The Electric Educator: Replacing the Research tool in Google Docs

Friday, October 14, 2016

Replacing the Research tool in Google Docs

By now you may have noticed that the "Research" tool in Google Docs, Slides, and Drawing has been replaced by the "Explore" tool. While Explore adds a few nice features (see my previous post for a complete overview), it has removed the citation feature which was heavily used by K-12 teachers.

There has been a fairly vocal outcry from educators because of the removal of the research tool. If you are disappointed that the research tool is no longer available you can send your suggestions to Google by opening a Google Document and visiting help > Docs Help > Send Feedback. 

Google does seem to be listening to this feedback as a the Docs team has created a survey exploring the use of the research tool. You can complete the survey here.

**Update the survey above is no longer accepting responses. The Docs team is reviewing feedback and considering a solution.**

While I too am a bit disappointed that the Research tool has been removed, there are a few facts to remember: 
  • The "citations" generated by the Research tool weren't really citations, they were footnotes.
  • Sometimes all you got was a link to the source, not the author, date, publication, etc.
  • While the Research tool gave you the option to switch between MLA, APA, and Chicago style, the formatting of the "citations" weren't in the correct format anyway. 
  • The research tool didn't create a bibliography or works cited page. 
Yes, the Research tool was a great place to start and I would love to see it brought back. However, there are some even better ways to handle citations and bibliographies that you can use right now!

EasyBib - Add-On for Google Docs

EasyBib has developed a free add-on for Google Docs that make it super easy to cite books, articles, and Websites. Just enter the URL, title, or ISBN number and EasyBib does the rest. The add-on will create a works-cited page (bibliography) for you and supports dozens of citation styles (most of which I have never even heard of!). Get started by connecting the add-on here

EasyBib also offers a Chrome Extension, however it requires setting up an EasyBib account and is not as easy to use as the other citation extensions listed below. If you are an EasyBib user, or your school has paid for the premium version of EasyBib, the extension may be of value to you. 

Cite This For Me - Chrome Extension

Visit any website and click the "cite" button and you will receive an automatically generated citation in your preferred format. Click "add to bibliography" to collect all of your sources and then copy/paste or download your list for further use. One neat thing about Cite is the fact that you don't have to log in or create an account to collect your resources (although the recommend that you do.). I tested this extension on several obscure websites and it did a great job. It even prompts you to enter missing information that it is unable to find. 

Apogee Citation Creator - Chrome Extension

Apogee is a super light-weight extension tool. Click the button and get your citation. No configuration, settings, or advanced options. Copy the citation and paste it wherever you need it. Apogee isn't as accurate as Cite This For Me (sometimes it misses the author), but it gets the basics. 

Citation Machine - Website

For very specific or obscure citations (Podcasts, YouTube Videos, etc), you may need to create a manual citation. I have used Citation Machine for many years (it helped me earn my M.Ed. degree!). It has been updated a bit, but is still dead simple to use and supports hundreds of different source material. Citation Machine doesn't automate the citation process, but it guides you through and creates perfect citations. 

I have looked at four possible replacements for the Research tool. Even if Google brings back the Research feature (we can hope!), you will need one ore more of these tools to create a true, properly formatted citation. 

I know there are many more citation tools out there. If you have a favorite that you would recommend, please leave a comment below!


  1. I relied heavily on this feature for my first through fifth grades. It was easy to 'click and drag' websites, images, and gave appropriate information. If you take a first grader to full Google site, that is too overwhelming. Not to mention often very inappropriate. Explore just doesn't do the same thing.

    1. Agreed. This post is simply trying to help fill in the gaps as best we can.

  2. My pupils loved the search for tables option and importing into Sheets. It was fantastic. If it had locatiob data we then took it into My Maps, mesmerising stuff. Then they further developed their Research skills. No comparison at the moment.

    1. Agreed. The research tool had a lot of functions that explore does not. Google seemed to be legitimately surprised by the outcry from teachers when they replaced it. In their mind explore had all of the "important" features of the research tool.

  3. Thanks for your recommendations for more powerful citation tools!

  4. The survey is no longer accepting responses. When you click on the link (thanks John for providing it), you cannot get to the survey anymore. I've played with explore and don't like it. Where it had appropriate images, now when my first graders are looking for pictures of jeans and a sweatshirt, they see a shirt with bare breasts and another one that shows a marijuana plant. Not first grade appropriate anymore. ARGH!!!

    1. Thanks for the update, Mary. I know that Google is considering our concerns. Hopefully it will lead to change.


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