It’s never too early in the semester to develop great research habits. The library is here to help you develop the skills you need to ace all your papers and projects this semester. Here are our recommended Research Resolutions.
When writing academic papers or projects, your professor may ask you to use “scholarly” or “peer-reviewed” resources. Scholarly sources are written by experts in their field and are, thus, considered reliable sources of information. Additionally, scholarly sources undergo a process where the work contained in the source has been reviewed for accuracy before it is published. This means they are more trustworthy than information you might find through Google, Wikipedia, or elsewhere on the internet. When you search the library’s online catalog or databases, you can limit your search to scholarly and peer-reviewed resources.
Not every source you find is appropriate for your assignment. Whenever you find a resource you think it useful for your project, you should evaluate it to see if it passes the 5Ws.
Who: Who wrote this and where do they work? The author or creator's experience and credentials are important to know because that will tell you if they have the authority to talk about their subject or topic. Are they qualified to write this? An ICU doctor is definitely able to talk about the COVID crisis... but so is the patient. Consider all aspects of a person's background, education, employment, and personal life experience. You should also ask about the creator's biases and privileges. It may be important to your assignment to incorporate different viewpoints and experiences.
What: What kind of source is it? The item could be a popular article, scholarly article, opinion, dataset, report, or even a tweet. The type of source tells you a lot about it. Something that has gone through a professional review and editing process – like a research article or book - is likely more trustworthy than a blog post or Wikipedia entry which can be edited by anyone.
When: When was the document published? Is the information still up-to-date and relevant? For historical research, you can and should use older material. For scientific studies or current events, you most likely want recent information.
Why: Why was this document written? For example, was it created to inform, to convince, or to entertain? The purpose of the document can help you know if it is research, opinion, entertainment, or reporting.Who is the primary audience for this document? You don't want to use an article written for elementary school students in a college paper. Also, always watch out for material that is designed to persuade or sell. That kind of resource likely has a lot of inherent bias which may make it inappropriate for your assignment.
Where: Who published this document? What type of publication is it? Is this source from a scholarly journal, newspaper, website, blog, or social media? The place where you found the information can tell you a lot of the author and their purpose. Newspapers are meant to inform about current events, but they also include opinions on their op ed pages. Some websites may seem trustworthy, but you should always consider their bias. For instance, Gatorade will happily share any research that promotes athlete hydration because they make money off of selling hydration products. That doesn't necessarily make the source bad, it just means that you should be transparent and consider biases when using those sources.
We use citations for several reasons. First, citations help you avoid plagiarism by giving credit where credit is due. Citations should be used whenever you quote, paraphrase, or summarize an argument you find in a source. Citations are also how you acknowledge where the support for your paper or project comes from. When you cite, you are helping those who read your assignment find the original sources you used. Additionally, it shows your professor that you followed proper research and academic procedures.
If you want to learn more about different citation styles or how to cite a resource, we recommend using Purdue OWL.
Unfortunately, papers don’t write themselves. You can set yourself up for success by taking some time to outline your paper first before you sit down to write the whole thing. First, list out the major components and/or arguments of your paper. Then, under each component you can list the individual points that support that part of your paper. This is also where you can list quotes and sources that you want to use to support your argument.
A great reason to outline your paper is that it allows you to see where you might need to do more research. It also helps you structure your argument in a way that makes sense and flows naturally. Plus, it’s usually easier to write your paper when you have a structured outline to work from.
One of the best things you can do is start your assignments early. NEVER wait until the night before to start your paper. Not only will you be rushed to complete it, but you also will not leave yourself enough time to properly research your topic.
Time management is both an academic and life skill so it’s important to start planning out your assignments as soon as you get them. If your paper is due in a month, put that date in your calendar and then add milestone dates to encourage you to work on your assignment early. The more time you give yourself to complete research, the more complete your assignment will be and the easier it is to write. Plus, you will be less stressed in the days before the paper is due.
A previous version of this post was shared on January 22, 2019.