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Getting Started on Your Research

by Meghan Kowalski on 2021-10-04T09:00:00-04:00 | Comments

Definition of the word researchWhen it comes to research assignments the hardest part is just getting started. (Prefer video? We've got a video of this post on YouTube.)

 

What's the Assignment?

The first thing you should do is read the assignment. Then, read it again. ​

  • ​What is the question you are supposed to answer OR what is the topic you are being asked to cover?​
  • How long should the paper be?​
  • Are you being required to use specific types of resources? Do those resources have to scholarly or peer-reviewed?​
  • Are you supposed to incorporate your own opinions, views, or experiences?​​

The better you understand the requirements the more guidelines you will have to help shape your research and writing.

 

Brainstorm

Before you dive in to research, take some time to brainstorm. This can help you identify a topic and create a thesis.​ ​When brainstorming you want to consider:​

  • The who, what, where, when, why, and how of the general topic​
  • What do you find interesting?​
  • What do trends do you see?​
  • What gaps can you identify?​
  • What questions do you have?

 

Background Research

Once you have a general idea of what you want to look for, you can start conducting background research. Background information provides you with the important context of an idea or topic that helps you better understand your area of research.​​

  • You can find background information in many places including:​
  • Your textbook and assigned class reading​
  • Wikipedia (it's okay to use this website here!)​
  • The reference section at the library​
  • Online reference tools​

 

Narrow Your Topic

 

Now that you have an idea of your topic, it's time to pick what you want to focus on.​​

How your narrow down your topic will depend on what you are writing about and the assignment requirements. A shorter paper should be narrow than a longer paper.​​

When narrowing your topic consider:​

  • What do you find most interesting?​
  • Which group, timeframe, location, or specific issue do you want to focus on?​
  • What information is available?​

​Try to describe Who, What, Where, When, How, and Why about your topic to determine specifics.​ The more of these you incorporate the more specific your research question will be.​

Write a Working Thesis

 

A thesis is a statement or theory that is put forward as a premise to be maintained or proved. Essentially, a thesis is a question you are trying to answer or an argument you are trying to make. More specifically, a thesis is a sentence or a few sentences that express the main idea, argument, or viewpoint of your assignment. ​​

When it comes to getting started on your paper, it can help to have a general idea for your thesis before you start researching. This is called a "working thesis." It is the general idea, argument, or viewpoint you use to help shape your paper.​

 

What Do You Need?

 

It can be helpful to create a list of what you need to find before you start your paper. Items on that list could include:​

  • Sources to support your argument (including sources to support each individual aspect of your argument)​
  • Sources that are against your argument​
  • Sources that are examples of your argument​
  • Data or statistics​
  • Images, graphics, illustrations or other visual elements​

 

Start Your Research

 

Once you have your assignment parameters, topic, and working thesis, you can get started on your research.​ There is a lot of information available in the world – but you can't go wrong in starting with library resources!​​

Exactly where you look depends on your assignment requirements and topic. For example, you wouldn't look for scientific research on Facebook. You might, however, use Facebook to find examples of how people use social media.​

We know this can be overwhelming, which is why the library is here to help you find sources like books, articles, and online material.​

 

When Do I Start Writing?

 

As you research, you will refine and strengthen your thesis which will shape your final paper. Sometimes, it can be hard to determine when to stop researching and start writing.​

Before you start writing consider:​

  • How many sources do you need to incorporate into your paper? (Make sure you get AT LEAST that many.)​
  • Have you found enough sources to fulfill all of the assignment's requirements?​
  • Have you found enough sources to support your argument?​
  • And - Are there any weaknesses or gaps in your research?​

As you search and read, you may eventually realize you are coming across the same concept again and again or are seeing references to sources that you have already found. That might suggest that you have already located the most important and relevant information. ​

As a general rule of thumb, it's useful to find at least 3 to 4 sources per page of paper. So, for a 5 page paper, you want to start with 15 to 20 sources. This is because it is easier to cut out sources than to add sources at the last minute.​

 

Getting started on your research is the hardest part. We hope these tips make it just a little bit easier.


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