Online Research Guide

Since the advent of the internet, researchers have been able to access an ever-growing amount of information. A simple search easily yields 50 million results in less than half a second. Rarely can one tackle a research topic with limited information. The internet puts the world at your fingertips, extending a student's reach far beyond a physical library. However, this nearly instantaneous access to seemingly unlimited information can be overwhelming.

The internet puts the world at your fingertips, extending a student's reach far beyond a physical library.

Use this guide to identify valid and reliable resources and eliminate those that don't measure up. You will learn techniques to conduct focused research from reliable databases. You will find a list of general information databases, and some specifically geared toward students at online Christian colleges. As you gather information, this online research guide will also familiarize you with tools to organize your research articles. Every school, discipline, and professor requires a specific page and citation format. This guide closes with an overview of the different styles and resources to help you structure your paper properly.

Using Google for Online Research

Google consistently outranks other search engines in total internet searches, and this guide describes how students can effectively use it, along with Google's academically focused search engine, Google Scholar. Both search engines thrive on their simplicity, features, and an algorithm noted for finding relevant results. This section helps users alter search engine settings to efficiently filter sources, making it one of the best Christian college research guides.

Refining Your Search Results

Google gives users helpful shortcuts to focus search results using common search techniques involving symbols and punctuation. For example, when searching for a term's exact match, place the term in quotation marks. Shortcuts also allow users to exclude words and combine searches.

Google gives users helpful shortcuts to focus search results using common search techniques involving symbols and punctuation.

Sometimes users must focus their research within a specific website or domain. To do so, simply type site: in the search bar followed by the name of the desired website. No space should be used between the colon and the site or domain in question. Users can leverage this site search function by typing a keyword before the term, site:. Someone seeking certification information from the American Clinical Social Work Association (ACSWA) could type certification Google then displays all of its results from the ACSWA website.

Learners can also use the site search function to search for businesses or organizations registered within a top-level domain or domain extension such as .edu, .gov, or .org. Similarly, students can search for websites within a country of origin domain, such as .ca for Canada or .us for the United States.

Students can use the advanced search function to specifically narrow the focus of their searches without using shortcut text. If the results page from an initial search fails to provide adequate results, the researcher can use the advanced search function by clicking the settings link in the menu bar just above the first result listing. To review the most current results or those within a custom time range, the user can further restrict the search by clicking the tools link, just to the right of the settings link.

Google Scholar

Students, researchers, and educators at Christian online colleges will enjoy how effectively Google Scholar enables them to locate high-quality results. The tool indexes articles and abstracts rather than journals and periodicals. In other words, students can find the articles published in the journals, but cannot pull up the journals specifically. Users can also find conference papers, theses, dissertations, and technical reports. To make access easier, users of Chrome, Firefox, or Safari can add the Google Scholar button to their browser toolbar. A simple click of the button will bring up a small Google Scholar search window.

Students can set up their Google Scholar preferences to access resources available through their online Christian college or university library. The librarian or library's website may be able to provide students with the access code needed to complete the link. Google Scholar also provides a feature called My Library, which allows students to save articles for future review.

To enable users to maximize the search engine, Google Scholar provides a list of search tips through the help link at the bottom right-hand corner of the main search page.

Beyond Google

Beyond the powerful resources of Google and Google Scholar, students and researchers can leverage the potential of many academic search engines and databases. Some charge a fee, but many credible and powerful resources provide free information through open access. Students at online Christian colleges find excellent general academic information available in the first 10 resources listed below, while the last six focus more on theological and religious subject matter.


  • AMiner This source provides comprehensive search and mining services for researching social networks. Beyond the networking function, the site allows users to locate helpful research articles.
  • BASE The Bielefeld Academic Search Engine of Bielefeld University facilitates effective and focused searches of a massive database of intellectually reviewed and selected results. T
  • CGP The Catalog of U.S. Government Publications enables users to search for current and historical government publications by authoring agency, title, publication, and keywords.
  • CIA World Factbook Students can find a wealth of information in this website on the history, people, government, and economy of 267 countries and regions.
  • ERIC Operated by the United States Department of Education, the Educational Resources Information Center offers a thesaurus and searchable database of submitted articles and reports.
  • iSeek Education Specializing in search safeguards and editorially reviewed material, this site enables searchers to sift through hundreds of thousands of sources and resources, including lesson plans.
  • National Archives This resource allows students to actively research records and documents created by the various branches of the U.S. federal government.
  • OCLC A global library cooperative, the Online Computer Library Center gives users access to more than 50 million records of open access resources through the Open Access Initiative.
  • CORE With the goal of providing free, unrestricted access to research, this source enables users to search more than 133 million open access articles and research papers.
  • Microsoft Academic Capitalizing on a semantic search algorithm, this source understands word meanings, providing a more intuitive search experience for academic materials.

