d on multiple computer and available via the web on

    But I sometimes find myself torn about where to put info relating to, e.g., lab work and a paper I’ve read.

    A mashup of Evernote and zotero, with a better system for managing and annotating PDFs, would pretty much solve all of my problems ;-)

  5. I’m always compiling resources so I’m happy to say PDF Printer is a life saver for me.

  6. Zotero and Fireshot are great, I couldn’t do without them. Thanks for so much valuable information.