Online Research Guide
Much of the academic research conducted by accounting students takes place on the internet. Although locating the right sources can involve time-consuming and complex search processes, online research also offers many benefits. Internet research can provide access to full-text electronic journal articles, online discussion groups, subject matter experts, and detailed answers from reference librarians. Retrieval of information found online typically requires just a few clicks and logins, rather than a lengthy search of physical media.
As databases continue to grow and the amount of information to sort through expands, however, the risk of information overload increases accordingly. Students sometimes go through several rounds of sifting through research findings before locating the appropriate resources. Fortunately, researchers can employ a variety of tools to help streamline the process. It's important to exercise caution in conducting searches, however, since untrustworthy sources abound. Unreliable sources may turn up in many forms, including unacknowledged biases, misleading information, and false claims of expertise. While it may take perseverance and critical thinking to locate trustworthy sources, you can efficiently sort information with wise use of the available tools. This guide supplies helpful research tips for accounting students, including guidance on conducting targeted Google Scholar searches, organizing research, and properly citing online sources.
Using Google for Online Research
Using Google to conduct online research for accounting students provides options to alter your search engine settings to filter out untrustworthy sources and deliver more relevant results. Search functions, such as shortcuts and advanced search, can deliver pertinent results, and you can further refine those results by using the "tools" button. Since Google still ranks as the most frequently used search engine, the examples featured in our guide focus on Google.
Refining Your Search Results
Google provides many utilities and functions to help you conduct searches with increased precision. You can employ search shortcuts, for example, to conduct targeted searches within the bounds of specific parameters, such as a social media platform, a price, a range of numbers, or a hashtag.
Site search, another helpful Google search option, returns only the results found within a specific domain. To use this function, enter the word "site:" followed by a colon and the appropriate domain, with no space in between. You can also add a keyword prior to your search phrase to find information about a particular topic within that domain. For example, entering "certification" followed by "site:nsacct.org" returns information on accounting certification within the official website for the National Society of Accountants.
Other useful Google search refinements include wildcard phrases including an unknown word, such as "largest * in accounting," and exact phrase matches, such as "largest accounting firms." You can also limit searches to a particular site class of interest, such as .org, .gov, .info, or .edu.
Google can also enable customized searches at more advanced levels. Using the advanced search function and the "tools" button, you can narrow your final results to return only certain features of web, image, and place information. For example, you can specify a specific date range to search for pages published only during that time period. You can also search for photos with certain sizes, publication dates, or usage rights. Other factors you can use to filter results include language, region, and file type.
Google Scholar facilitates searches of scholarly resources across many disciplines. Searchable academic literature accessible through this free online tool includes peer-reviewed journal articles, doctoral thesis papers, conference proceedings, and monographs. Researchers can use Google Scholar to begin a broad interdisciplinary search of academic resources, and then follow up on their findings by using other databases specific to a discipline or subject. Functions offer the ability to save articles to your library, label them, and group them with similar sources. You can also use the "cite" button to copy and paste citations into a document according to your preferred citation style, and the bibliography manager can import citations into several tools, such as EndNote and RefWorks.
The search engine also enables you to search for specific titles at multiple libraries within your zip code, or sign up for alerts to keep you apprised of newly published results for a search. You can also customize your Google Scholar preferences to obtain restricted-access resources available through the library at your school, though you may need to login through your student account or use a campus computer for this purpose. For more information on customizing Google Scholar to suit your needs, investigate Google Scholar search tips.
Accounting students can access a variety of databases, aggregators, and search engines to conduct in-depth academic research and build bibliographies; many of these resources charge no fees or offer discounted access for students. Many databases cross-reference materials, and some offer unrestricted open access to the full text of selected sources, including journal articles, conference papers, and research reports. Our list below features popular tools for general research and specialized resources for accounting students.
- AMiner: The AMiner academic search system performs data mining analysis on scholarly publications on the internet to identify links among researchers, experts, publications, and conferences.
- Bielefeld Academic Search Engine (BASE): As a search engine operating according to an open archives initiative, BASE indexes metadata of academic resources with open access interfaces, including journals, collections, and repositories.
- Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (CGP): The CGP provides searchable access to current and historical federal government publications, including descriptive information and links to full documents if available.
- CIA World Factbook: Operated by the Central Intelligence Agency, the World Factbook database supplies information on flags, time zones, oceans, political maps, and geographic maps for 267 world entities.
- Education Resources Information Center (ERIC): ERIC provides a free, searchable library of education research, including peer-reviewed journal articles, conference papers, books, research reports, and fact sheets.
- iSeek Education: Featuring material from the government, higher education institutions, and noncommercial providers, the iSeek search engine provides editor-reviewed resources, such as lesson plans and school activities.
- National Archives: The National Archives Catalog preserves and provides access to federal government documents and photographs, including veteran service records, genealogical data, maps, and historical information.
- Online Computer Library Center (OCLC): As a repository built using worldwide open access collections, OCLC facilitates discovery of digital content and contains over 50 million metadata records from thousands of libraries.
- CORE: As an aggregator of worldwide open access research papers and repositories, CORE facilitates unrestricted free access to research materials and also provides article recommendations.
For Accounting Students
- CCH Intelliconnect: The Intelliconnect tax research database provides academic libraries with subscription access to federal, state, and international taxation sources, including newsletters, IRS publications, statutes, and interpretive tax guides.
- Mergent Online: Mergent provides searchable business and financial information, including industry analysis, economic research, financial reports, company data and history, ownership details, and profiles of executives.
- National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working Papers: This NBER database offers bibliographic or full text searches of economic research papers of interest to academics, business professionals, and public policymakers.
- RIA Checkpoint: RIA Checkpoint provides subscription access to professional accounting and corporate finance reference materials, including U.S. Treasury regulations, international accounting standards, and tax planning resources.