For Students at Christian Colleges

  • ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials The American Theological Library Association provides subscription-based access to articles, essays, and book reviews on religion. Students access the tool through their college website.
  • Christian Research Institute Students may search the archive of articles published in the Christian Research Journal as well as a video archive on Christianity-related issues.
  • EBSCO Open Dissertations Though not confined to Christian topics, this free resource enables students to search by subject for Christian and church-related dissertations.
  • Index Theologicus This International Bibliography of Theology and Religious Studies website enables students and researchers to locate articles, monographs, databases, and relevant links.
  • Theopedia Produced by the Christian Web Foundation, this source functions as an evangelical encyclopedia of biblical Christianity. Users can search for articles and books in addition to audio and video recordings.
  • Open Access Digital Theological Library Staffed by professional librarians, this resource functions as a virtual library for theology, religious studies, and related disciplines. Advanced search features allow students to locate content by keywords, phrases, title, and author.

Evaluating Sources

The internet's rapid proliferation of information enables people to access more materials than ever before. Depending on the topic, students can access hundreds of thousands, if not millions of results with a single search string, usually in a fraction of a second. However, quantity does not equal quality, especially for academic research. Students, researchers, and educators must carefully evaluate source reliability for any information gleaned online. When evaluating sources, consider the following questions adapted from Georgetown University and the University of Chicago Press. Your online Christian college may publish its own set of questions.

Organizing Your Research

Researching efficiently can reduce the intimidation factor in writing a paper. Begin with a clear sense of direction to avoid getting bogged down in irrelevant pursuits. You must leverage that sense of direction with a sound approach to organizing, analyzing, and managing your research. The following tips can create a more productive and satisfying research experience. Furthermore, you may find a Christian college research guide at your school website.

  • Clarify Your Research Focus

    Start with a clear understanding of your specific assignment. Use multiple keywords to receive more specific results. As the assignment progress, continue to refine the focus.

  • File Your Research Articles Appropriately

    Always file to find, never to store. For efficiency's sake, thoroughly vet your articles for reliability and authenticity before filing.

  • Annotate Your Research

    As you proceed through the articles, highlight key paragraphs and potential quotes. Interact with your articles by noting analytical thoughts and insights that come to you while you read.

  • Cite as You Write

    Before embarking on your assignment, be sure you understand the assignment's required citation style. Then cite as you write rather than backtracking afterwards.

  • Alphabetize Your References

    As you cite while you write, record the reference in your reference section with the proper format. Be sure to alphabetize your references as you go.

Online Tools to Manage Your Research

  • EasyBib A highly accurate citation generator, this tool generates citations for every type of source in all the major citation formats. Students can also download an iOS or Android app.
  • Endnote While initially created as a reference management program, this tool has expanded to include several research organization capabilities as shown in this video.
  • Mendeley This site provides a collaborative platform for students, researchers, lecturers, and librarians to share work, and to organize and cite research from a single site.
  • Zotero This free and open-source reference management program helps users organize, annotate, and properly cite their research articles. It also offers research sharing capabilities.

Citing Online Resources

Citations serve as the proper way to credit others for their creative and intellectual works that you use to support your research. Proper citation also helps protect writers from committing plagiary. Many citation styles have been developed to serve the needs of specific disciplines. Before beginning your research project, be sure you know which citation style your professor requires. Then you must familiarize yourself with the required citation style. The following list of styles indicates which disciplines use that style, along with a link to the citation style guide. Note that some natural sciences may opt to use one of two or three styles.

  • MLA This style, developed by the Modern Language Association, governs the citation and paper formatting for the humanities, such as philosophy, religion, literature, history, and the arts.
  • APA The American Psychological Association created its own style to suit its discipline. Other disciplines using the APA style include education and the sciences.
  • Chicago Also known as the Turabian citation style, the Chicago Manual of Style primarily governs citation and formatting in the business field. However, some in the history and fine arts fields also use this style.
  • CSE Focusing on scientific style and format, the Council of Science Editors has created their own style manual used primarily in the natural and physical sciences.
  • AMA Those writing or publishing research in the fields of health and medicine usually use the style developed by the American Medical Association.