How to Help Your Students Develop Their Research Skills

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Gone are the days when students listened to you carefully, writing down your every word and relying on textbooks you asked them to read. Now they go online and apply research skills there to find references or citations for academic projects.

Regardless of the subject you teach, students will do research to deal with your assignments. Yes, they are raised in the digital age and can’t imagine their life without the Internet (45% of them are online “on a near-constant basis”); but it doesn’t mean they are tech-savvy enough to use it for academic research. In fact, the majority consider YouTube and Instagram their primary information sources. And 82% of teens can’t even distinguish between ads, fakes, and real news on a website.

Given that, you might want to rethink your approach to teaching research skills to your students. To help them develop these skills, consider this:

Teach Them How to Search

First of all, students need to understand what info to look for in search engines. For that, add an extra class after assigning a task:

Organize a discussion on keywords, synonyms, questions, and any alternative phrases your students can consider for efficient and relevant research. Teach the basics of mind mapping so they could treat the academic research in its entirety.

Googling is an art, and students need to understand its basics for mastering all tricks. Consolidate the following:

  • Tell them to search by the most obvious, direct keywords first.
  • If that didn’t help to find the needed information, tell them to get more specific (try synonyms or consider the “Related Search” section).
  • Explain some basic Search Operators to students. For example, writing a query in quotation marks allow you to find the exact phrase; the OR operator searches for a given or equivalent term, etc. These operators work for different search engines, including YouTube, so they’ll come in handy for your students by all means.

Share Reputable Sources They Could Use for Research


Not by Google alone. Yes, students will find information there; but how do they know if it’s credible enough to cite in essays or refer to other educational projects?

Tell them about alternative information providers to use for academic research:

  • Given that your mentees are active YouTube users and tech fans, recommend them research tools such as Zotero that help to find and organize content. Video tutorials on the topic will be of service, either.
  • The assistance from academics with broad experience in essay writing will serve the good turn, too.
  • Also, tell students about networks such as Mendeley to find relevant resources and create bibliographies. And mention websites a la ResearchGate.net for them to discover the science and find references to their assignments.

Teach Them How to Filter Information

With tons of search results available, most students hardly check something beyond the first few. But as we know (and SEO specialists would confirm), first doesn’t equal best and most relevant, especially when it comes to the educational sector.

Encourage students to look further. Teach them the anatomy of a Google search result so they could understand which links to click. Explain the difference between .com, .gov, and .edu domains for them to see which one would be a more reliable source to consider.

Once they decide on a link to click, how do they know if it provides the information they need for research?

Kathleen Morris, a school teacher from Australia, have recently shared the flowchart that can help you teach a website evaluation to students.

Also, ensure that students understand: far from everything online is worth their trust. Some aren’t yet well-skilled in critical thinking, so do your best to teach the concept of “fake news” to them. The same goes to “fake information” they might want to include into essays, considering it reputable and relevant.


Explain How to Cite

Copy-pasting is most students’ nature, and we can do nothing with that. Even if they understand the concept of plagiarism and copyright infringement in academia, they “steal” the info from sources instinctively. Why? For their own works to sound smart.

Teach citing and referencing to your students. Explain how to format references, show how to paraphrase concepts with own words and give credits to the authors, and make sure you practice a lot so they would remember these rules once and for all.

Share General Tips on Better Research

Your students will do research even better if you share these common tips to them:

  • While searching for the answer, always keep a particular question in mind. It will help to focus on a topic and avoid covering all arguments at once.
  • Pay attention to dates. Depending on the topic, consider the latest surveys and research in the niche. Sometimes it’s OK to use historical documents, but it may also happen that you refer to outdated information.
  • Never cite Wikipedia. It’s a great resource to start your research, as it gives an overview of the subject and more links to explore. But remember that average users like you can edit this website and add the information to Wikipedia. Don’t consider this encyclopedia a monopoly on the truth.
  • Don’t miss bibliographies. When reading essays, research articles, or academic books on your topic, check the list of sources their authors used. Some of them might be relevant to your work.

Your students will hardly succeed in academia without strong research skills, so help them by investing some time in teaching these skills in your classroom. Use a guide to online research, integrate corresponding tools and resources to your learning process, and become a role model your students can follow when looking for palmary examples of academic research.

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