(This article originally appeared as “The Research Paper” Sept. 2012)
Getting Started with Research
Your instructor has assigned a research paper which will require ten credible sources. You begin your search where everyone does – online. You Google your search term, “Lower Drinking Age,” to find over five million hits. You make it more specific: “Lower Drinking Age to 18,” and get 4 million hits. You pull out your assignment guidelines for some direction, and notice it states, “Ten credible sources, only 3 of which can be websites.”
You are at home or work and can’t get to the library. How can you ever find enough sources for your paper if you are not allowed to use all websites? And what does “credible” mean anyway?
Finding reliable sources is the single most time-consuming task of writing a research paper. It takes time and patience to locate effective sources that support your argument. So where to start?
In the initial stages of gathering research, the internet can be a useful tool if used wisely. As you are just beginning to gather information, you want to cast a wide net to understand all the angles of your topic. One great online site to begin is Google Scholar.
Google Scholar can give you access to research across a wide range of disciplines. You’ll find all types of print and web sources: books, journal articles, court documents, dissertations, and even university websites, which are generally the most credible type of web-based source (should always be “edu”).
If you search “Lower Drinking Age,” you’ll see a sidebar on the left that offers you a way to narrow the results by type, year, and relevance. On the right is a “My Citations,” link where you can track a researcher’s work (you have to have a Google account for this). The advantage of this tool is if you find a particular researcher who is publishing work in your topic of interest, you can find other relevant publications by the same author.
Once you find some intriguing articles, you can click on the link to read the abstract (description of the article). If you scan over to the right of the link, you may see links to the printed version in a PDF file with the full text. At the bottom of the annotated link, you’ll see a horizontal list of further help, including “Cited,” which shows many times the article has been cited; html, if this type of version is offered, other related articles (which is a good info to have for further research; other versions of the article (which may include more current research), and other types of information related to the article.
If you are on a campus computer, you may also see a link under the link that says, “find at MCC,” (or your local college or university). This means your campus will have that source in one of its libraries or have access to it.
Take some time in this stage to tweak your search terms and scan the research to find the perfect support for your paper. Take careful notes of the articles and authors you might to use, or if you are able, print out the full link so you’ll have it when you go back to read the full text later. Slowing down and taking these steps will save you time later.