Online Research Guide

The internet has made academic research easier in many ways and more complex in others. As information becomes more accessible, students can research from libraries all over the world without ever leaving the comfort of their homes. This variety in research methods and sourcing continues to make education even more effective for students.

Before the internet, however, students could trust the research sources they found by physically searching and reviewing them in libraries. Today, students must navigate many pages of online search results for reliability. Largely unregulated, anyone can publish information on the internet. Students must learn how to determine the legitimacy of each source on their own.

This guide will assist nursing students with conducting online research for school and includes tips and shortcuts for searching Google and evaluating sources. An added list of academic and nursing-related search engines widen research options. Students will also access strategies for managing online research and creating accurate citations within specific academic writing styles.

Using Google for Online Research

Navigating the seemingly endless search results you receive when conducting online research can prove tiresome, but changing your search engine settings may bring about the results you desire. This also helps eliminate unreliable sources that clutter your search. The following research tips for nursing students utilize Google as the standard search engine. If you intend to use a different search engine, review the site's help menu to find similar shortcuts.

Refining Your Search Results

Simple search shortcuts can make your Google research more effective and efficient. For example, using "or" between search terms combines searches, and putting a term in quotation marks instructs Google to find exact matches. If you need details about a certain website, put "info:" before the domain name.

Another helpful solution includes site search. Google allows users to type "site:" in the search bar, followed by a certain domain name, to produce results only from a specific site. Exclude spaces between the colon and the domain name.

Use keywords in combination with your site search. For example, when searching for nursing certification information on the American Nurses Association site, you would type "nursing certification" followed by "" to solely access search results about that topic.

You can also refine your search to specific site types, like .gov, .org, and .edu. In order to search medical topics from federal government sites, for instance, you would input your keywords followed by "" for targeted results.

Google also offers an advanced search function for more complex searches. Users can search by websites or images, with a variety of search filters for each option to make results even more specific. For instance, users can search sites from a certain region of the world, and/or those updated within the past 24 hours.

For time-sensitive data, you can alternatively use the "tools" button at the top of the search results page in Google (rather than through advanced search). This provides a time option for a webpage's publishing or updated times. Filter results by selecting "verbatim" or "all results."

Google Scholar

As you conduct research for nursing school, include Google Scholar in your toolkit. This online academic search engine provides access to millions of peer-reviewed articles, journals, books, abstracts, and other materials. The Google Scholar database includes all academic disciplines.

Full versions of articles and publications can be accessed online or through your local library. The database simplifies research of related journals, publications, and authors, which saves you valuable time and energy. The vetted sources provide assurance of their reliability. Google Scholar also follows research standards by ranking documents by content, publishing, authorship, and citations by other scholars. The site even offers authors the option to submit their own papers and published research for possible inclusion in the database.

You can customize your Google Scholar Preferences by language, content type, and citations. Users may identify up to five libraries to access resources in person or to use their preferred library's subscription benefit to download full versions of documents.

Be sure to visit the Google Scholar Search Tips page to learn how to improve your search results, find newer research, accurately cite sources, and set up email alerts.

Beyond Google

While Google has become the starting point for online research, other helpful search engines and databases exist specifically for academic research. The following sites include resources students can access online. In addition to general academic research, this listing features medical and nursing search engines. Some of the sites below require no cost, while others mandate registration and payment for access. Students usually enjoy discounted rates.


  • AMiner: This site mines social and academic media to provide access to specific researchers, conferences, and publications. Users can also search by academic topic and course name.
  • BASE: Germany's Bielefeld University Library operates the Bielefeld Academic Search Engine. BASE provides targeted search results for academic research, including data, articles, and digital media. Every source goes through a vetting process to prevent spam and irrelevant search results.
  • CGP: The Catalog of U.S. Government Publications provides online access to publications -- some complete and others summarize -- produced by the federal government, including historic documents.
  • CIA World Factbook: The World Factbook, compiled and maintained by the Central Intelligence Agency, provides details on countries and regions of the world, including data about geography, governments, history, and population.
  • ERIC: The federal Educational Research Information Center comprises an academic index of reports, articles, and papers. Each item requires a formal expert- or peer-review process for inclusion.
  • iSeek Education: This search engine for students and instructors provides targeted research results from credible academic sources, including universities, the federal government, and vetted organizations.
  • National Archives: This online catalog compiles more than two million records, including census data, congressional records, and federal documents and publications.
  • OCLC: The OCLC, an international library network, provides access to data and research collections from academic, medical, public, and government libraries. Its OAlster catalog offers approximately 50 million records gathered from open access sources.
  • CORE: CORE consists of an international, online collection of open access research papers and journal articles. The CORE organization exists with support by a variety of academic, corporate, and research partners.

