Last week, we offered our seven best tips for college research. The response was overwhelming. And so, this week, we have eight even better tips for doing A-plus research. Here they are:
1. Embrace the zen of research. All research—especially good research—is a process that involves considerable uncertainty, doubt, recasting, and, often, the lack of quick or black-and-white answers. That's how discoveries are made. Get used to it. All of these are signs that the research is going well.
2. Drive your sources (don't let them drive you). Always keep your investigation focused on the issue or problem you're studying. Just because some other guy makes some point—no matter how good it is—doesn't mean you have to include it in your paper, especially if the issue isn't really in the scope of your project. Keep in mind that you're the researcher here, so you're in charge of this thing.
Extra Pointer. Keep it current. While every investigation is different, you should be attentive to the date of the source. Since, at least arguably, science and learning moves forward, you might do better with an article dated February 2010 than one from the late 1890s. Besides, one of the things the professor might be looking for is your acquaintance with up-to-date journal research.
3. Don't fixate too quickly. Often in doing research, especially creative or original research, you'll find that your ideas change as you read new sources or think out an issue for yourself. This, too, is a good sign, and the process can be artificially aborted if you decide too soon on your final answer. Let ideas evolve naturally, and don't close the door on refining your ideas too quickly.
4. Torture the data. One of the main differences between superficial and really good research is that really good research picks something narrow to investigate, studies the topic in depth, and draws more nuanced or more meaningful conclusions about it. Of course, you should always consult with your professor or TA about how to conduct your research, but don't think of first-rate research simply as mindless collection and surveying of loads of data.
5. Record and conquer. Be sure to take complete and easily readable notes as you do your research. You'll never be able to keep straight what each of the authors has said if you don't have detailed records of what you've read. And be sure to keep complete bibliographical citations (name of article, journal, author, page number, URL, etc.). You'll need that information later when you write your footnotes and compose your bibliography, and it's an incredible pain to have to find the sources again.
4-Star Tip. Writing research papers will be 100 percent easier (or at least 100 percent better organized) with reference management software. If your college library doesn't provide software free, you'll enjoy Endnote, Refworks, Zotero, or Wizfolio.
6. Act like a researcher. Your research should always culminate in some definite result or conclusion about what you've investigated. No real researcher—at least, no good real researcher—would conclude his or her study by saying: "In the end, we can't be sure about …" or "Though I haven't shown this in this paper, my personal opinion is…" (These are real conclusions we've seen. Hey, you can't make up this stuff.)
7. Fear not the footnote. Some profs are pretty picky about footnote styles. Why give them grief? Learn which of the many competing styles (APA, MLA, CBE, APSA, AIP, and others) your professor thinks most important for the field. Techies and nerds will enjoy sites such as the University of Wisconsin Libraries' citation guide. Find info on all the styles you'll ever want.
8. Leave time for writing. It's one thing to do bang-up research, another to write a good research paper. Be sure to leave enough to time to write–and revise and edit–your paper.
Rule of thumb. Half the time researching, half the time writing.
Got a tip of your own? Has something been very helpful in your own research? Write a comment below and share with the community.
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