Students are assigned research projects and papers throughout their schooling. Employees are tasked to present information to clients and employers. It seems easy-you gather information and write what you know, but learning how to research properly can lead to higher quality projects with fewer problems.
Plan and Gather
Choose a topic, or have one assigned to you.
Plan your research. Think about what you already know and what you need to know. Write down some keywords and questions you need answered.
Devise a project timeline to help you manage your time. The last thing you want to do is get behind before you even start.
Go to the library. This is the best place to find factual information and people who understand research.
Check the library's card catalog or computer catalog for your key words.
Find books, encyclopedias, journals and any other materials that pertain to your topic. You may need maps, atlases, magazines or other items-think outside of just books.
Search the Internet for information as well but remember to document your sources accurately.
Note, Outline and Report
Begin to take notes. Use note cards or color-coding for larger projects to stay organized.
Photocopy pages with graphics you may need later, or pages with too much information to write down yourself.
Note any answers to your starting questions and highlight according to importance.
Keep a bibliography list, adding every source you use. Also add the source on each page of your notes so you can easily attach sources to quotes later.
Read through your information and organize any materials and note cards.
Write an outline of your facts and the order in which you want to present them. You may want to write the outline in your own words rather than quote your notes since most presentations require that you not just quote your facts but explain what they mean.
Report what you found in the medium required. This should be fairly easy if you took great notes, answered your questions and created a strong outline.
- Ask a librarian for help. If you are not finding what you need, the librarian may be able to find materials and come up with another way to search.
- Use a style guide such as the MLA handbook to correctly cite your sources.
- Search for additional sources on your topic in the bibliographies of books or articles you have already found useful.
- Don't plagiarize! Put the facts into your own words and quote and cite anything you cannot.
- Don't trust every Internet site. Look for organizations or databases and stay away from personal pages.
- Avoid taking notes on every fact that looks interesting. Remember to answer your questions and cover the topic. Recording extra "cool facts" may mean having too much information to sift through later.