Academic research in the time of Google and other search engines

Reviewing the existing literature leads mark the true beginning of the doctoral research, yet somehow, even in the times of search engines and search optimizations, the process remains sub-standard. 

A few years back, I was stuck on a rather critical problem and desperately needed a different direction. So, just like the other 8 billion people living on the planet, I turned to ask Google and Google scholar. My query read like – ‘gas substrate concentration for mathematical modeling,’ which I typed onto the search engine. As anyone could guess, my screen was flooded with several results. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a screengrab of that time, so I searched it up again, hoping to see if anything has changed; however, regrettably, the answers are just as irrelevant as before. So, I have uploaded the recent screengrab of my query. 

If an expert was asked the same question, there might not even be a single result for my question. However, he/she would have followed up with follow-up questions before suggesting answers or denying their possibility. 

Of course, I knew it wouldn’t be easy to obtain the desired leads at once, so I modified my search query numerous times. I went from article to article, blog to blog, and at my wit’s end, I even turned to social media for answers. Of course, I knew I was overly optimistic about having my queries answered, but what other choice did I have? Unfortunately, this was just another round of horrible reading, and I was still left clueless.

To my sorrow, I did get several suggestions and a few follow-up questions, but the more I tried to explain, the more confusing it got. Some people gave up entirely; however, as mystifying as human nature is, the responses shifted from answers to opinions. Believe me, most of them were, regretfully, from people who could not be called experts on the matter. And so, I could have asked Google or Reddit all I wanted, but it’s still the people who come up with the answers. And yes, you read that right – I had even turned to Reddit for answers during the peak of my distress. It would have been better if I had experts answering my questions.

Google can instantly show 10-100 pages containing somewhat relevant information. So even though I couldn’t find the answers, I couldn’t claim that the solution was unavailable. However, is it possible to go through all the articles on all the pages? Yet, I undertook a journey until the answers started diverging completely from the original question. Google scholar is somewhat better but not accurate. If I knew which research article I was looking for, I wouldn’t have turned to Google, right.

And then, I determined the possibility that my problem still remained a problem, so I had to come up with my own solutions to address it. 

My only regret is that had it not been for the innumerable irrelevant searches, I could have figured it out earlier and saved a mighty lot of time. Whenever my supervisor questioned if I found a relevant scientific lead, I would always answer in the negative because, in my mind, there was a predetermined notion that something suitable must be available. After all, Google never said – No results found. Don’t get me wrong, though. Google is truly a lifesaver. I wouldn’t even find any content if not for Google. My only regret was how to reduce the number of steps to save some time and trouble. 

Since there is no easy way in scientific research, you have to make a constant effort. How do you find the right information in times of too much information? Since most beginners struggle with the problem, there are the following steps that could be taken. 

Step 1

The next obvious step is to try other advanced search engines, and if you are lucky, you can find the answers with a few clicks. Again, different pages can provide relevant results, much closer to the research problem. 

Step 2

Like how I had proceeded, social media is still worth trying due to increasing professional platforms. In addition, connecting with professional experts for advice can help you reduce the search time.

Step 3

Try the old-fashioned way and scroll through the old journals available in your research field that might not be available on Google.

Step 4

Search through online portals specifically available for research articles, books, and reviews. A comprehensive study on the related topics can direct you towards experts in your field.

Step 5

It is also prudent to screen through the institutional archives for academic documents and dissertations. After all, you never know what might become a significant lead.

Step 6 

Discuss your query with researchers from other departments for additional solutions.

Step 7

Keep working on your problem from a different angle. It might take a while, but you would eventually come up with a reasonable solution. 

Step 8 

Keep track of relevant information about the topic by bookmarking to re-visit if you need to reference it in the future. 

I hope you find this article helpful. But, even if you don’t, at least you know, countless people face similar struggles, and it’s alright. The problem works out in one way or the other.

12 replies

  1. I liked how you explained this. Google is great research companion. Sometimes I search for things and not a single relevant result comes up, with most of the results only containing one word out of the entire sequence of words that I entered into the search bar and that is super annoying because many times when results show up, they look like what you are searching for, only to then find out that it’s only because the link(s) or the descriptions contain one or two words emphasized in “bolded” text, that was used in the original text that you search about, but none of the results are actually relevant, or sometimes you get the “there were 0 search results matching your criteria”, or something to that effect haha.

    I do not have a profession in the science field but I often find myself researching lots of things that relate to multiple categories including scientific matters, and there are times when no result comes up and it makes me feel excited because I end up thinking that I have a completely unique idea, and then there are moments when no result or no relevant result, is frustrating because it feels like you are getting nowhere, and then that’s when you start looking through forums and Social Media etc LOL.

    But your insights into this particular issue are very pertinent and I am sure many people can relate and will find it helpful.


  2. Thanks Ankita for your very insightful writeup on the important issue of the role of various search Engines in pursuing Academic Research! Its quite helpful and will go a long way in understanding the details that go into the process of Academic Research! Keep it up God bless you !

    Liked by 1 person

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