Good Research Skills and Tools Every College Student Should Know About

As Digital Natives, building information and research skills is extremely crucial to our success in the ‘real world’. The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) claims:

  • Information doubles every 5.5 years,
  • Technical Information doubles every two years, and
  • Electronic Information doubles every hour.

In such a scenario, it has become imperative for us to learn how to access the information we need and use it to make right decisions. Here are the six research skills that every college student must have:

Research Skills What it Includes?
Critical Thinking Ability Critical thinking involves observation, analysis, explanation, evaluation, interpretation, inference, reflection, problem solving and decision making. As a researcher, you should be able to:

  • Evaluate strength or validity of different points of view,
  • Identify various arguments related to an issue,
  • Notice implications of a statement or argument,
  • Recognize weaknesses in arguments or pieces of evidence,
  • Support an argument with structured reasoning, and
  • Above all, think about a topic objectively and critically.
Information Literacy Skills
  • Being able to access relevant information,
  • Verifying it,
  • Evaluating it, and
  • Analyzing and integrating it

to solve problems, come up with new ideas, make informed decisions, and use data to reach meaningful conclusions.

Media Literacy Skills
  • Evaluating the authority of the news source as well as objectivity and timeliness of the information,
  • Understanding the difference in URLs,
  • Carefully understanding which articles offer point-of-view of people and which are just for propaganda purposes, and
  • Having knowledge of how usage of language and images affect a particular message.
Reading Comprehension Ability It is critical to understand what you are reading. Comprehending a text is a complicated process which includes:

  • Comparing and contrasting,
  • Distinguishing between facts and opinions,
  • Drawing conclusions,
  • Finding the main idea, relevant facts, and supporting details,
  • Inferencing,
  • Problem-solving,
  • Relating background knowledge,
  • Self-questioning,
  • Sequencing, and
  • Summarizing.
Traditional Research Strategies
  • Defining research question,
  • Acquiring library skills,
  • Citing sources,
  • Paraphrasing information,
  • Translating information from written to visual format and vice-versa, and
  • Generating useful search terms.
Visual Literacy Skills
  • Acquiring presentation skills,
  • Making an audience-oriented presentation,
  • Using appropriate color and style to communicate a message, and
  • Understanding usage of space and arrangement of information elements on a slide.


Best Tips to Getting A+ in Your Research Paper


Most college students struggle with 15 to 25-page research paper they have to present every semester as their term paper or semester project. Here are some of the expert tips that will help you research like a professor:

Choose a Topic Carefully


If your professor has proposed some topics, look for one that you find interesting, and you think you can add something to it. If you have to suggest a topic of your own, gleam through your syllabus, lecture notes, suggested readings, and discussion sections to find clues to a relevant topic. Identify what is already known about prospective topics and what more you can offer about them – and then, make your final decision.

Electronic Media to use, and not to use


Google, Bing, and Wikipedia are not reliable sources of information. In fact, many professors forbid you to use them. Alternatively, you can look up E-reserves suggested by your professor, on your course web page, or school library’s web page. E-resources listed on your college library website also include useful links for budding scholars, such as InfoTrac, OneFile, ProQuest, EBSCOHost, JSTOR, etc. as well as all the popular e-journals.

Many libraries offer Top 10 lists of databases most frequented by the patrons. These might be quick pointers to the information sites most appropriate for you. offers you Catalogs of over 10,000 libraries worldwide. It is available in web version as well as a mobile app.

Learn Advanced Online Search Techniques


Using wild-card characters (such as ?, #, *) and operators (such as AND, OR, +, -) can help you come up with relevant search terms quickly, and create filters instantly.

Do not use apostrophes or foreign characters in search terms to get better search results online.

If you are looking for a particular phrase or quote, use quotation marks. For example, “Love looks not with the eyes”.

If you are searching an academic website with a crappy search feature, try googling it instead with the ‘site’ feature. For example, you can type ‘blue oyster’

to look for stories related to ‘blue oyster’ on website.

It might also help you to install a browser based on your preferred search engine. So, if you love Google, install Chrome. If you are a Bing fan, install latest version of Internet Explorer instead.

Look for Information Offline too


Most librarians will be happy to you help you with your offline and online searches. In fact, almost all the prominent universities have reference librarians who are trained to help students in specific study areas. Talk to them. You might be surprised at what you can get from them.

