Online Research Guide

The internet has revolutionized the way that students conduct research. Students can access thousands of libraries, archives, journals, and other publications using a laptop or a mobile device. Not surprisingly, most students turn to online resources for their term papers and assignments. Internet resources are available for free or at a minimal charge, allow access 24/7, and deliver the most current information available.

Students can access thousands of libraries, archives, journals, and other publications using a laptop or a mobile device.

Despite these advantages, students should approach online resources with some degree of caution. The internet is full of biased and inaccurate data. Skilled researchers learn to eliminate untrustworthy sites, outdated material, and patently false information. Students new to research can also feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of material. Students may become confused and unable to sort through sources.

This guide examines the most relevant online resources, databases, and search engines, with a specific emphasis on criminal justice research topics. The page also includes research tips for criminal justice students to help them evaluate sources, gather and organize their evidence, and prepare a well-documented and properly cited research paper.

Using Google for Online Research

Altering search engine settings can help students to refine their search results and collect more useful and relevant information. Savvy researchers know how to filter out unwanted sources, use search shortcuts, search certain domains, and enable advanced search functions. The most popular and powerful search engine on the internet, Google features several tools and filters that students can use when conducting criminal justice research. Students can apply these techniques and tips to other search engines as well.

Refining Your Search Results

While most students are familiar with Google, they may not know about its advanced functions, search tools, or other features. Google features several kinds of search shortcuts. Using certain symbols or words in your search can make your results more specific and precise. For example, you can search for a price by placing a dollar sign in front of a number (e.g., “cell phone $900”), or you can combine two searches by placing the capitalized word “OR” between each search query (e.g., “election OR campaign”).

Google features several kinds of search shortcuts.

The site search function allows users to search within a particular domain. In the search bar, type the word “site:” followed by the domain name, leaving no spaces. You can add a keyword at the beginning to find a specific topic within that domain. For instance, if you type “certification,” the search will bring up information on certifications from the official website for the National Criminal Justice Association. The site search function can also filter results to a specific class of site (e.g.,,, or

Google’s advanced search function offers several options for searching websites and images. This feature allows you to select several filters to refine your search, including language or reading level. When searching images, you can apply filters such as size, color, or usage rights. The tool button allows users to further refine their searches. Entering a specific time range, for example, will bring up the most recent and updated sources.

Google Scholar

Google Scholar hosts a useful open-access search engine. This easy-to-use but powerful research tool offers a broad range of scholarly resources, including online archives, academic publishers, university pages, government agencies, and trusted websites. Unlike an ordinary Google search of public web content, Google Scholar provides access to scholarly publications through university libraries and established publishers. Students can search for full-text, peer-reviewed journal articles, conference papers, books, dissertations, and other academic research. Google Scholar also automatically generates full citations in many common styles. Students can narrow results to a particular timespan or choose to include less well-known publications. Google Scholar can also pull up other articles related to students’ sources.

Students looking for useful criminal justice online research tips can find many resources through Google. For example, Google’s Scholar search tips page includes resources on how to find the most recent articles and locate free full-text articles. By setting up Google Scholar preferences, students can directly link to research materials available through their university libraries. Students can also expand the number of results per page, find research in other languages, and import full citations.

Beyond Google

Because Google has established itself as such a well-known and widely used search engine, “Google it” has become a common catchphrase among students. Students are sometimes surprised to learn that several other kinds of helpful search engines and databases are available for academic research, including some that are particularly relevant for criminal justice research. Many of these online resources are free or offer significant discounts to students.


  • AMiner This site provides a search engine and data mining services for researchers. Search results include profiles of researchers and experts. The database sorts publications and conference presentations by researcher name.
  • BASE Operated by Bielefeld University, this search engine targets academic research from a wide range of sources, including the deep web. BASE selects and reviews results for academic quality and relevance.
  • CGP The Catalog of U.S. Government Publications provides data on historical and current federal publications. Users can search by agency, subject, title, and keywords. CGP also provides direct links to full-text documents.
  • CIA World Factbook Maintained by the Central Intelligence Agency, this factbook presents current data for 267 countries. The factbook also features geographical and political maps of the world and time zone information.
  • ERIC The Education Resources Information Center, sponsored by the U.S Department of Education, maintains an online archive of peer-reviewed journal articles, conference papers, and other research content.
  • iSeek Education This search engine specifically targets teachers, administrators, students, and caregivers. iSeek Education provides access to a wide variety of university and government resources. Its editor-reviewed content includes lesson plans and activities for various subject areas and grade levels.
  • National Archives This website, maintained by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, hosts the nation’s most important legal, political and historical records. Public documents include military data, naturalization records, and resources for educators.
  • OCLC The Online Computer Library Center hosts the world’s largest online public access catalogue, WorldCat. Its open access archive, OAIster, includes digital records such as audio and video files, photos, data sets, and research documents.
  • CORE CORE provides data aggregation and text mining services. The database harvests open access research and full-text documents from repositories and journals across the world.

