Building a research framework helps you accomplish your task.
Determine what you need
Read your assignments carefully. Try not to make life hard for yourself -- or at least, try not to make the assignment harder than it is. When you visit a library, bring your assignment with you. If you need to ask someone on staff for help, having the assignment there will make describing what you need a whole lot easier. If you have a very specific assignment, make sure you actually answer the question asked.
Think about what you already know
You already know something about your research, though it may not seem like you do. Probably your professor has already told you: how long a paper she wants you to write; what kind of paper it should be (an essay, a case study, an opinion piece, etc.); what kinds of resources you should use; and what format you should follow if you need to footnote and/or a bibliography is required. She may also have suggested appropriate topics (what a library calls subjects and aspects). These criteria will help you decide where you should look for appropriate information, and what kinds of information, and how much of it, you need.
Think about how much time you have (or don't have)
We all know how the story goes -- it is Sunday night, you have never been in the Library before, and the paper is due on Monday morning. It might have worked in high school and depending on the type of assignment, it might work a time or two in University. But, there are much easier ways to conduct research and hey, the idea here is to learn something at the same time. Do a little planning. If the assignment is due in two weeks, sit down and be honest with yourself. Do you know how to use the Library's research resources (the catalogue, the Library's electronic resources, the internet) and do you know how to use them efficiently and effectively? Are you sure the material you will need is immediately accessible, or will you need an interlibrary loan? Spending a hour figuring out how a search interface works, finding out the best method to access various resources, and reading up on search strategies will save you hours and hours down the road -- not to mention prevent that awful feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realize the paper is due tomorrow.
Have reasonable expectations
Not everything in the world is going to be immediately available to you for free. There are millions and millions of books in the world and the Library does not own them all. There are tens of thousands of journals, magazines and newspapers in the world and the Library does not subscribe to them all. (Neither does anyone else.) Be flexible in your choice of search engines and search terms. Use the Library of Congress Subject Headings (the "big red books") and the "on-board" thesauri and indexes in specific research resources. Be prepared with alternative ways of expressing your topic.
Within this framework, there are other steps you can follow which may help you. All of them will require you to apply the process of critical thinking.
Construct a Search Strategy
Select a topic: what is the purpose of your research? Formulate a thesis statement
Consider The Difference Between Searching and Researching
Convert your topic to subject and aspects: re-state it to work with the resources you intend to use
Identify potential resources
Modify the search as required
Run it in a variety of environments, immediate and peripheral: undertake active and passive information collection
Focus, rethink and refine the hypothesis as you test it, and as you analyze and evaluate the results
Retrieve and analyze data/information
Consider closed and open questions: closed questions ask who, what, when, where, sometimes how (how many, how much) while open questions ask why and sometimes how
Select, extrapolate and identify areas for follow up as retrieval occurs
Maintain a search history: take good notes; record exactly what you searched in what resources, and what it retrieved; jot down potential searches to run later; resist the temptation to jump all around; maintain the order of the search
Consider validity and the degree of doubt
Identify missing elements: are you retrieving way too much that says exactly the same thing? is one side of an argument heavily represented? why would that happen? yes, it may be that there is no argument here, or is there another reason? are you searching in the wrong (inappropriate) place?
Evaluate your sources and resources
Present your findings
What Kind of Report
Citing Sources and Resources
Presenting verbally or in writing
Move forward to Theses Statements
Go back to From Topic to Paper Main Page
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This page created and maintained by Linda Hansen.
Comments and suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Created: 1998/01/31 Last updated: 2014/05/06
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