Doing college-level research requires some thinking and some planning. Follow these steps and you'll be researching and writing great papers in no time!
- Select your topic.
- Develop a search strategy.
- Find your sources.
- Evaluate your sources.
- Write you paper and cite your sources.
1. When selecting your topic, there are a couple of things you want to keep in mind:
- Make sure the topic fits the assignment. When in doubt, ask your instructor.
- Pick a topic that interests you. Searching for information is much more fun when you're genuinely interested in your topic.
- Think about how much information you'll likely find on a topic. For some topics, you'll find LOTS of information. For others, you'll hardly find anything. If you pick a topic that doesn't have much written about it already, be prepared that you might have to spend more time looking for information and may have to change your topic a bit.
2. Develop a Search Strategy--
Searching through library resources (the book catalog and the research databases) is a little more complicated than searching the Internet. Therefore, you want to come up with a search strategy or a game plan on how you're going to go about finding your resources. If you start searching without having a strategy, it's easy to become overwhelmed and confused. So here are a few steps in developing a search strategy:
- Come up with a list of key terms. Think about everything you know about your topic. Write down a list of all the key words, phrases, dates, and/or people that are related to the topic. It doesn't have to be an exhaustive list, but at least have a couple. You'll likely refine this list of terms as you find your information sources.
- Start with background information. Find reference sources (like encyclopedias, some websites) to help you get an understanding of what the topic is about. You can use the reference sources to help you come up with additional search terms and phrases.
- Narrow your focus so you can look for scholarly articles and other sources. Scholarly articles are narrower in scope, so you'll want to have a more specific idea of what you're looking for before you start searching the research databases.
4. Evaluate your Information--
Not everything on the Internet is true. Not everything on the Internet is up-to-date. Before deciding to use a source, ask yourself:
- Is the information current? Check for copyright dates and "last reviewed" dates.
- Where did the information come from? Does the author cite their sources or state where they got their information?
- Who wrote the information? What are the author's credentials? What makes them an expert?
- What is the purpose of the information? Is the author trying to sell you a service or product? Are they presenting their personal viewpoint? Are they arguing for a particular viewpoint or position?
5. Write the Paper and your Citations.
Make sure you follow proper MLA format and correctly cite your sources sources.
See the Writing and Citation Help tab for resources on MLA format.