For Nursing Students

  • National Institute of Nursing Research: This federal organization conducts and supports research to improve health outcomes, from disease prevention and maintenance, to end-of-life care.
  • This collaborative home base for the American Nurses Association (ANA), American Nurses Foundation, and the American Nurses Credentialing Center provides information and data on best practices and clinical standards through online ANA publications.
  • OmniMedicalSearch: This database consists of more than 250 online medical journals. Users can search specific publications, or conduct research by selecting a specific topic, part of the body, or disease.
  • U.S. National Library of Medicine: This division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides a wide variety of medical data, including biomedical research, health information, medical images, and relevant publications.
  • Medscape: Healthcare students and professionals can access medical articles, news, clinical resources, drug information, and continuing education resources on this site. A Medscape app is also available for mobile devices.
  • National Council of State Boards of Nursing: This nonprofit organization's website includes medical articles, published research, data, and nursing publications. Users can also find information about nursing regulations, licensing, learning tools, and resources for state board exam preparation.

Evaluating Sources

Conducting research online provides an abundance of information, but some may not be accurate or trustworthy. Students must carefully review the sources of articles and other publications they discover online. Legitimate sources offer accurate data and objective content. Some authors seek to persuade readers to support a particular issue, company, or organization rather than to educate, which makes the source unreliable for academia.

The following questions have been compiled from recommendations provided by Georgetown University and the University of Chicago Press.

Who Is the Author?

Research the author of each piece to ensure he or she holds the right qualifications to present the information. Review the page for the author's current professional position, organization, and email address. Look at the site's homepage to determine its relevance to the topic. Ideally, the author should be a representative of a college or university, academic journal, nonprofit, or research organization.

What Is Its Purpose?

Determine whether the piece educates readers or sells a product or service. A true source informs the audience, rather than to persuades readers to make a purchase or change their opinion about an issue.

Does It Look Professional?

Websites often feature reliable resources with organized and streamlined designs. Proceed with caution when sites contain too many graphics or colorful photos, as these may indicate advertising purposes. Look for content-rich sites free of spelling and grammatical errors and void of profanities, which may take away from the source's validity.

Is It Objective?

Skim the piece to determine whether the author presents an opinion or fact-based evidence. Research content should always be neutral and unbiased. If the author belongs to an organization, decide if that skews the information. Sometimes an affiliation with a company or institution renders the information useless, as the author seeks to promote a shared goal with their organization.

Is It Current?

Be wary of sites without recent updates, as regularly maintained sites prove more reliable. If the site appears current, identify the organization that sponsors or maintains it.

What Sites Does It Link to?

Links to external or partner sites can determine a site's legitimacy. Sites featuring current, useful links related in subject matter typically make valid sources. Avoid sites with links to tabloid-style or advertising sites.

Organizing Your Research

With many online sources to manage and site, keeping track of research proves especially challenging. Keeping your thesis at the forefront can help you organize your research in a logical and persuasive way that effectively proves your argument. The following tips can make the organizational process easier.

Source Identification

Decide on a system for identifying and tracking your online research sources, and apply it consistently. Name, number, or tag sources for quick reference. Bookmarking sites, like Delicious, may prove helpful.

Research Bibliographies

As you identify solid research sources, review their bibliographies to find additional vetted sources to improve and simplify your research.


Start and maintain your own bibliography as you research. Use a citing tool or app to develop accurate citations within your specified writing style (like APA or AMA).


When finished collecting your research, use a freewriting method to organize the major parts of your paper or presentation. A mind mapping tool, like MindManager, helps place sections or themes in text boxes. Virtually move boxes to streamline your thoughts.


Develop an outline of your research from your freewriting results. It should include descriptive main topics and subheaders, which provide a logical flow to your writing.

