Online Research Guide

With the advent of the internet, students today enjoy access to countless online resources. Prior to the internet, students used books, encyclopedias, and whatever print material their local library or school offered. Today, however, students enjoy digital access to material from around the world. Internet research saves students on time and energy, as search engines allow them to refine their results and sift through unwanted material.

When conducting online research, students should avoid unreliable sources and information. By asking careful questions while evaluating their sources, students use only the best resources. Some sites can contain too much information and overwhelm a student’s research efforts, too. This guide reviews the different tools you can use when conducting online searches, highlights how to identify credible sources, and offers organizational methods that help keep your research under control.

Using Google for Online Research

Students can refine search results to more accurately reflect their research interests. Altering the settings for a search can help filter out unreliable or undesired sources and provide users with search results relevant to their question or topic. This page uses Google as the example due to its popularity and ease of use.

Refining Your Search Results

Google search serves a variety of useful functions. Google search allows individuals to use search shortcuts to refine their search and yield the most accurate results. Keep in mind that users should not place a space between the symbol or word and the search item itself. Common search techniques include placing an “@” in front of a word when searching social media, placing a “-” before a word you want to omit from the search, and placing an “$” symbol when searching for the price of an item.

Site search allows users to search for something within a specific domain. In the search bar, users type “site:” followed by the domain they wish to search within. Researchers can add the domain name and a keyword before the site search if they want to find information about a specific topic on a specific website. For example: “certification” The search focuses its attention on medical billing and coding certification on the website for the American Medical Association.

The advanced search tool allows users to refine their search without using shortcut text. Users can utilize search filters for websites and images within the advanced search tool. Individuals can also use the “tools” button to refine searches by inputting a specific time within which they want to research.

Google Scholar

Google Scholar offers users access to scholarly literature across several disciplines. Many users employ Google Scholar as a tool for online research. The tool allows them to review who cites their work and also helps researchers keep up with developments within their field. Researchers can find documents, conveniently research a number of databases at once, and explore related works, authors, citations, and publications.

Students may set Google Scholar preferences to access various resources available through their college or university. They can search articles and case law, and the bibliography manager allows them to select which links, if any, they want to appear. Students can use the Google Scholar Search Tips page for details on how best to use the tool. They can review how to find recent papers, how to locate the full text of an article, and how to get better answers.

Beyond Google

Students can also access several other academic search engines and databases, many of them for free or available at discounted prices for students. The list below includes some of the most commonly used resources for academic research, many of which will prove particularly useful to medical billing and coding students.


  • AMiner: AMiner is an online resource that provides comprehensive mining and search services focused on creating researcher profiles.
  • BASE: BASE serves as one of the largest search engines for academic scholarship. It provides over 120 million documents from more than 6,000 different sources and allows access to 60% of its indexed documents for free.
  • CGP: CGP enables users to find federal publications, including information for current and historical publications. It often provides access to direct links to full documents.
  • CIA World Factbook: CIA World Factbook provides information on the people, history, government, energy, geography, communications, etc. of 267 different world entities.
  • ERIC: ERIC offers access to documents, collections, and a thesaurus.
  • iSeek Education: iSeek Education caters to teachers, students, caregivers, and administrators by providing access to thousands of resources from government, universities, and noncommercial entities.
  • National Archives: National Archives Catalog provides access to national information, resources, and records.
  • OCLC: OCLC is a union catalog of over 50 million different open access resources represented by more than 2,000 contributors.
  • CORE: CORE provides access to millions of open access research papers and to collected data for text mining.

For Medical Billing and Coding Students

  • allows users to gather information from many different top medical professional sites.
  • Welch Medical Library: Welch Media Library is associated with Johns Hopkins and offers search features for articles published in medical journals and online.
  • helps medical coding students in clinical research by providing a registry of all federally and privately supported clinical trials.
  • PubMed: PubMed is sponsored by the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health and provides access to citations and other resources.
  • Medscape: Medscape offers access to multiple databases, offering a specialized section for nonphysican professionals such as students pharmacist, and nurses.
  • Journal Watch: Journal Watch allows users to search 350 different medical journals and caters to both professionals and nonprofessionals.

