Researching for Papers

Rushing through the research phase of a paper is the most common mistake I’ve seen other students make.  Getting the writing process off to a rocky start makes everything else all the more difficult, though, so research should be taken seriously.


A.) To begin with, if you’re going to have to write a paper on a book you yourself own, then be sure to highlight or underline key passages as you read.  Jot notes in the margins as well, perhaps to summarize long or confusing paragraphs.  This will save you a lot of time when you go back to gather evidence and quotations to support your paper’s claims.

B.) When deciding what to write about, try to find something that interests you or something that stuck out to you in the material.  For instance, I thought A Tale of Two Cities was incredibly boring, but I found myself genuinely shocked when some guy in it ran over a boy with his carriage and tried to rationalize his actions.  So, I ended up doing a paper on that scene.

C.) Make sure your topic complies with the rules set out by your instructor.  If you’re unsure, ask them whether or not the topic is appropriate for the assignment.  You don’t want to set yourself up for failure right away.

D.) If you need to use outside sources, then research the topic thoroughly
- The better you understand the topic, the more likely you are to contribute original thoughts rather than just paraphrase what others have said.  This will, of course, boost your grade.
- You’ll also find it easier to write the paper overall.  I know it’s tempting to use the minimum number of sources possible, but you’re just making things tougher on yourself in the long run.  The more material you have to draw from, the easier it is to reach paper length requirements without rambling.  You simply have more to write about.
- Having thorough knowledge of a controversial subject will help you anticipate any counterarguments that could be made against your claims. 
- Besides, if a teacher sees a nice, long works cited list, they’ll be impressed.

E.) There’s more to research than throwing your topic into a Google search.  Most of your results will probably be pages written by amateurs.  Actually use your library to search for books.  You can search through their catalogue at home as long as they have a website, so you can ensure that they have the books you need before you make a trip there.  Have plenty of sticky notes so you can mark statements you’re likely to reference in your paper.

F.) Also, be sure to use your library card to access its databases full of academic articles and resources.  Nearby public libraries and your college’s own library could offer these free of charge.  These will give you results that delve deeper into the material than most websites do. 
- Academic Search Complete on EBSCOhost is particularly helpful, but you need a library card to access it. 
- I’d like to point out that, in college, I rarely cited websites; I mostly relied on books and database articles.  They’re just plain more informative.  If you have any trouble accessing or using a library database, then ask for help from a librarian.

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Last Updated May 7th, 2015

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