Whether you are a student or a working professional, report writing is an important skill to master. While the types of reports you write vary by field or trade, information gathering is a key first step in the report writing process. The Internet offers users access to a variety of information resources, as do most traditional libraries. With a system for collecting the information, you have all of the facts necessary to tackle the writing stage.
Select a topic that it is not too broad and not too narrow. For example, World War II is a broad topic; The Battle of the Bulge, which happened in WWII, is a focused topic that makes research easier. Test the topic by doing an initial search. If you only find a few references with little information, you may need to broaden your topic. If you find an overwhelming amount of information, consider narrowing your focus.
Identify potential sources of relevant information to narrow the scope of your search. For example, "The Journal of Environmental Law" and other environmental law journals would be a good place to start a search for information about court cases addressing the issue of mountaintop removal coal mining.
Write a list of keywords to use in the research. The keywords help you find the most relevant sources of information. Try different variations of your topic or important points within your topic. If your topic is high school bullying, potential search terms include effects of bullying, bullying laws, bullying prevention and why kids bully.
Brainstorm questions you want your answer to report. If you have an idea of the direction for your report, write a general outline for paper. This helps you choose sources that answer those questions and fill in the sections of the outline.
Search for sources of information on a free search engine such as Google. Use your list of keywords to tailor the search. For a report on local and state government efforts to address the problem of climate change, use the search terms "state climate change" rather than "climate change."
Evaluate the quality of the online reference by looking at the "About" page. The most reputable sources are professional organizations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, or government organizations, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. University sources are also useful. Find the source of the information if possible. For example, if a website references a study performed by another organization, search for the original organization for direct information on the study.
Consider using subscription-based online research services such as Lexis-Nexis or Business Source Premier. Many businesses subscribe to these types of information databases, as do many colleges, universities, and local libraries. These services allow users to easily identify and access reputable sources of information.
Search the online catalog of your local library -- either a public library or the college library if you are a student. Use your targeted search terms to find books, journals and other reference materials that best match the topic of your report. Reserve the resources if possible to save time.
Visit the library to pick up your materials. Skim through the books and journals at the library to ensure they offer the information you need. Check the dates to verify that the information is recent, especially if you are gathering timely information, such as statistics on a situation that changes frequently.
Use bibliographies or works cited sections found at the end of books or articles to identify other sources of information relevant to your report.
Interview experts for further information on the subject. When writing a report on the best practices in teaching, interview a seasoned teacher, principal or professor who researches the subject.
Stay true to your original focus when doing research. Some related topic may strike you as interesting, but if it is not directly related to your report save it for another day.
Avoid plagiarism. Keeping track of your sources as you take notes can help you accurately cite sources when you write up your report.
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