Online Tools to Manage Your Research

  • EasyBib: This app helps users create bibliographies by generating citations, customized by style (like AMA or APA), and resource type.
  • Endnote: This research tool assists users with searching and saving online resources, creating a bibliography based on citation style, publishing research, and sharing resources with peers. Endnote comes as a free basic version, one designed for iPads, and a feature-rich, fee-based version.
  • Mendeley: This free reference management app helps users organize research, save data, develop bibliographies, and interact with academic peers with popular social network and job searching tools.
  • RefWorks: This reference management tool helps students, faculty, and librarians find and organize research, gather references, make notations, and create bibliographies. RefWorks virtually creates personal research databases.
  • Zotero: A free tool for Windows, Mac, and Linux users, Zotero searches the web for resources related to user research projects, organizes them by keyword or personal preference, and makes citations and bibliographies by style. Users can sync their data across devices and collaborate with peers.

Citing Online Resources for Nursing Students

Created in 1929 by social scientists, APA Style is the preferred writing format for the science and social science fields. Nursing students and professionals use this writing method for research papers, presentations, and abstracts. APA format uses references, citations, tables, and punctuation based on preferences by the American Psychological Association, which provides support through publication manuals, blogs, and apps.

The American Medical Association produces the AMA Manual of Style in print and online, featuring more than 1,000 pages. Both science and medical professionals use AMA Style to present research. The AMA uses monthly quizzes, blogs, and Twitter posts to support style users with changes and updates.

APA Style

The following examples of APA Style citations come from the Purdue Online Writing Lab. They include sample publication, newspaper, and e-book research sources. Instructions for using other source types, with examples, appear on the Purdue OWL site.

Articles From Online Periodicals

Digital Object Identifiers (DOI) take the place of URLs to provide online links to publications. These research citations indicate published journal articles, periodicals, and electronic books. Each publication receives a unique reference code, which includes a combination of letters and numbers (older versions solely used numbers but continue to be valid for certain publications). A document's first page usually contains the DOI information.

With DOI


Author, A. A., & Author, B. B. (Date of publication). Title of article. Title of Journal, volume number, page range. doi:0000000/000000000000 or



Brownlie, D. (2007). Toward effective poster presentations: An annotated bibliography. European Journal of Marketing, 41, 1245-1283. doi:10.1108/03090560710821161

Without DOI


Author, A. A., & Author, B. B. (Date of publication). Title of article. Title of Journal, volume number. Retrieved from



Kenneth, I. A. (2000). A Buddhist response to the nature of human rights. Journal of Buddhist Ethics, 8. Retrieved from

Newspaper Articles


Author, A. A. (Year, Month Day). Title of article. Title of Newspaper. Retrieved from



Parker-Pope, T. (2008, May 6). Psychiatry handbook linked to drug industry. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Electronic Books


De Huff, E. W. (n.d.). Taytay's tales: Traditional Pueblo Indian tales. Retrieved from



Davis, J. (n.d.). Familiar birdsongs of the Northwest. Available from

AMA Style

The following examples from the Arizona Health Sciences Library and the USciences indicate how to cite research sources in AMA Style. These sites also provide additional source examples, along with tips for following AMA Style.

No Author Name Provided

Name of organization. Title of specific item cited. URL. Accessed date.

International Society for Infectious Diseases. ProMED-mail Website. Accessed April 29, 2004.

Author Name Provided

Author A. Title. Name of website. URL. Updated date. Accessed date.

Sullivan D. Major search engines and directories. SearchEngineWatch Website. Updated April 28, 2004. Accessed December 6, 2005.

Online Journal Article With Six or Fewer Authors; DOI Included

Florez H, Martinez R, Chakra W, Strickman-Stein M, Levis S. Outdoor exercise reduces the risk of hypovitaminosis D in the obese. J Steroid Biochem Mol Bio. 2007;103(3-5):679-681. doi:10.1016 /j.jsbmb.2006.12.032.

Author Name Provided

Author A. Title. Name of website. URL. Updated date. Accessed date.

Sullivan D. Major search engines and directories. SearchEngineWatch Website. Updated April 28, 2004. Accessed December 6, 2005.

Online Journal Article With Six or More Authors; DOI Not Included

Siris ES, Miller PD, Barrett-Connor E, et al. Identification and fracture outcomes of undiagnosed low bone mineral density in postmenopausal women: results from the National Osteoporosis Risk Assessment. JAMA. 2001;286(22):2815-2822. /2815. Accessed April 4, 2007.