19 May 2012

How to Research for a Research Paper

I do not think I know a single person that can say they really enjoy writing research papers. I have heard, "I don't mind it so much," and other similar comments, but no "OMG I LOVE RESEARCH PAPERS BLARGALRH." Research papers can be easy to write though with a few very simple tips.

What you will need:
Note cards (how many? Just depends on how big your research paper is, I tend to use a lot!)

First Step: Preliminary Research

This may be something you are already aware of, or you may need to do some more in depth research at this stage. Depending on your research topic, this could include reading one or two of your sources or even just looking at the Wikipedia page (however, do not use Wikipedia as an actual source). Either way, you need to be comfortable enough with your topic that you can write a very basic outline.

Second Step: Write an Outline

Your outline may change some as you do further research, and that is okay, but it is best to really start with a decent one. With your preliminary research, this should not be difficult to do.

I. Your main, descriptive research topic. Mine is "How ducks swim"
A. Ducks swim.
     -These ducks swim a lot.
     -Ducks have been observed swimming.
B. Ducks have webbed feet.
     -Webbed feet help paddle.
     -Webbed feet are awesome.
C. Ducks can float.
     -Ducks can float because of a cool thing they have.

At this stage, it is also important to number or letter your categories which has already been essentially done above. For example:

Category A: Ducks swim
Category B: Ducks have webbed feet.
Category C: Ducks can float

This is required for the next portion.

Third Step: Gather your resources!

Your professor or teacher should have told you how many resources you should have. Try getting one more. It will help get a better variety, and if one source ends up not having a lot of relevant information, then you have one spare one. You should definitely make copies of your resources. You will need to write on them.

Ways to gather your resources:


If you gather your resources online, be sure to use your library's e-journal subscriptions if they have them. Sources generally need to be peer reviewed, and by using the journal subscriptions (for example, EBSCOHost), you are much more likely to get a peer reviewed article.

If you are unable to use your library's e-journal subscriptions, use Google Scholar.

Always use advanced settings in your search in order to optimize your search. For example, when I initially search "How ducks swim," say I end up getting a lot of hunting related articles. I can go into the advanced settings of the search engine and say I do NOT want articles that contain hunting.

If you are using Google (and many other search engines), then this mini chart will help as well:

How To Google It


Oh, dearest you, using the oldest of ways of research: print! I mean print materials whether it be physical peer reviewed journals, books, or newspapers. My biggest recommendation here is to use your librarian! They are there to help you research topics and suggest books for you.

When you search for books in your library's catalog, which I am assuming is digitalized, use your basic keyword or subject material. Mine would be ducks in this scenario. Libraries use a couple of different systems, so get familiarized with it, but it should be pretty simple to learn. After you have found a couple of books on ducks (or your subject), then use your library's map to find that section. Often, these books will be very similar in subjects so you should be able to browse at this point as well as picking out the books you initially researched. Journals, on the other hand, will not be categorized by your specific subject more than likely, and you will need to be more specific in your search when trying to find peer reviewed journal articles. See above on how to do this.

Other Forms

You may have other forms of research done such as interviews, field research, or more. Just make good notes of this and cite it according to the way your teacher or professor has requested.

Fourth Step: Number Your Resources & Write Them On Individual Note Cards

Each resource should have a number. Whether it is from the same author, same journal, etc. as long as you know you will have to cite it separately, it needs a number.

Each citation should now be put on its own note card and numbered accordingly on the note card. You can put the number anywhere, but I tend to put them in the top right corners.

Fifth Step: Research!

I know what you are thinking, "finally! The best part!" Okay, we all know you are not thinking that. I am here to make it easier for you. Now at this point, you should definitely have an outline and categories numbered, plus your sources numbered. I am now going to show you why. Before I get into actually doing the reading of your sources, I need to show you the note cards you will be making:

Click to make bigger!

Click on the image to make it bigger, but just to break it down for you. In the top left corner we see "A1". "A" is the category letter, and 1 is the note card WITHIN the category set, NOT the number within the source you pulled it from. So, for example, I found my first piece of information that deals with my Category A. I write "A1" at the top left. I find another piece of information dealing with category A, so I write it down and put "A2" at the top left. I don't find anything else within the source that pertains to that category, so I move on to my next source. Oh, awesome! Another piece of information that deals with category A. I write "A3" at the top because it is my second note card dealing with category A. 

The top right is where you put the number of the source that you got that piece of information from. The bottom left is the page number (of the article itself, be forewarned, just because it is your fifth sheet of paper does not mean it is page 5). The bottom right is where you write P, Q, or even M sometimes. P = Paraphrase, Q = Quote, and M = Me for when you have thoughts while you are researching and it pertains to a particular category. When you have Me note cards, you may only have a category and not a source or page number.

Now, the simpler part: how your sources will look.

Oh bother, look at that spelling. Oh well, unfortunately Photoshop does not have spell check (and well, I'm not going to remake this).

Obviously your information will not read "PIECE OF RELEVANT INFORMATION," but you get the gist. Whenever you want to write something on a note card, hi-light it, paraphrase or quote it on a note card, and write next to it what note card it will be on. Simple as that.

Finally Finished! Now Write Your Paper!

At this stage, it is up to you! I may have a future post on how to write a research paper, but this is simply how to research one. That being said, using the note card system, your paper should just fly through your fingertips. Make sure your cite accordingly (which should be super easy due to you putting the number of the citation on each note card, eh?) and pay attention to your professor's instructions and rubric. Good luck! 

Let me know if this has helped you, or you think it can be improved in anyway... or simply share your tips in the comments!

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