Although it may seem straightforward, finding good research material can be difficult. Here are things that should make your search a lot easier.
Relevant vs. Irrelevant Research
Students will often start researching before they have completely narrowed down their topic - that is completely normal. Many times we don’t know enough about our chosen topic to be able to narrow it down from the start.
During this early phase of research we’ll often take more notes than we’ll need, and once we choose our final topic we may have to throw away lots of that early work. While it can be difficult letting that work go, it is important to only hang onto research that is relevant to your final topic.
Many first time writers will try to shoe-horn a piece of research into their paper because it is just so interesting. Don’t do it. If that piece of research is that important, perhaps your topic should be about it. But, the best thing to do can be to store it away for your next assignment. If something inside you will die if you don’t use it, at least separate it off as a footnote.
Although it may seem cruel, being able to identify and edit out any irrelevant research will only make your paper stronger.
Tip: After a first draft, almost any paper can be cut in half by removing any unnecessary information and words.
Using the Internet
The internet has made it possible to find just about anything with just a few clicks. The challenge is to try and separate out the good from the bad. And, the
majority of it is bad (for research papers). However, there are a few things you can look for to make sure your internet source is a good (reputable) one.
- Try to use sites that are affiliated with regulated entities.
That may seem like jibberish, but it means that you should try to use websites run by organizations that are held accountable for their content by others and their peers. Some great examples are government and education websites. These often end in .gov or .edu. Schools and government data is carefully scrutinized before being posted because they can do a lot of damage with faulty information.
- Unless you are explicitly looking for opinions, avoid blogs, social media, or user forums.
While you may learn a lot from these places, they very rarely offer information that can be tested or supported by evidence, research, or experiments.
- You can start with Wikipedia, but don’t end there.
Wikipedia is an incredible resource for quickly learning about almost anything. It is a great place to get an overview of your topic and see what other issues might be related to it. You can even find helpful sources that are usable for your paper in the footnotes, occasionally. But, since its entries can be edited by anyone, it is not a reputable source for academic research papers.
- Use Google smartly!
There are a number of things you can do with a Google search that can narrow down your search.
- Use quotation marks to search for sites that only include that exact phrase.
- Use a minus to narrow down your search results. If you put a “-” before a word it will eliminate any results including that word. Ex. “Caterpillar -Inc” will eliminate any sites that may talk about the company Caterpillar instead of the insect.
- Use * as a wildcard operator. Using * at the end of your search will return results with what you typed plus any additional words that Google believes is relevant.
- Use Google’s Advanced Search options. After you search for something, you can click “Search Tools” to refine your search.
- Know when to call it quits.
The internet can either be a well-spring of information or a bottomless pit. Sometimes you just can’t find what you are looking for. Don’t waste your time with fruitless results when a change in tactic (like talking to a Reference Librarian) might get you exactly what you need.
Using Your Library Resources
Libraries are some of the best places on or off campus to find helpful research. They have full-time research experts on hand (librarians), access to online journals and databases, and rooms filled with guaranteed quality research sources. Knowing how to take advantage of each one of these resources will give you a huge head start when researching for any paper.
It can often be harder to find a good resource than to get the research out of it. Gateway researching is a way to make your quality resources do double the work by letting them guide you to other valuable source material. Most reputable research materials will contain some type of bibliography that you can use as a ‘gateway’ to other great resources.
Taking a minute to peruse an often overlooked part of a book may lead you to all of the quality resources you could ever need. Besides listing exact sources, you can also use the authors listed in the
back as a starting point for your next library or internet search. Instead of starting from scratch with each resource, take advantage of the list of quality research already in your hands.