Before you ever begin writing your paper, you will have to spend some time doing research. Some papers may only require a little extra time researching while others papers may require hours digging through the material. Either way, having a solid strategy heading into researching can make this a much easier task. Here are a few things that you should know before you get started.
Before You Start
Before you hit the books, make sure you’ve got the following questions answered.
- What kind of research do I need?
Knowing if you need academic, news, editorial, research studies, etc. for your paper will help you narrow down the places that you should look for helpful research.
- Where can you find the type of research you need?
There are countless places to find research materials and each one contains different types. If you are looking for local history, you could check your local library branch. If you need medical research, you might want to look for some medical journals in an online database. If you’re stumped, you can always ask your school’s research librarian. They are great resources to help you get started with any paper.
- How much information do you need?
Not only is it important to know the kind and type of research you need, you need to know when you have enough. If your paper is only a few pages, then you may only need to spend a few hours researching. But, if you’re working on a term paper or thesis, your research could be extensive. As a rule of thumb, it is always easier to do more research than you need than to have to go back and look for more after you’ve finished.
Kinds of Research
There are two types of research material that you can work with and each type has its own strengths and weaknesses. There are Primary sources and Secondary sources.
A Primary source is an original work created or written by the original researcher/author/artist. A Secondary source is another person’s interpretation of the original material. If you were researching the book Moby Dick, then the book itself would be considered a primary source. You could find secondary sources by looking at commentaries and reviews of Moby Dick. A Secondary source gives you second-hand experience of the material while Primary sources let you see the material first-hand.
Primary material is good when looking for new ideas and patterns within a set of data. This could be anything from finding correlations in survey data to interpreting a piece of literature in a new way. The use of primary source material can add convincing evidence to your argument.
Secondary material is useful for setting up existing perspectives, looking for historical interpretations, or laying the groundwork for your own argument. It is difficult to build a successful argument solely from secondary research, but it works well as a supporting evidence.
Tip: One way to introduce your own argument can be to contrast it with other existing perspectives (using secondary research material).
Reputable source material
Thanks to advances in technology, it is more important than ever to evaluate the integrity of your research sources. The internet has brought state of the art research directly into our living rooms. However, it has also made it possible for almost anyone to publish their opinions without any need for rigorous standards of scrutiny. Remember, just because it is on the internet, doesn’t mean it is true.
Although there are no hard and fast rules for evaluating the veracity of any resource, here are a few guidelines that you can follow.
- Peer-reviewed journals are excellent sources.
These are magazines and journals where each article is vetted by a board of experts in that field before, during, and after its publication. You can look through your library’s journal database (like EBSCOhost, ProQuest, etc.) to find many of these.
- Look for experts in your topic’s field of research.
A person doesn’t have to have a doctorate to write a reputable source, but the author should be a recognized member of your topics field of research - even if they aren’t a part of its mainstream.
- Online resources ending with .gov or .edu are often reputable resources.
These websites are subject to a high level of scrutiny by their peers and institutions.
- Reputable sources often list their own source material.
If your source has its a Bibliography, then its a good sign.
- Does the author sound emotional?
If the author makes sweeping generalizations, emotional appeals, or doesn’t offer supporting evidence, then you should be careful.
- When in doubt, ask!
Your instructor, teaching assistant, or research librarian are there to give you a hand. Don’t be afraid to utilize the resources at your fingertips.
Tip: If you find yourself readily agreeing with a source without question, take a step back to make sure you aren’t only reading what you want your source to say. We all bring our own ideas to our material and it is easy to let them influence what we find.
Organizing your Research
Once you start getting into your research, you’ll need a way to keep it organized for later. It may take a second, but having a system in place before you start researching will help you avoid the frustration of needing to go searching for additional bibliographic information later. There are numerous ways to keep your research organized including: notecards, outlines, direct copy, etc.
Finding Research Material
Now that everything is in place, you’re ready to hit the books or the internet to start looking for your research material. You can turn to your class books, your local library’s resources, digital databases, and even Google to get started. You can even use the resources you already have for some “gateway” research. Here’s our guide to getting the most out of each of these resources.
How to Read Your Sources
We’re assuming you already know the basics of reading. But reading a book or article academically isn’t the same thing as reading a book on the beach. Here are some tips for reading your sources like an academic.