Online Research

Doing biblical or theological research presents its own unique challenges, and doing this research for distance education courses can present additional obstacles. Particularly, some distance learning students may live quite a distance away from a substantial library or other resources normally provided within a campus environment. If you find yourself in this situation, consider using one or more of the following options to aid your research:

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  • Libraries: Although you may need to travel to access a biblical or theological library, consider identifying library resources that you need and planning a “day trip.” To locate libraries that might contain relevant resources, you can easily use Google Maps. Use search terms like “library,” “university,” or “college,” and then include the search term “near:[your address]” where you replace [your address] with your home address. This kind of searching can help you find resources in libraries that you might not have considered using. Alternatively, if you need a specific resource, consider using WorldCat to search for libraries near you that may have this resource. To supplement or substitute for a day trip, consider using the inter-library loan (ILL) service at your local, public library. Your local, public librarians may find the sources you need to be quite different from the ones they regularly see in their own library’s stacks, but your local, public library is connected, through ILL, to the circulating collections at much larger libraries with more extensive biblical and theological holdings. [Return to top.]
  • Journal Databases: Even if your school’s library is not within reasonable day-trip distance from where you live, as a student at that institution, you may be entitled to use any journal databases to which your institution’s library subscribes. Particularly valuable for biblical or theological research is the American Theological Library Association (ATLA) database to which your institution’s library may have access through a service like EBSCO or FirstSearch. To access these services, go to your institution’s website and locate the library page. These services can help you find a good number of journal articles, many with their full text available for download in PDF or HTML format. EBSCO users of the ATLA database should also find at the top of the EBSCO page a “Scriptures” link. Clicking this link sends users to a page from which they can “drill down” to search for resources that reference a particular biblical text(s). Through services like EBSCO and FirstSearch, you should also be able to request from your institution’s library an ILL of any journal articles that you might need. Frequently, your library may be able to mail or email you these articles once they arrive. If you do decide to use your institutional library’s ILL service, you may want to email them the first time to confirm any special instructions they might have for you to request mail or email delivery of your article once it arrives. When requesting resources through ILL, however, do note that it may take several weeks for the library to receive the article that you requested and send it to you. [Return to top.]
  • Google: Google has two services in particular, which make online research very feasible.
    • Google Books contains a good number of scholarly books that can be viewed online. Many, and perhaps most, are only “partial view,” but through Google Books, you can still access a substantial, online library with many quality resources. If you would like to view my Google library, click here. [Return to top.]
    • Google Scholar is a beta search engine designed especially to find scholarly material on the Internet. Sometimes, if you cannot find a PDF file of an article to download through a service like EBSCO or FirstSearch, Google Scholar may be able to find the article you need on another website. [Return to top.]
  • Amazon.com: For registered users, Amazon.com has a book preview feature for many of its books. Typically, Amazon.com limits the number of pages that can be previewed in any given book, so you should probably try to browse books there only as needed. At the same time, the page limit that Amazon.com enforces on these previews can be quite enough to find some good material, especially if you read the Amazon.com preview having already looked at any pages from that source that Google Books might have available. [Return to top.]
  • Online Gateways: Ancient World Open Bibliographies, Biblical Studies on the Web, New Testament Gateway, and Old Testament Gateway index resources for a wide variety of biblical subjects and provide links to numerous resources that can be found online. [Return to top.]
  • Other Resources: Some other websites may also provide access or references to resources relevant to certain writing projects
  • Tools and Suggestions for Organizing, Processing, and Communicating Research – For advice about communicating research effectively in an academic essay, please see this site’s posts about writing and the Theological Writing page. For free tools that may help you organize process your research, as well as collaborate with others, in addition to this site’s comments on research, please see the following:
    • Evernote – Evernote has a desktop and a web client that will let you save text and screenshots to your account. Evernote will let you search any text in your account, and it will attempt to recognize text in images (e.g., screenshots) and render this text searchable also. Evernote will also let you share notebooks among a group of collaborators.
    • Dropbox – Dropbox will create a folder on your computers harddisk, and any files that you have moved into this folder Dropbox will automatically backup whenever they are updated and closed again. Dropbox will also let you share and collaboratively edit files with other users. Note: Dropbox does not, however, presently support real-time collaboration. If you and someone else are working on the same file at the same time, Dropbox will save both files separately, and one person will need to review and combine the changes into a single file.
    • FoxIt PDF Reader and PDF X-Change – Both FoxIt and PDF X-Change will let you mark up or annotate PDF documents with things like highlighting, underlining, and text notes.
    • Google Docs – Google Docs is a web application office suite that allows real-time collaboration on documents that can be shared among multiple users. Sharing seems to work best with @gmail.com or other Google Mail addresses. Email accounts @gmail.com are, of course, also available for free.
    • RapidTask – RapidTask is an online to-do list with collaboration and group task assignment capabilities.
    • Zotero – Zotero is a bibliography management tool that currently comes as an extension for the Firefox browser. In the current version, you can import bibliography information directly from library catalogs and journal databases, and you can also create “Groups” to share bibliographic information with a group of collaborators. [Return to top.]

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This site and its content are licensed by J. David Stark under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. The views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person(s) or institution(s).
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