Whether you’re starting in a library, a computer lab, or at home, there are certain how to make research guidelines you should follow. These guidelines are in place to make your life easier. As we said before, the more you participate in the research step, the more prepared you are to write a rough draft.
1. Use government and official websites
This means “.org” and “.gov”. If you use a “.com” website, you need to have proof that it holds valid information. Anyone can create a “.com” address through WordPress, Weebly, or another platform for just twenty dollars a year. This hardly makes them reputable websites. While there are exceptions (you can always search for “authority” websites such as the New York Times or USA Today), “.com” addresses are generally unacceptable for research papers and essay purposes.
The same isn’t true for books. We don’t have a valid screening process for information found in printed media. One can argue that the cover of a book and the quality of its contents can probably speak to its accuracy, but it can’t be proven entirely. It also takes far less work to obtain a website address than it does to obtain a book. For this reason, professors are often harder on website URLs and their accuracy than the accuracy of published books.
Also, never ever use Wikipedia for research projects or essays. Anyone can change the contents of a Wikipedia page, as long as they are familiar with the platform. Don’t fall into that trap. Your professor won’t accept it.
2. Record information and quotes as you find them
Never write down a source without a specific quote that you want to use. If there’s more than one, make multiple references to that source. Organize this information on a separate document – or, more usefully, on index cards that can be easily rearranged. Number the index cards or mark them with a symbol. This symbol can mean that the index cards cover a certain subtopic (for example, a star might represent Barrack Obama during the 2008 election while a carrot might represent Hillary Clinton). It can also represent the paragraph of your essay in which the quote on the index card belongs. This system of reference will help you organize your paper before you begin the academic writing process.
Also, keep in mind that you should write all of the information needed for a bibliography citation on the index card or document. This will avoid a second trip to the library. It will also ensure that you don’t have to drag any books or reference materials home. By the time you leave, you should have everything you need.
3. Visit the library
You can probably do the majority of your paper at home, but your research should really be done in an academic setting. There are an endless number of resources and books that you can access data for free through your library database. The system really can’t be beat on this level. You won’t be able to find the same information on your laptop at home. It just isn’t feasible. Do your essay justice – start in a library. You’ll only need to spend two or three hours there. After that, you can go home and stay home (as long as you follow the index card process, of course).
4. Ask your professor for references
If you’re struggling to find information for your topic, ask for ideas. Professors are chock full of helpful hints, and they are usually more than happy to help you with your paper. While they are hard on you come grading time, they don’t want to see you fail. Obviously, there are exceptions to that rule. Everyone has faced a miserable professor in their college career.
But we’ve found, for the most part, that professors want to help their students succeed. You can visit during office hours, ask for an opinion after class, or send an email. It’s worth the hassle – especially since you’re showing the person grading your essay that you have the motivation to do well. Talk to your professor. It’s the smart thing to do.
5. Skim your resources – don’t read them in their entirety
Yes, we’re telling you to do less work. Your professor wouldn’t expect you to dive into every piece of information that you acquire. Why? Because it isn’t necessary. And, quite honestly, a professor wouldn’t do it either. It just isn’t an efficient way to spend your time.
Skim for the quotes that you need to write your essay, then be done with it. These are quotes that feed into your “angle”, which we’ll talk about in the next section. Once you have what you need and you’ve recorded the necessary information, close the book or exit the page. You can always come back to it later, if you realize you don’t have enough to reference already.
6. Establish a mental link between you and your subject
You might not have any interest in the 2008 Presidential Election – but you need to find that common ground. Maybe, after a bit of research, you’ve found that Barrack Obama was an underdog during the beginning stages of his campaign. Maybe you can relate to that. Maybe you decide to angle your essay around that. That’s completely fine, but you need to establish this connection. In other words, find something about your essay topic that genuinely piques your interest.