Collecting Research

Let me guess: you’ve been assigned to write a research paper. Chances are you’ve put it off for far too long. Now that you’ve finally forced yourself to sit down at a computer, you realize that you don’t know how to get started or what to do, but you know that you wish you’d never taken [insert name of paper-assigning class here]. In desperation, you did a quick, online search on writing research papers which lead you here. You’re probably reading this and wondering how much more of your time I’m going to waste before I actually tell you how to write your paper. 

How am I doing so far?

The truth is that almost all college students struggle with collecting and organizing research. Sadly, there’s no quick way to write a good research paper; there’s no gimmick that can give you ten well-written pages of research and a dozen scholarly sources without a lot of effort on your part. If you’re prepared to put in some work, I can help you. If not, you might as well stop reading now.

Today, we’ll focus on collecting research. A research paper can only be as strong as the sources upon which it is based. Once you’ve picked a topic (I certainly hope you already have), you’ll need to familiarize yourself with it. If you don’t know a lot about your topic, start by gaining some background knowledge through sources such as professors, TA’s, and Google. Once you’ve got a general idea, your research can begin in earnest.

Here are some principles of finding and using good sources:

  • Ask experts (especially your professor) if they can refer you to good authors, books, or articles on your topic. 
  • Use the HBLL’s resources. From their main page, http://lib.byu.edu, use their database search to find collections of scholarly works. Two of my favorites are JSTOR and WorldCat, both free to BYU students.
  • If a useful source cites other scholarly works, look those up as well. Be instinctively untrusting of online sources, unless they come from a credible source. Wikipedia is useful for background information, but it should not be used for actual research. Wikipedia’s sources, however, are sometimes more accurate.
  • Websites ending in .gov or .edu are generally trustworthy. 
  • Keep track of your sources on 3x5 cards or a word processor. Cite sources as you find them, and write your notes, including quotes you wish to use, underneath. Make sure you remember to include page numbers for any information you find. 
  • As you research, look for common themes and, especially, disagreement between scholars. 
  • It is always better to have too much information than not enough. 
  • Try visiting the writing center in 4026 JKB if you need extra help.

Remember, research is a skill that needs to be practiced and honed over time. Find which methods work best for you as you continue to grow into a successful college writer. Now stop procrastinating! You’ve got some research to do!

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