Toolbox AprilWhen it comes to research, one of the biggest challenges with students is helping them navigate the ocean of information they have at their fingertips at all times. Back when many of us were in school, a research assignment often meant many hours at the library trying to find the necessary information to complete the project, let alone actually putting it together.

The internet has reduced the time required to find information, but now a different issue is at play. There is so much information out there—true, false, and everywhere in between—that students are easily flustered and often go right to the first few hits on a search engine. We try to teach them the difference between credible sources and those that should not be given much merit. But when it is crunch time, often the information used becomes “first come, first served.”

This is making for some sloppy researchers. Many students get overwhelmed and give up. Luckily, a tool created by Google can help students focus not only on gathering information, but also to be more concise and proper with research techniques. Anyone with a Google account can use it, and the convenient part is that everything regarding research can be done in one document.

The easiest first step is to open a Google Doc and type in the topic that is to be researched. In the example here, I used “Pearl Harbor.” Type the term into the document and highlights it with the mouse. Next go to “Tools” in the menu bar and click “Research” in the drop-down menu.

Once “Research” is clicked, a column will appear on the right-hand side of the screen with all of the best Google has to offer. Google has found the top sites that discuss a given topic, along with pictures and other documents that could be helpful to the researcher.

As you scroll through the column, you will see many different websites. If the mouse is hovered over any of them, three buttons pop up: “Preview, Insert Link, or Cite.”

Each of these buttons does something absolutely fabulous from both research and organizational points of view. When a researcher is scrolling and sees a title of a website that seems promising, he/she can preview a small version 6 of the website next to the research column. A quick scan may help the researcher determine if the site could be helpful.

If it looks useful, the researcher can click on the link and the website will open in a new tab.

Training students to properly source their research is often an uphill battle. Google has already thought of that. Once information is put into the Google Doc, it can be immediately cited by clicking the “cite” button that was found when hovering over the website in the research column. It creates a footnote that drops the citation at the bottom of the page. It can be formatted in Modern Language Association (MLA), American Psychological Association (APA), or Chicago Manual style. There is also an option to insert the website link into the main text, which is especially helpful if the student has not quite finished researching yet, but is out of time to continue at that moment.

One of the more organizational pieces of this is that you do not necessarily need to collect multiple rough drafts and other pages of work. You can simply tell your students to write their final product underneath their research on the Google Doc, which they can print or share electronically with you. This is especially helpful if you use Google Classroom, since everything is already neatly tucked under one assignment.

Researching this way is a game changer. When I explained it to my students, they immediately started using it not only in my class, but in other classes as well. They said they were relieved that it was a much easier way to get more concise results without getting overwhelmed and falling prey to incorrect information. In addition, because it is in a Google Doc, it is automatically saved and easily accessible anywhere students have access to the internet. This is a tool that better facilitates research projects for teachers and students.

Jenn Breisacher is a social studies teacher at the Burlington County Institute of Technology. She is also advisor to the school’s PRIDE (Personal Responsibility in Daily Effort) program. She can be reached at

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