How to search for academic and scientific information

Everyone, in some way, knows how to search for information and we usually do it on the internet using Google. But once we are at the University and face our higher studies we need to take some steps further, further, or more in depth. We will continue to use Google, but it will not be enough.

In the University we are going to carry out work, to face an active learning task and to gradually get used to learning for ourselves. The demands for quality and professionalism are increasing and therefore the competent handling of information, the intelligent and responsible use of scientific documentation becomes more necessary. We have to improve our skills, prepare more.

The competences in information consist, in summary, in:

  • Analyze our need for information.
  • Search and get the information we need.
  • Evaluate and select the appropriate information.
  • Use it, apply it effectively and legally and morally correctly.
  • Present it or communicate it in our own texts or documents.

Not only Google

How to search the internet

When we need information it is normal that the first thing we do is go to the internet. It seems natural. But the internet is not “one” source of information: it is a network of computers where there is a lot of information and many sources and ways of getting information. The question, especially if what we are looking for is specialized information, is:

Exactly, where and how do we search on the internet?

We have to take into account the following:

  • On the internet there is almost everything: Information generated in many countries and languages, by various types of organizations and people, with different purposes and interests, on very different servers and websites. There are data and statistics, company information, documents that are not web pages (such as .pdf, .doc, .ppt files, etc.). There are images, blogs and wikis, legislation, bibliographic databases, directories of people or entities, encyclopedias and dictionaries, books and electronic journals, maps and geographical information, websites of organizations, library catalogs, scientific articles, press, social networks, chat pages, etc.
  • There is a lot of information on the internet: This is an advantage, but also an inconvenience. When we try to gather information on a subject, among so much information on the web, sometimes we don’t find just what we need, or it is obsolete, or of poor quality. If the results are too many and the relevant ones do not appear among the first ones, we fail. We also find “webspam” or fraudulently placed content “top” in the search engine rankings, to do business with advertising.
  • On the Internet it is easy to get lost: The web seems to invite us to navigate it by jumping through hyperlinks (links) from page to page. Sometimes we jump so much that we get disoriented, or waste our time without getting relevant information. We lose the initial page of the search, we forget the interesting pages that we have traveled, or in the end we settle for the least valuable. It seems that we sail almost randomly, without a definite heading, “clicking” compulsively.

When we search the Internet for useful and proven information, there is no other choice but to be methodical and rigorous: we are not browsing for fun, but to learn and to do jobs in which our teachers require us to use serious documentation. So we must make sure that among everything we find we choose what really suits us and is of quality.


  1. Learn how to use the tools before searching (help pages, explanations, examples, tutorials, advanced search …), until you become familiar with them; don’t just write words without more.
  2. Speed ​​is the enemy of quality . To find specialized information on the Internet you also need to take your time. Finding good information is often not trivial, it requires patience and concentration.
  3. Analyze your problem, think about your search strategy : before searching, study what terms to use, what variants or synonyms or related concepts, in what order, how to combine them, whether to track using phrases or truncating, etc. The more developed and elaborated the strategy is, the less results and more specific.
  4. Searches have several steps , very often it is necessary first to find out where to look, then search, then corroborate or contrast, later select, and finally collect the information. Sometimes we find the references first and then the complete documents.
  5. The search tools sort the results in different ways : popularity, times that your search terms appear in the document or page, publication date, etc. Some results are even paid as advertising.
  6. Work in an orderly and systematic way :
    1. keep a fixed window / tab to perform the search;
    2. open another window / tab for each result in order to check it;
    3. write down the URL or data of the selected pages or results in a note document with interesting links or references, or add it as a favorite bookmark;
    4. then read carefully the results or pre-selected pages;
    5. Start another search cycle if necessary.

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