Writing papers and research reports the Google way

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Monday, May 1, 2017

Writing papers and research reports the Google way

research reports papers google way blog image

Research reports and papers can be streamlines and improved with a few handy Google tools. Here’s a workflow your students can use. (Public domain image via Pixabay.com)

The traditional research paper has been around a long time. We all likely have a memory of sweating over one at the last minute.

They’re still a staple in K-12 schools and in universities.

We don’t use formal academic papers and reports that much in real life. Often, they’re sources for more academic papers and reports.

I’m a huge advocate of reinventing the research paper/report. I’d like to think of infographics as “Research Report 2.0”, and there are plenty of other creative options for them. I wrote a blog post about 10 creative alternatives to research reports and papers that may give you some ideas.

If you still need students to do research papers and think it’s a vital skill, Google has you covered. When used in unison, several of its tools let you do that academic work more effectively and efficiently.

Here’s the Google way to do research reports and papers in 10 steps. And please feel free to add your own nuances, changes or additional steps in the comments below!

Research papers and reports the Google way

1. Get started quickly. Instead of having students go to Google Drive to start a new document, try one of these two ideas:

  • Add a link to this URL to the assignment: docs.google.com/create. That URL automatically creates a new document in the Google account you have active.
  • Create documents for your students that you have access to. Create a new document in YOUR Google Drive. It can even be a blank Google document if you want. Then attach it to your Google Classroom assignment and choose “Make a copy for each student.” When that document is created, the student will be its owner, but you’ll automatically be given editing rights.

2. Take organized notes in Google Keep. Google Keep is like index cards or sticky notes. They can be color coded or organized by label (kind of like the tabs on filing folders). It’s an amazing way to help students gather information and keep it in one place.

Some suggestions for student note-taking in Google Keep:

  • Have students create a label for your assignment. They assign that label to every note pertaining to your assignment.
  • Use color coding to organize notes within that label. If students have four main topics in their papers, each topic gets its own color. That way, if students open just notes with your assignment’s label and sort by a certain color, they’ll only get the notes related to that part of the paper.

3. Add notes with other tools. Students don’t just have to go to the Google Keep site on a computer or Chromebook to use Keep. Here are some other options:

  • If it helps them, students may want to add notes with a mobile device and the Google Keep app (Android / iOS).
  • If they’re finding articles in academic journals, news sources and other places, the Google Keep Chrome extension will be useful. Students navigate to the page with the article and click the Google Keep Chrome extension button in the top right of their Google Chrome web browser. It will automatically create a new Google Keep note with a link to the article. Students can add extra info, a note title without leaving the page.

4. Use split screen. Sometimes, it helps to have research open on one half of the screen and a place to take notes (like Google Keep!) open on the other half. Tab Scissors and Tab Glue are great Chrome extensions to make that happen.

  • Tab Scissors will split the tabs you have open in your browser into two browsers side by side. It splits your open tabs at the active tab. That means that whatever tab you have active (that’s displaying on your screen), that’s where Tab Scissors will split them into two.
  • Tab Glue brings the two split windows back together in one window.

5. Don’t copy words. Gather ideas. It will be tempting for students to highlight, copy and paste text from their sources into Google Keep. I would encourage them to avoid that at all costs. If they copy/paste text into their Keep notes, they’ll have to make sure it’s in their own words when it’s written into the assignment. (And it’s probably much easier to write it in their own words while creating notes in Keep.)

6. Use Google Scholar to find more scholarly works. If students need to include published research, journal articles or other more academic sources, Google Scholar (scholar.google.com) is a great resource. Not everything is available for free with full text, but there’s LOTS of great stuff there.

7. Organize material in a document. Here’s where the magic starts. Since Google added Keep to its core G Suite tools, Keep and Docs work together on one screen.

To open the Keep notepad in Google Docs, go to Tools > Keep notepad.

When you do, your Keep notes are displayed in a sidebar. From there, you can add a new note, search your notes and scroll through your notes. But that’s not the best part.

You can drag notes directly from the Keep notes sidebar into a Google document.


One way to execute this:

  • Have students create the headings for the different parts of their paper.
  • If they’ve been color coding their notes, they can start dragging each color into the appropriate heading. (i.e. If they have four topics and if topic #1 is blue, they can drag all their blue notes under that heading.)
  • If they’ve been writing their notes in their own words instead of copying/pasting (see “Don’t copy words. Gather ideas.” above), most of the work in writing their paper is done for them. Instead of staring at a blank screen and starting from scratch, they just need to massage the words into a cohesive message and fill in holes with the appropriate missing information.