- Business Source Premier: The Business Source Premier database features the full text and citations of top journals and magazines in all business disciplines, including professional accounting periodicals.
- ABI/INFORM Collection: Featuring materials from over 8,000 business periodicals, ABI/INFORM offers international coverage and full text access to resources, including dissertations, journals, industry reports, and scholarly accounting journals.
Conducting academic research online can expose students to a variety of untrustworthy sources. Proper evaluation of the scholarly material you encounter makes up one of the most crucial steps in the literature review process. You can approach this task by exercising critical thinking skills and asking probing questions about the content and quality of your sources. Inquire into the motives, expertise, and objectivity of the author. Examine the content for professionalism, relevancy of links provided, and current publication dates. The list below, based on tips found through Georgetown University and the University of Chicago Press, features important questions and principles to guide your evaluation.
Who Is the Author?
Inquire into the author's institutional affiliations, educational background, experience, and previous writings. Do you find sufficient evidence of appropriate expertise and recognized authority to write on this topic? Does the author represent a group, organization, company, or institution, and can you verify this information independently? Can you easily locate contact information?
What Is Its Purpose?
Examine the purpose of the material in question, focusing on the author's motives and intended audience. Does the author use persuasive language, make highly opinionated declarative statements, or include irrelevant facts? Do you find evidence that the material addresses a specialized group, or a more general audience?
Does It Look Professional?
Inspect all content on websites to ensure it is well-organized, cleanly arranged, free of profanities, and free of errors in spelling, grammar, composition, and usage. Does the design of the site allow for easy reading of text and intuitive, logical navigation? Do you find references cited in a proper, consistent style?
Is It Objective?
Compare the material to other resources available on the subject, whether in print or online. What is its value in relation to the extant body of reliable sources, and can you detect biases? Do you find any indication that the content has been officially or unofficially sponsored? Consider checking with a reference librarian for assistance.
Is It Current?
Look at the publication date(s). Does this material represent up-to-date thinking within the field on your topic, or does it appear outdated? Do you find evidence of accuracy and completeness? Is there any indication that the author revised the material recently to include new theories or developments?
What Sites Does It Link to?
Scrutinize all links carefully for appropriateness and relevance. Does the author cite a variety of recognized and respected experts in the field? What criteria did the author use to select and evaluate the links? Do the links offer information or a viewpoint not easily found through other sources? Do you find any broken or outdated links?
Organizing Your Research
Popular tools for organizing and management of online academic research offer a variety of convenient options, including mind-mapping desktop tools and bibliography-building apps. Capabilities include collaborative building of libraries with colleagues, barcode scanning to facilitate proper citations, and automatic detection of newly published research. The list below features basic organizing tips for your research and links to online tools to help you keep academic references properly sorted, consistently categorized, and easily accessible.
- Use mind-mapping software for literature and annotations. As you proceed, you may uncover unexpected links among your ideas. Mind maps can help you track your thinking as it evolves.
- Develop an easy-to-follow, consistent, and logical structure for your files and folders, and give each file or folder an appropriate and clear name to identify its contents.
- Look up online reviews and comparisons of various research management tools. Evaluate each tool's strengths and weaknesses, and select the one that works best for your research style.
- Set up content alert services through journal publishers or scholarly databases so you can receive email or text notifications about newly published sources of interest.
- Take the time to tag all articles appropriately, thoroughly, and consistently. When you're pressed for time, good tagging practices can help you quickly find what you need.
Online Tools to Manage Your Research
- EasyBib: EasyBib, a free app for iOS users, provides automatically generated citations for bibliographies. Students can scan in book barcodes and use the search tool to cite websites and books.
- Endnote: Endnote manages references and automatically builds bibliographies. Users can organize and share references, share their libraries with colleagues, track changes, and search for full text articles.
- Mendeley: Mendeley provides free document and reference management. It allows users to share data with collaborators through academic social networks and conduct job searches in science and technology fields.
- RefWorks: RefWorks collects, manages, and organizes documents and academic references for students, libraries, and faculty. Users can create annotations, share collections with collaborators, and cite references.
- Zotero: A free desktop tool for organizing, collecting, citing, and sharing research, Zotero offers automatic research detection, bibliography creation, and a system to build collaborative libraries with colleagues.
Citing Online Resources for Accounting Students
In general, when citing online sources for accounting degree research, students should use the standardized citation and formatting styles recommended by their instructors. Classes in business disciplines typically require APA (American Psychological Association), MLA (Modern Language Association), or Chicago style. The American Accounting Association follows Chicago style, and also provides a helpful guide to manuscript preparation.
Consistency in the use of proper academic citation styles offers many advantages. By keeping your citations uniform, concise, and easy to follow for those who may want to investigate your sources, you help readers know what to expect and where to track down further information on the ideas you present in your work. By conducting thorough, relevant, and properly documented research, you demonstrate the credibility of your work and your respect for previous scholarship. Giving full, proper credit to the original authors avoids plagiarism and establishes appropriate habits for future educational and professional pursuits.
Example 1 (Online image used in a presentation, cited in APA Style)
Figure 1. Flow chart of accounting vs. economic profit. From Peter Baskerville (2012, August 1). Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/sampjb/7690680134.
Example 2 (Article from an online journal in a database, cited in MLA Style)
Wyatt, Arthur R. "Accountants' Responsibilities and Morality." The CPA Journal, vol. 74, no. 3, March 2004, pp. 24-28.
Example 3 (Article from an online journal in a database such as Business Source Premier, cited in a bibliography in Chicago Style)
Development of an Apparel Industry Model for Canada." Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management 19, no. 3 (2015): 328-342. Accessed May 24, 2018.
Business Premium Collection.