For a long time teachers have faced the issue of grading papers that were hastily put together with loosely related snippets and quotes from across the Internet. Some teachers have put limitations on how much of a research paper can be gleaned from Internet sources, others have tried banning the practice entirely.
Well, good news for those faced with looming deadlines, and little to no hard copy research on hand.
Google's new tool, known simply as Research, is taking a run at automating as much of the Internet research process as possible. Research is built directly into Google's online word processing system Google Docs. If you aren't familiar with Google Docs it is worth a look on its own merit. For example, if you do not have a copy of Microsoft Office or an equivalent, you can open these types of documents, Word, Excel, etc, directly from your browser.
So how does Research work?
First, let's get the tool open and ready for use. Create a new Word document from Google Docs, go to the Tools menu at the top of the page and select Research. You can also use a keyboard shortcut, Ctrl+Alt+R on a PC and Command+Option+R on a Mac. Or, once you have a document started, you can right-click on a word or phrase to launch the research for your term.
Once you have launched Research, a sidebar area will appear on the right hand side of your screen. This sidebar will contain a series of links to web pages just like you would see if you searched from Google.com. Also, directly below the first result will appear a special slide show of related images.
The key differences in Research are:
There are no advertisements displayed. Since ads account for upwards of 95 per cent of Google's revenue, this is a nice surprise. A good choice in my opinion, though since screen space is limited.
Hovering your mouse pointer over each result shows you three options that are not available from a normal Google search.
Preview — Exactly what it says, a preview of the page in question, showing the full link and the content of the page. The print is tiny.
Insert link — Clicking this little gem will insert a hyperlink to the web page shown with the text of your search term showing.
Cite — Inserts a citation for the page in question. That is a superscript footnote number will be added to the document, as well as a footnote at the bottom of the page. So with a single click you can cite the source of that quote, image, or other content you found.
Finally, there is a link at the top of the results which will bring you to the regular Google results page for the search term you are using.
Searching for an address will even pop up any results found in Google Maps, making it simple to add these to your document.
A couple more nice features, which were not too obvious during my first test run through Research are the ability to limit search results to images, quotes or results from Google Scholar. If you aren't familiar with this refined search engine, Google Scholar is described as providing: "a search of scholarly literature across many disciplines and sources, including theses, books, abstracts and articles."
Perhaps the best option I found in Research is the ability to filter your image results by their usage rights. Copyright infringement, especially around images, has always been a major problem in sourcing material from the Internet. It is awesome to see someone take a step to help the end user to avoid infringing on the rights of others.
After seeing how easy it is to whip up a quick research paper, I can't help but shudder a bit at what teachers will be grading in the near future.
Hopefully this new innovation makes for more comprehensive papers and not a lot of carbon copy submissions all sourced from the Internet.
Still, Research's features add up to a nifty addition to an already useful product, Google Docs.
Jon Reid is an IT professional working in Corner Brook. His column appears every other Tuesday in The Western Star.