Research is a fancy term for finding stuff over and over again.  Technology, God bless its soul, can do a lot of research for us and below I describe just one of the many ways you can collect information without having to pull your hair out.


RSS is Really Simple

First things first – you will need an RSS reader.  I will be using Google Reader, but if you have one you like better, go for it.

  • Open your RSS reader.  Go to and create an account or sign in if you already have an account.
  • Click on the “Reader” tab.  As of the time of writing this book, it is under the “More” tab.

Take a minute to get familiar with the layout and how to navigate around the page.  Of first interest to us will be the “Subscribe” box at the top of the page.  Here, you will enter the major terms found in your syllabus assignments.  Because all of this is free, I would suggest gathering as much information as you feel will make your life easiest during the school year.  Ironically, the problem for students today isn’t finding information, it’s finding the information that you need!  So go ahead and collect till your heart’s content.  (Even better is that you can collect more pages than you could ever read without having to look like the dork walking out of the library with 80lbs., of books on their arm.)


RSS For Every Class

Let’s say your taking an Introduction to Philosophy.  You attend the first day of class, get your syllabus, and notice you have to write a paper four weeks into the course on either Kant, Hegel, or Hume (I’m going obscure here for a reason, just trust me).  Because this is your first philosophy course, you have no idea who these philosophers are.  No problem.  We will be collecting information on them anyway.  In fact, we are going to collect information from philosophy sites in general.  Hey, why not?  This doesn’t cost us anything but a few minutes to set up and you will have great information available to you instantly.

  • In the “Subscribe” box enter “Introduction to Philosophy”

You will see a page full of items come up.  Underneath the title of the page and a brief description, you will see the “subscribe” button.  Whatever website looks like it might be helpful to you, press it and you will see it appear on the left side of the page.

So, how do you know a good RSS when you see it?  Good question!  You don’t.  But, there are a few things that you should consider.  Just to the left of the title, Google shows you how many subscribers each RSS has.  If a RSS has 0 subscribers, I wouldn’t be the first, if I were you.  It’s not that such a site isn’t good, but it probably isn’t updated on a regular basis.

A major strength of conducting research through a RSS feed is that you get information that is relatively up to date.  Another strength of using RSS feeds is that you can find other Introduction to Philosophy courses (or whatever other courses you are in) from other universities that may include course notes from the professor, sample quizzes, sample papers, and so forth.  The odds of finding these things with a general google search are much less probable, though not impossible, of course. Again, feel free to subscribe to any pages you find helpful.


Get Specific

Let’s try this again with the philosopher Immanuel Kant. Click “Return to Feed Discovery” at the top left side of the search page.

  • Click “subscribe” again and enter “Kant”.

Even though you didn’t know who Immanuel Kant was, over 30,000 people have subscribed to his feed on the Stanford Encyclopedia page along with thousands of others on similar pages.  Since so many people found that particular site important, it’s not a bad idea to subscribe to it.

After you click “subscribe” you will notice immediately to the right of the “subscribed” button that you can “view” the page from your RSS reader, “unsubscribe” from the feed, or you can “add to folder”.  Now’s as good a time as any to get organized!

  • Click on “Add to folder” then click “New Folder”.  Name the new folder “Introduction to Philosophy”.

Now you will have one place to keep anything you find with regards to this course.  Even better, if you have a paper coming up, you can choose just search that folder rather than all of your RSS feeds.  Let’s give it a try.


Putting All the Pieces Together

Let’s say that you are one week away from having your paper on Kant due.  You have been collecting information on Kant for 3 weeks and now it’s time to put your planning to work.  Enter the keywords in the “Search Reader” box at the top of the page.  Then, click the Expand arrow (the little downward facing arrow on the right side of the box) and select “Introduction to Philosophy”.  Now, the only results that will show up are for those feeds you put into the Introduction to Philosophy folder.   You are welcome to search all of your feeds, but the better we can narrow our search, the more efficient we will become.  Again, the goal isn’t just finding information, it’s finding the information you need to get your work done.  The more filtering that you can get done up front, the less time you will spend searching through random websites.  Narrowing your search results to a particular folder is a great start!

But wait, there’s more.  In fact, there is lots more!  Another strength of RSS readers like Google Reader is that you can access them from any computer – just sign into your account, and there they are!  Thus, if you want to print an article but don’t own a printer, just shuffle on down to your local friendly computer lab, sign into your account and print!  You can also email your findings to classmates and friends who are in your class as well as receive articles from them.  Remember this, friends – when it comes to researching, no man is an island.  Invoke the power of study groups, friends, classmates, whoever to help you out.  And in return, help them out.  If you don’t have any friends, put his book down and don’t pick it up until you have friends.

One final note of the potential of RSS and Google reader.

  • Once you have completed a preliminary search and and have subscribed and perused some RSS feeds that you find helpful, try clicking on the “Recommend” button.

Google will see what you have subscribed to and suggest similar RSS feeds.  Its a great way to discover new content without having to search for it!  Efficiency, my friends, is the key!  Use every tool available!


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