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Google Knows Everything

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By Erica Schatzlein, Writing Specialist

Google knows everything, according to a friend’s kindergarten-age daughter. Oh, how I wish it were true. I have thousands of questions: When will my retirement account start to grow again instead of shrinking? Where was the “very special place” I put that very important document I can no longer find? I wouldn’t be surprised if people type these questions into search engines. In fact, if you go to Google and type in “when will I” or “how do I” you will get some amusing suggestions for the rest of your question!

Less amusing but much more helpful are the number of search engines that will help your academic career. Here are a few of my favorites for saving time, money, and sanity:

1. Get Help Completing Your Reference List

Students get a majority of their scholarly articles online, often from different databases like ERIC or SAGE. Following sixth edition APA rules, though, listing the name of the database as retrieval information is not preferred. (You can read more about retrieval information details here: The preferred retrieval information is the digital object identifier, or DOI. A search engine isn’t my favorite way to look for a DOI; instead, I use ( However, for articles that have no DOI assigned, the next preference is to list the journal homepage. How do you know if the journal has a homepage? Entering the journal title into a search engine is the best way to tell.

2. Nail That Picky Grammar or Style Rule

As I read papers from numerous students each week, I come across just as many different writing styles, and often many topics I know little about. How do I check if a student is using an unfamiliar term or awkward phrase correctly? I search for it. Additionally, many of us know how to write to avoid tricky grammar situations. For example, I always set my book on the table because I’m never entirely certain if I should lay it or lie it. But when I need to find out the right way to write something, search engines are blessings. Typing a “versus” statement often works: lay vs. lie. I have also searched for APA reference formats for sources students use that I’ve never seen before and aren’t addressed in the manual, like the first time a student asked me about the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which was not in my grammar nerd schema.

A note here about scholarly, reputable, and junk sources: Almost none of the sources in regular search engine results are scholarly. Thus, they are not good sources for a KAM or dissertation. Many of the sources in search results are pure junk. When relying on websites for factual information, be a savvy searcher! Two of my favorite (and trusted) sources for grammar are Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips and They often come up on the first page of results when searching for a specific grammar topic, too. I feel better knowing that both of these online resources resulted from published books. For APA information, the best source is always the actual APA manual, which is not online. Besides that, is the official manual website, so anything that appears on the search engine from that site is my first choice. Many universities (including Walden!) have great APA information online. Please take a minute to evaluate the source before trusting the information found in web searches.

3. Get a Free Book

A kind student at July’s Summer Session Residency shared in one of my sessions that some of the books written by classical theorists (so commonly used in KAM Breadths) are available on Google Books for free, as they are out of copyright. Additionally, just like in a database search, where you restrict searches to “full text,” you can limit for “full view” sources in this search. For books that aren’t free, many offer a nice amount of pages to preview. I’ve since located hundreds of books I want to read, both scholarly texts and books for use when procrastinating about scholarly work.

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