A Better, Faster Research Tool

Learning to use tools more efficiently – and learning when to try a different tool – is a valuable skill that will help you achieve better work in less time.

I’m not a sentimental person, perhaps to a fault.

But I can say I absolutely love the story of the lumberjack.

It’s from Stephen R. Covey, and here it is:

Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.

“What are you doing?” you ask.

“Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.”

“You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?”

“Over five hours,” he returns, “and I’m beat! This is hard work.”

‘Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” you inquire. “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.”

“I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing!”

Another version of this story is a quote commonly attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

You’re English Majors, so you don’t need me to explain this story’s meaning to you.

But there’s a way to think about it I didn’t realize for a long time after hearing it.

Sure, the story is a great metaphor about preparation (and rest).

But I was so busy looking at the metaphor, I missed its literal meaning.

Taking care of your tools (and learning how to use them better) will make you more efficient.

Case in point, Google Scholar.

If your university library’s website is like most of them, it’s not great for searching. Finding good articles for your next research paper is probably a challenge with their software.

Fortunately, there are free alternatives.

In this video, I’ll show you how you can find relevant, scholarly sources for your next research paper in about 90 seconds.

(In making this video, I tested to see how quickly I could find sources. I was able to find 6-7 solid research sources in only two minutes.)

Here’s the video on YouTube:

It’s easy to simply use the tools in front of us. But by finding and mastering a better tool (in this case, Google Scholar instead of the library website), you’ll develop a habit employers actively seek.

Nothing will be too hard for you.

Any challenge will be merely a temporary obstacle to learning a new skill.

PS: I made this video using free built-in software on my Mac. Simply open Quicktime, then click File >> New Screen Capture, then click the record button.