You might have an ‘Inter-Library Loan’ department at your college too, where you might be able to get a physical copy of an article or a book from another library for research purposes.

Get Used to Uncertainty and Doubts


Failures and risks are a part of real research. Since there are no black-and-white answers to research questions, anything you use, do or say will be questioned and re-questioned once again. If it happens to you, consider it as a good sign for your research process.

Don’t Lose Focus


Often when students start researching about a topic, they get waylaid by what they find out. This tendency leads to unnecessary delays in submitting the project or assignment.

Never forget your research question. Closely monitor your timeline ad if you seem to be losing focus, re-align your activities.

Pay attention to the date of the source too. For science topics especially, you might want to stick to current information stream rather than something that happened hundreds of years ago.

In-Depth Research Leads to More Meaningful Conclusions


A mindless collection of data will not lead you to a first-rate research paper. Choose a topic which is narrow enough to allow you to go in-depth, and come up with something useful for the academic circle.

Make Notes as you do your Research


Make notes and compile bibliographical citations (name of the article, journal, author, page number, URL, etc.) as you go through the research material. Footnotes and bibliography might give you pointers to additional reference material too.

You may want to use reference management software such as RefWorks, Wizfolio or Endnote to organize your notes in an easy-to-read manner.

Learn Your Prof’s Preferred Style of Writing Paper


There are many writing styles in vogue, such as APA, MLA, APSA, CBE, AIP, and others. One quick way to impress your professor is to learn which style he or she thinks is right for your field of study and follow it judiciously.

Remember, Writing Paper takes Time


Writing a college-level research paper takes about as much time as the research work itself. You will need time to write the paper, revise it, and then, edit it once again.

An undergraduate should ideally spend half the time in research, and half the time in writing up and polishing the paper.


Top 10 Research Tools You May Use


Here are the ten research tools which will help you access most relevant pieces of data quickly:

  1. BioOne: This website is ideal for biology students as it costs much lower than its peers. It aggregates full-text articles on biology, ecology, and environmental sciences from more than 180 peer-reviewed journals.

  2. CiteSeerX: For a Computer Science student, CiteSeerX is a boon. It is a scientific search engine as well as a digital library that keeps expanding itself. It offers access to high-quality scientific journals much faster and with much more relevance. Its functionality, accuracy and comprehensiveness make it awesome. The best part is that you can find scientific algorithms, metadata, tools and techniques here too.

  3. DataElixir: One of the best content curator sites, it will keep you informed about the latest news and events happening in the fields of Science. Subscription to its weekly newsletter is free. It is also a good source for finding research data from high-quality journals and publications.

  4. Directory of Open Access Journals: One of the best online resources for college students, DOAJ indexes about 11,000 peer-reviewed journals! 6,500+ journals can be searched at article-level. The students also have open access to more than 2 million articles in its database – which can be read, downloaded, printed and shared.

  5. EndNote: This fantastic tool allows students to find full texts in its database based on abstracts. One of its most winsome features is that it auto-completes, manages, and shares all research references quite easily. Using this tool, students can organize their research data using tags, and write citations in their preferred style.

  6. Mendeley: This online academic network allows students, teachers and scholars from across the world to exchange ideas, share research data, and collaborate on various projects. It is also quite useful in managing references, editing documents in PDF format, and creating custom bibliographies.

  7. PlagScan: Plagiarism can be a death nail to your paper. PlagScan is one of the most powerful plagiarism checker apps in the market that scans your work and compares it with more than 1 billion documents. It has an excellent customer service too.

  8. ScienceDirect: It is an extensive storehouse of books, journals and other scientific publications that is regularly updated. There are more than 33,000 books, 2,500 scientific journals and more than 13 million papers on it – open for any college student or research scholar.

  9. Wunderlist: This time-management app is a must-keep for every research scholar. You can use it on any device and keep an eye on your notes, important dates and deadlines.

  10. Zotero: An intuitive and easy-to-use research tool, Zotero acts as an extension or add-on for your browser and collects, organizes and saves all the research data for you. It can recognize useful content (whether it is in PDF, image, audio or video format) automatically, and store it in a library which you can access with a single click.

Research skills and tools come in handy as professionals too. Data mining and analysis capabilities, ability to make informed decisions and expert presentation of your ideas will ensure ‘Success’ in any career you choose in the future.


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