Open Menu Close Menu

Surfing 101: Online Support for Reading, Writing, and Research

Once described as the “world’s greatest library, only all the books are on the floor,” the World Wide Web is perhaps the best academic resource in the world if you know how to navigate its vast holdings. No one has enough time to sift through its many research-appropriate sites, but we’ve identified some that we think are among the best places to begin an academic project.

Research Relief

Faster than a trip to the local public library is a visit to the Internet Public Library ( A service of the University of Michigan School of Information, the library provides online access to more than 18,000 full-text documents in a variety of disciplines and offers tips on conducting Web searches. An Especially for Librarians section presents resources, support, and fun facts for library professionals.

Another good general resource is Academic Info (, an independent Internet subject directory that aims to be the “premier educational gateway to online college and research-level Internet resources.” Students and academics will appreciate its gateways, current events links, and student center.

The Argus Clearinghouse ( is a virtual academic library organized into categories that closely parallel those found at a typical university: arts and humanities, education, social sciences, and science and mathematics are included, along with a few additional topics such as recreation, places and people, and social issues.

The Biographical Dictionary (www., from S9 Technologies, is a terrific starting point for students or academics researching famous lives. The database includes more than 28,000 entries searchable by name, date, or keyword. The keyword search comes in handy when you have a topic in mind but not a specific subject.

A more specialized set of biographies can be found in the Presidents of the United States section of the Internet Public Library site. It offers in-depth material on the lives and speeches, including audio and video files, of the 43 presidents (

To start your search on writers or works of literature, visit the Literary Calendar portal (, which has 150 links to American literature Web sites alone. Great Books Online ( offers hundreds of full-text versions of classic works of reference, verse, fiction, and nonfiction, along with quotations, a dictionary, and a thesaurus. Art and Culture ( links visitors to resources in the fine and performing arts and features a unique search engine that helps users discover links between artists and various movements.

There are also thousands of useful science sites on the Web. Looking for articles? Go to HighWire Press (, a service of Stanford University Libraries and one of the two largest free full-text science archives on the Web. The Life Science Dictionary (, developed at the University of Texas, features more than 8,300 terms in biochemistry, biotechnology, botany, cell biology, genetics, and other fields.

Need still more authoritative guidance? Entrust yourself to the editors of Scientific American, who offer their services through their Ask the Experts page ( Find out why most people are right-handed and what that weird sound is when your knuckles crack—or formulate your own question about astronomy, medicine, biology, or mathematics. From here you can also link to Scientific American’s favorite science sites, including an interactive periodic table of the elements from scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory ( default.htm).

The National Academy of Engineering celebrates the greatest engineering achievements of the 20th century, from the highway to the information superhighway, on its site ( This could be the start of a great term paper assignment.
Interested in a slightly older technology? Try the History of Plumbing site ( html). Need to measure something or convert barrels to gallons? Check out the Dictionary of Units site (, which lists most of the units of measurement in use around the world today (and a few of historical interest), together with the appropriate conversion factors needed to change them into other units.

Tools for Teachers

Need a grant? You can get tips, learn techniques, and purchase books on grant writing from a Web site devoted to helping grant seekers (

Information from the Spanish-speaking world is available on Mundo Latino’s Web portal (, which features a list of links to Spanish-language sites organized by nationality (including U.S. Web sites in Spanish).

Those struggling with high-tech terminology may find Webopedia useful. Webopedia (, an online encyclopedia of all things related to computers and the Internet, will help you distinguish bits from bytes and thin clients from fat clients.

Another kind of language is covered on the College Slang Page ( This site will help you translate what your students and children are actually saying. But are you sure you really want to know?

Writing and Presentation Help

The University of Kansas Department of Communication Studies has created two nifty research sites—a guide to conducting social scientific research and a decision tree that helps researchers determine which statistical techniques to use for a project. You can find the Virtual Research Assistant at and the Virtual Statistical Assistant at

Need a research topic? Visit, which offers loads of ideas and advice on how to organize your written material. And you may want to check out the Internet Public Library’s reference section ( for a guide to citing online sources. Although there is no definitive style, the library provides links to authorities on the subject.

And to put the final polish on your paper, take either the high-tech approach with Wired Style (, the Wired magazine editors’ guide to Internet style, or the traditional route with the first edition of William Strunk’s Elements of Style, available online at

comments powered by Disqus