Evaluating Sources

Students need to use reliable sources throughout their research. An unreliable source can take away from the overall quality of research for several reasons, including inaccuracy. Based on tips from Georgetown University and the University of Chicago Press, the list below includes some of the questions students can ask when evaluating resources.

Who Is the author? Students should try to find the name of the author and their corresponding credentials. The author should hold a graduate degree in the field and, preferably, boast several other publications within the same field. Authors often include contact information either within the article itself or online through their university or publication website.
What Is Its Purpose? If students can identify the purpose behind the creation of the page, they can more accurately judge the content. Who does the author address in the article, scholars or the general public? Readers can then identify whether the author aims to teach, inform, explain, persuade, or sell a product.
Does It Look Professional? If a source harbors an unusual amount of spelling or grammar errors, or if it includes profanity, readers can probably deduce that the source does not come from a professional. Professionals will try to convey their ideas in a professional way.
Is It Objective? When evaluating sources, students should determine whether the information they receive holds a bias or whether the author communicates it in an objective way. The more familiar with the general field, the higher the chance that the reader will know how to identify bias in the writing.
Is It Current? Students should only use sources published within the last 10 years. The more recent the research, the more up-to-date the student’s writing. This proves especially important within the medical and law spaces, both of which incur high amounts of best-practices and scholarly fluctuation.
What Sites Does It Link To? Site links help students determine the validity of some sources. If a student clicks on professional or scholarly links, they can probably determine that their current source likewise enjoys some degree of professionalism. The more authoritative voices used by a student’s current source, the more authoritative that source.

Organizing Your Research

Students should also stay organized through the available resources and online tools. Reference managers, documenting, reviewing their sources, and keeping track of their research history will enable them to maximize the time they spend on research.

  • Utilize Reference Managers: Students can use online reference managers to help them organize their online research. These resources allow them to keep track of their completed research.
  • Use Information Resources: Students can use online and downloadable resources to take notes, explore citations, and store their research.
  • Keep Track of Sources: Throughout research, students will use several web sources. Keeping a running list of all sources and what they relate to will help keep research organized.
  • Consolidate Information: Students should regularly review their list of sources and information to cut out any unneeded pieces. This helps them keep only the most relevant sources and information.
  • Take Advantage of Search Engines: Students should use search engines and tools to refine searches that produce only the most accurate search results. Students can then organize these specific results.

Online Tools to Manage Your Research

  • EasyBib: EasyBib allows users to type in an ISBN number to receive a citation that writers can simply copy and paste.
  • Endnote: Endnote helps individuals organize, research, write, publish, and share their work. It serves as a helpful and easy-to-use reference manager.
  • Mendeley: Mendeley is a reference manager and an academic social network. It provides people with the opportunity to manage their research, display their work, and connect with others.
  • RefWorks: RefWorks is an online reference management software that supports organized research, bibliographic information, citations, and other organizational tools.
  • Zotero: Zotero helps people collect, cite, organize, and share research. The tool makes storing bibliographical information easy.

Citing Online Resources for Medical Billing and Coding Students

The AMA Manual of Style is the style guide used by the American Medical Association. The guide outlines the writing and citation styles that scholars should use in journals published by the American Medical Association. Students should use the most updated version of the AMA style guide: the 10th edition published in 2007. The guide address several stylistic requirements for authors in medicine or related fields.

Medical students use AMA style for most of their work. Medical billing and coding students should also anticipate using AMA style, making sure to follow formatting and citations rules when writing research papers and creating presentations.

AMA Style

The Arizona Health Sciences Library provides an AMA style guide with examples and citation sources. The USciences website also provides an online AMA manual of style with a variety of examples for different topics.

What is a DOI?

A Digital Object Identifier (DOI) is a permanent link that, despite ever-changing URLs, retrieves the same webpage. Most publishers provide an article’s DOI on the beginning page of a document. Some online bibliographies provide an article’s DOI with a hidden code under an “Article” button that usually leads to the full article.

No Author Name Provided

Format: Name of organization. Title of specific item cited. URL. Accessed date.
Example: International Society for Infectious Diseases. ProMED-mail Website. Accessed April 29, 2004.

Author Name Provided

Format: Author A. Title. Name of website. URL. Updated date. Accessed date.
Example: 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

Example: 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.

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

Example: 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.