For Criminal Justice Students

  • National Criminal Justice Reference Service The online NCJRS library presents summaries of over 200,000 research studies in criminal justice, juvenile justice and substance abuse. Users can access full texts of federally funded studies.
  • FBI Uniform Crime Report This site provides in-depth, reliable crime data for the U.S. The FBI collects and archives data from over 18,000 federal, state, county, city, and college agencies. The FBI Uniform Crime Report produces four annual publications.
  • Bureau of Justice Statistics This federally sponsored search engine for criminal justice professionals, researchers, and students provides crime data from across the U.S. Users can search for data by type of offense, victims, law enforcement organization, court, expenditures, and employment.
  • Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Publications The OJJDP website is the official government source for statistics on juvenile justice and juvenile delinquency. The site features downloadable online resources on juvenile crime and legislation.
  • National Institute of Justice The NIJ archives contain several categories of criminal justice research, including journal articles and multimedia presentations. The website also lists continuing education and training courses for students and professionals.
  • Criminal Justice Database (ProQuest) This comprehensive online database features a broad assortment of books, articles and other scholarly publications. These sources investigate aspects of crime, litigation, and crime trends. Several sources examine the causes and societal impact of crime.

Evaluating Sources

The internet is not regulated for accuracy or academic quality. Nearly anyone with online access can create content and post on websites without checking facts or providing references. One of the most important research tips for criminal justice students is to evaluate whether a source is reliable, accurate, and unbiased. Students using online resources for their research must carefully assess the information they find.

As more students rely on online research, some institutions have developed tools for evaluating the reliability of internet sources. The following list, based on guidelines developed by Georgetown University and the University of Chicago Press, includes questions students should consider when working with online sources.

Who Is the Author?

Can you find the name of the author? Is this person qualified to write in this field? Once you locate the author’s name, you can conduct a quick search of their name to find any credentials or professional affiliations. Do they provide an email, school, or professional address? Many professional sites do not list a specific author. In this case, check to see if the domain name or URL is legitimate.

What Is Its Purpose?

If you can understand the purpose of the page or the author’s motive, you can better evaluate its content. Does it provide information to a general audience or is it written for academics or students? Can you tell if the intention is to explain or persuade? Because academic research requires objectivity and ethical standards, students should avoid pages that sell products or solicit.

Does It Look Professional?

Professional, reliable websites usually look well-maintained and thoughtfully designed. Is the content free of spelling and grammar mistakes? Is the prose free of emotionally charged language or profanity? What graphics are present? While visuals can help illustrate points, elaborate graphics can sometimes detract from the material.

Is It Objective?

As you read through the article or the page, can you discern the author’s point of view? Does the argument appear prejudiced or one-sided? Does it provide factual support or references? Does the writer’s professional affiliation influence the argument? Does the content carry official approval from a biased sponsoring organization?

Is It Current?

Can you determine when the site was created and if it has been updated? Is the information still relevant and does it include new developments? If you are using journal articles or books, have they been recently published, and does the content include contemporary research in the field?

What Sites Does It Link to?

Links provide a useful indicator of the quality of a site and how well it has been maintained. Are the links relevant to the purpose of the site? Do they connect to useful research sources? Are the links annotated so you can evaluate their relevance to your research questions? Is the site free of dead links?

Organizing Your Research

Conducting online research can seem overwhelming, but if you begin with a plan and take the time to learn how to apply a few helpful techniques, you will have a much easier time. While there is no single way to manage your research, consider the following tips to help you get started. You should also familiarize yourself with some of the online tools available for searches, note taking, and citations.

Online Tools to Manage Your Research


This app automatically generates accurate bibliographies and formats them in several citation styles. EasyBib can also create citations using a mobile phone camera to scan book barcodes.


The EndNote software package includes a set of multiplatform tools to create and format citations and footnotes. The software can also automatically build bibliographies.


The Mendeley reference management application allows users to manage information, share research papers, collect data, and collaborate with one another. Mendeley offers full-text search and extracts metadata from PDF papers.


This web-based reference and bibliography manager imports references directly from text files, online databases, or other sources. These references automatically format into citations, endnotes, and bibliographies.


This free open-source citation management software collects, organizes, and formats references. The tool generates in-text citations, footnotes, and bibliographies. Zotero integrates with Microsoft Word and LibreOffice Writer.

Citing Online Resources for Criminal Justice Students

Scholarly research builds on the prior contributions of others. As with any kind of academic writing, it is important to state where you found your data, recognize the previous research of others, and provide sufficient information for others to find the same sources. Many academic disciplines specify a certain style for acknowledging research, formatting references, and building biographies. Citation styles vary because different fields of study emphasize different details.

While American Psychological Association (APA) style is the most commonly used format in criminal justice research, some professors may ask for American Sociological Association (ASA) style. Both APA and ASA provide the same basic source information and use similar formatting, including parenthetical referencing. Make sure that you use the style approved by your professor or department. The list below includes examples from the most frequently used citation formats. Consult the APA and ASA websites for more illustrations and explanation.

ASA Print Book Example:

Gunter, Anthony. 2017. Race, Gangs and Youth Violence: Policy, Prevention and Policing. Bristol, UK: Policy Press.

ASA Print Journal Article Example:

Page, Randy M., and Jon Hammermeister. 1997. “Weapon-Carrying and Youth Violence.” Adolescence 32(127):505-13.

ASA Online Journal Article Example:

Johnson, Lee M., Todd L. Matthews, David Jenks, and Christy W. Bass. 2013. “Juvenile Gun Ownership in the USA: Current Knowledge and Future Directions.” International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences 8(2):133-152. Retrieved April 4, 2018 (