8. Add images responsibly. Google Docs has an image search built in that pulls Creative Commons and public domain images from databases on the web. These images are licensed for use by students. When they find an image and click on it, they can see the source of the image (see below). This is a great place to track down the image, make sure it’s licensed as Google suggests, and gather the attribution information to include with the image. (See more: How to get and use free images — the RIGHT way — in class)

google docs image

9. Create charts in Google Drawings, Sheets or Forms. Visuals solidify new ideas in our minds. Plus, by creating visuals, students get a firmer grasp on the content they’re learning. Here are two ways students can create their own visuals:

  • Create charts and infographics with Google Drawings. Drawings gives students a blank page where they can add text, images, shapes and lines. It’s great for making flowcharts and graphic representations of new ideas. Check out this post for more ideas on creating infographics with Google Drawings.
  • Turn data into a chart with Google Sheets. Students may find census data or any other data set on their research topic. They can turn that data into charts to help the reader grasp the ideas in that data. Use this support page to learn how to create charts. Those charts can easily be grabbed via screenshot and added to a document.
  • Use survey/poll data from Google Forms. Students can run an informal poll and report the results in their reports. Create a survey with Google Forms. Share a link to it and let others respond. It’s easy to share the survey link via social media, parent email, school newsletter, etc. Once the results are in, Google Forms creates charts of the data in the “Responses” tab. Take a screenshot of those charts and add them to the report.

10. Cite your sources easily. I have clear memories of thumbing through a style manual in college to appropriately cite sources in my papers. Those days are gone (or can be gone if we let them). Several tools can help students:

  • Google Scholar — If the source can be found on Scholar, click the “Cite” button to generate citations for MLA, APA, Chicago, Harvard or Vancouver.
    google scholar cite
  • Explore — If your source is found in a standard Google search, the “Explore” button in Google Docs can generate a footnote.
    explore citation
  • EasyBib — EasyBib (www.easybib.com) is an online citation generator. Add a URL from an article, book, video/film, journal, database or more, and EasyBib will create a citation for you.

Voila! Your report or paper is now complete.

Of course, don’t forget that it’s easier than ever to share student work widely with a big audience. Consider letting students publish their work on a website, share it via social media or more.

[reminder]What other steps or tools would you add to this list? How have Google tools — or technology in general — helped your students to write differently or more efficiently?[/reminder]

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  • […] Some handy Google tools can streamline research and writing for your studnets. Click here for ideas! […]

  • Patty Melei says:

    I also asked Ss to share video links as evidence, documentaries, tweets, Google analytics,and podcasts. Very fun. Thank you for this post which ignited discussion within our curriculum

  • Lalita says:

    Very inspiring and innovative

  • […] Writing papers and research reports the Google way | Ditch That Textbook […]

  • Janet Cordle says:

    The last two years my 7th grade Digital Literacy students have used their research to create Infographics instead of research papers. They use their infographics as a visual aide for their district speaking assessment. I have found students truly enjoy and must process their learning.

    My students have used the free online versions, piktochart.com and easel.ly.com. This year my school purchased a pro classroom account for me from easel.ly.com. I love the templates and the ease of use for students.

    I love the creativity and knowledge students learn by researching and creating infographics.

  • Dave Curran says:

    Some really great ideas in this post and I love the connection between Keep and Docs. For me, these strategies would be an excellent way of getting younger students to start practicing formal research skills. However, for rigorous research in high school, I’m not sure google tools will hold up against things like the outline builder in Noodle Tools and JSTOR, and having worked closely with teacher librarians, I can now see how students don’t actually learn anything about how to cite correctly through EasyBib – it is a shortcut that often pulls in inaccurate data (although this is improving as machine learning develops). Thanks for these great tips – our K-5 integration specialists will be inspired!

  • Heidi M Polizotto says:

    I would be interested to see how a Google Paper would hold up in Turn it In.

    Also, since the universities are requiring research papers – many 10 per semester, should we not teach the kids to write on at the high school level? I’m all about using variety of practices, but ditching the research paper – now way. (And kids ARE just copying and pasting and NOT gathering ideas because they are lazy and have had too many teachers not care enough to catch them.)

    • Matt Miller says:

      Wow, Heidi. Looks like something touched a nerve here. OK, a couple of thoughts …
      — A “Google paper” isn’t really a thing. What I’m suggesting here is using Google tools to streamline the writing process.
      — How students write their papers determines how they “hold up in Turn It In.” Again, gather ideas instead of copy facts.
      — Universities aren’t the end all be all of education. Just because higher education engages in certain practices (some of questionable pedagogical value) doesn’t mean that we have to adopt poor instructional strategies for the sake of getting kids “ready for college.” If we help students become savvy information gatherers, critical thinkers and problem solvers, I’m convinced that they’ll be able to work their way through lectures, long textbook readings and 10 research papers.
      — Let’s not paint ALL students with such broad strokes. SOME students copy and paste and don’t gather ideas. (And SOME students do that because they don’t see the value in certain assignments nor the connection to their lives or “real life.” Another reason to ditch some — if not all — research papers …)

  • Frau Davis says:

    You lost me a bit at the Google Citations part, but I thought this was a great post! I don’t really do a traditional research paper but if I did I feel like I’d totally want to use the tools you’ve mentioned. Very inspiring.

    • Matt Miller says:

      “Google Citations” isn’t really a thing. You can do works cited/bibliography by pulling it from the Explore tool and from Google Scholar. Thanks Anna … glad you liked it!

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