Learning to research is an essential skill that is relevant to a wide range of assignments from papers to presentations but in spite of its significance, the process is still one that baffles even those well past their high school years and those who have completed research projects many times over. Thankfully, the ability to conduct research efficiently and thoroughly can be improved with help from these tips below.
Identify your research topic
Beginning research is nearly impossible without a concrete topic in mind but it may be surprising to hear that struggling with this first and crucial step is a common problem. In some cases, you may be given a number of topics to choose from or a question (or several!) to answer but in other instances, you may be left to your own devices and this freedom can sometimes be crippling. With much of the world’s knowledge at your fingertips hovering over a keyboard, the best place to start is at a place of interest. It will be difficult to work through, much less enjoy, a research process if you attach yourself to a topic to which you are indifferent. If none of the topics or topic questions provided interest you, choose the one with the greatest research potential. However, bear in mind that it will be more difficult to devise original ideas should you do this. On the other hand, ask your instructor or teacher if you would be allowed to deviate from the outline. Most instructors will often be excited by this prospect and are eager to see the work you will produce!
Keyword is the word
While it would be easiest to plug in a few general words that encompass your topic or topic question, the key to yielding the best outcome is proper phrasing. Type a single word into the search bar and you will likely emerge on the other end with an excess of results, often irrelevant to what you have in mind. In most cases, a narrower search leads to sources that directly concerned with your topic and has the additional benefit of creating a manageable research process by preventing potential sidetracking and vagueness. Phrase keywords by combining the most relevant words or placing them in a coherent phrase. Some databases have multiple search bars so play around with different combinations of keywords and phrases and if not, don’t be afraid to use synonyms or rearrange your wording if you come up short.
Given the wide range of available sources, it may be tempting to check each one to identify the best but save the leisurely scrolling for your free time — as is the case with most assignments, time is of the essence and you will likely need to spend more time writing and editing than conducting research. Consequently, the research process should be thorough yet efficient as possible and the quickest way to achieve this is to read the abstract of a source. An abstract is a summary of a research article, thesis, or book that quickly helps the reader understand the purpose of the text. Abstracts, however, do not accompany websites so in this instance, a quick scroll should suffice.
Setting sights on citation
Almost as important as the research itself is learning to cite your treasure trove of sources once you find them. The failure to cite your sources and moreover, citing them properly in your research comes with severe consequences so take extra care to keep track of each source you use, even if only briefly. There are also multiple ways to cite a source depending on the subject for which you are writing, the most common formats being the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, guides for which are all available online. As overwhelming as citation and research at large may seem, both are invaluable throughout your academic career and beyond.