Step Two: Finding Research Paper Answers

by Shannon Crose

Research is where the whole thing starts to get a little tricky. It's so easy to get bogged down and disorganized when trying to put together a piece like this. Believe me, I know. So before we begin with the actual research, I want to give you a few pointers on how to organize your material, and ideas so that when it comes time to write you have everything you need at hand.

For starters, you're going to need a notebook to hold any questions that pop into your mind while thinking about your topic. It will also be the place where you log general notes on how the paper is coming together and what direction it is going in. This notebook can also be used for making a rough outline of your paper (a necessity if the paper is over a page long) and is a good place for writing rough drafts. The notebook is also a good place to start compiling a working bibliography.

A working bibliography is simply a file of potential sources of information for your paper. Keep a running list of all the sources that look promising, then after you've collected anywhere from three to thirty sources-depending on how many you'll need for the paper-then you decide which ones look most promising and start with those. This can save you time, not only during the actual research, but also when writing the real bibliography for your paper. Later on I will give you a breakdown of all the information you will need for your working bibliography.

Some people also use note cards when working on a paper to actually document the information they've found in their sources, and the name of the source they found it from. This allows for easy organization of the information. Others find the note cards hard to keep track of and just a general pain in the butt, so they write out that information in their notebooks instead. Any direct quotes, statistics, or summarized ideas should be written down, along with the name of the source that it came from. Which style you use doesn't really matter, as long as its one that is easy for you to keep track of.

Another thing that might come in handy is a spare folder. Occasionally making copies of some of the information you come across will come in handy (or if using the web, print-outs). Using a folder to keep track of this loose-leaf paper will keep everything together.

Now, I know the mere thought of entering a library is causing some of you to have a panic attack. "Library? I can think of twenty things I'd rather be doing." In our modern age it seems so much simpler to look everything up on the internet, while sitting in our comfortable pajamas and fuzzy slippers. Well, sure, I suppose that's easier. But don't count the library out as a viable source of information. For starters, those librarians know their stuff. They can be an invaluable resource to you as you hunt down information; they know what sources are reputable and where to find them, and they are even good at internet research. Basically, they are everything you could want in a research partner and more.

Having said all that, I know that a good portion of the information you use will come from the internet. So a few words of caution and ideas for where to begin your search.

The thing that is so wonderful about the internet is also the thing that makes it an occasionally unreliable source. All the people using it. Anyone with a computer and a mind to do so, can claim they are an authority on something. And perhaps a lot of them are, but when you're not sure how reputable a site is, it's a good idea to use your own common sense. Usually sites put together by organizations, universities and other schools, the government, news groups, and libraries will be your best bet. Other than that, you need to use your own judgment on what makes a source believable.

The following is a list of URL's that is a good place to begin your search:

General Information:

Humanities:Art:History:LiteratureSocial SciencesAnthropology:Business and Economics:Education:Ethnic and Gender Studies:Web Search Engines:

Another way the internet comes in handy is that you can actually see what books your local library has before even venturing there. Simply find your local library's website and chances are their entire catalog is there. Most libraries will also let you reserve the books online or by phone so they are ready when you get there. Can't get any easier than that.

Documenting Sources

The following is a list of the information you will need to compile for your working bibliography.

For books

  • Name(s) of author(s), editor(s), translator(s), or others listed.
  • Title and subtitle
  • Publication information:
    • Place of publication
    • Publisher's name
    • Date of publication
  • Other important data, such as edition or volume number
For periodical articles
  • Name(s) of author(s)
  • Title and subtitle of article
  • Title of periodical
  • Publication information:
    • Volume number and issue number (if any) in which article appears
    • Date of issue
    • Page numbers on which article appears

For electronic sources

  • Name(s) of author(s)
  • Title and subtitle
  • Publication data for books and articles (see above)
  • Date of release, online posting, or latest revision
  • Medium (online, CD-ROM, etc.)
  • Format of online source (Web site, Web page, e-mail, etc.)
  • Date you consulted the source
  • Complete electronic address (unless sources were obtained through a subscription service and have no permanent address)
  • For sources obtained through a subscription service:
    • Name of database
    • Name of service
  • Electronic address of the service's home page or search terms used to find the source.

When compiling your working bibliography, it is a good idea to write it down exactly as it must be sited for your paper's bibliography. This will save you time and mistakes in the long run.

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