Prepare Your Research Expedition for Credible Sources
It’s that time again! You need to write a paper that has good sources and is balanced from multiple perspectives. However, it has to show your own perspective that provides something innovative and unique to say while also being well-supported by your research. Oh, and your professor wants you to use at least twenty sources, but has warned you emphatically that they must be “reputable.” Where on earth do you begin?
The easy answer, of course, is the Library – just read some of our other posts! But honestly, we are the guides that help you explore the information wilderness. And, like any good guide, we love to talk about how you can best explore our favorite places on your own. So, for the next few Wednesdays, I am going to be writing some tour guides of some of my favorite research places!
But first, we need to get our gear ready. After all, if you are unprepared for an expedition, then you are almost certainly doomed to a lousy experience, if not outright failure. There are some basic things you need to gather before you begin to search for information, whether you are visiting the library or delving deeply into the internet.
When getting ready to search for solidly credible information, you need to start with a question. This isn’t the same as your topic, though! That topic is probably huge, and there is no way that you can cover its entirety in your paper. So, think about what you know, and kickstart your curiosity. What about the topic intersects with things that interest you in your day-to-day life? What particular facets would you like to know about? Write those things down as questions, because that will help you focus where you want your research to take you.
Once you have a solid question, start breaking it down into keywords and thoughts. Write it in multiple ways using synonyms instead of your original words. If you can, translate the question into another language, and look for those synonyms as well. Brainstorm all the different ways that you could hunt for the hidden location of that elusive credible information, whether by technical language or in laymen’s terms. Then, use all of these different expressions to build your keywords.
Once you have these, then take another look at your actual assignment. What sort of resources are you supposed to discover in this expedition? Does your professor describe the sort of publication that they want? Is there a focus on peer-reviewed material? Can you use other scholarly journals? Possibly, could you even use more popular journals, blogs, or similar social media? Every professor is different, and their approach to acceptable sources differs as well.
Once you know what to search, you should decide how you want to organize what you find For example, when you begin to find sources, you may want to download what you find, or at least save them to folders within the database you are using. Saving the articles to storage is very convenient, but also marking them into folders is practical. After all, things can happen to storage disks – I have some personal, heartbreaking stories of lost data tragedies! – so saving things in the databases as backups just makes sense. However, physical backups are nice if the publisher decides to move the article.
Finally, you want to have some mechanisms to save your research on board. Personally, I really like Zotero. It’s a plugin that installs right in my browser, and I can save my resources just by clicking. On the other hand, when searching in the library’s databases, I find the built-in citation creator a life-saver. This will help me when it comes time to cite my sources in my paper.
Basically, before you begin your research expedition, you need to do a little bit of background work. You need to focus your topic into a solid question. You need to map out all the different ways to get to the information you want. You need to make sure you know what types of sources you need. You need to have a way to store those sources, and you need a way to record information about those sources.