Online Research Skills for High School Students: Tips and Strategies

May 4, 2020 | Laura

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Online research takes skill. In high school, you need to transition from searching for information to researching a topic. When you have to do research, a simple Google search is no longer enough. This is when Google Scholar and library databases can help. We know this transition is challenging and we're here to help. 

This video from McMaster University Libraries explains the differences between search and research. Watch to find out more about developing a search strategy, exploring a variety of sources and thinking critically about the information you have found. We like to show this video when we visit high school classes in the city.

In this blog post we expand upon these three strategies that every good researcher knows: how to develop search terms, find multiple resources and evaluate sources.


Developing Search Terms

The secret to good search results is to use the right keywords. By following three easy steps, you can figure out the keywords relevant to your research topic.


1. Think of your question

A good research question guides your thesis. It addresses exactly you want to find out, and gives your work purpose and clarity. This step can be timely, so be patient.

  • Use Google and Wikipedia to understand your topic.
  • Focus your question on a single problem.
  • Make sure it can be researched using primary and secondary resources.

Broad topic: Impact of social media
Thesis: social media has increased loneliness in teens.
Research Question: Does social media increase loneliness in teens?


2. Eliminate some words

Eliminate common and general words, or in other words identify the main concepts in the question.

  • Important words are generally the verbs and nouns of your question
  • Avoid relational words like impact, effect, and cause.
  • Stick to two to four keywords for best results.

Three keywords: social media, loneliness, teens


3. Specify and professionalize

Think of more professional and academic synonyms for your keywords.

  • Talk to your friends, teachers, parents and librarians to brainstorm.
  • Make a list to keep track of what you find.
  • Take advantage of BOOLEAN operators and modifiers to customize your research results.

Social Media: Facebook, Instagram
Loneliness: aloneness, social isolation
Teens: adolescent, young adults, youth


One possible search string: "social media" AND teen* AND (loneliness OR ​"social isolation")
Copy and paste this string into Google to see the difference in results.


Exploring multiple resources

Most assignments from teachers will ask you to use a certain number of sources. Additionally, researchers use different TYPES of resources. This is a a great trick to cross-reference the information to ensure it is accurate.

  • Explore ​information from different sources such as: government sites, news articles/broadcasts/podcasts, independent organizations.
  • Look at the website address (the URL) and URLs endings (such as .com, .org, .ca) to identify the type of site.
  • The variety of information is plentiful; everything from a documentary on YouTube to company websites.



Research Question: Does social media increase loneliness in teens?

  • Resource Type 1: Youth Health section of Canadian Government Website
  • Resource Type 2: an article from news source such as The National Post or The Toronto Star
  • Resource Type 3: reports/data from a reputable Youth support organization such as Youth Mental Health Canada or Here to Help


Evaluating sources

Once you have a bunch of sources, it is necessary to make sure they are good sources to use in your assignment. A gold standard approach, often used in high schools, colleges and universities is the CRAP (a.k.a CRAAP) test. Each letter in the word CRAAP stands for a concept you should be looking for in your source. By applying the CRAAP test to your source, you can check that the information is up-to-date, related to your topic, written by someone knowledgeable on the topic and as free of bias as possible.

  • Currency: When was this information shared?
  • Relevance: How does the information fit your topic?
  • Authority: Who has written this information and are they credible?
  • Accuracy: How correct is this information?
  • Purpose: Why was this information shared by the publisher? What's the goal?


More academic resources

To help your understanding of the concepts mentioned above, check out these sources:

How to access TPLs Databases (Blog by Toronto Public Library)

What is Google Scholar? (Tutorial by Western University Libraries)

Developing a Research Question (Video by Western University Libraries)


How Library Stuff Works: How to Choose Keywords (Video by McMaster University Libraries)


How Library Stuff Works: Boolean Operators (AND OR NOT) (Video by McMaster University Libraries)


How Library Stuff Works: Boolean Modifiers "", *, ( ) (Video by McMaster University Libraries)


Using Top Level Domains in Your Research (such as .com, .org, .ca) (Video by Imagine Easy Solutions)


Evaluating Sources CRAAP test (Video by Western University Libraries)


Online Verification Skills More tips on verifying online resources (Video by NewsWise)



We hope this blog post gives you some helpful tips and videos to guide you along your researching journey!