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How to Research a Topic – An Introduction

Research is necessary in virtually every scholarly assignment. If you are not an absolute genius capable of making wonderful new discoveries out of fresh air, your work will need to be based on solid facts and/or extensive research work in order to support the argument(s), thesis statement, and conclusions in your paper. Hence, if your written work is to be successful, you will need to research your topic to some degree. There are certain rules that should be observed to add efficiency and structure to a research project, thereby resulting in a better-quality paper whether this is an article, essay, or dissertation. 

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Conducting Research – Steps in the Process

Work out the subject for your paper in a clear and concise manner. It may surprise you to know that a lot of people attempt to write articles, essays, and papers before they have a coherent idea about what they want to write about. It is not possible to undertake effective research if you do not know what you will be writing about. 

Once you devise a title for your written work, write down a number of questions you should attempt to answer in your written piece. The more comprehensive this list, the more effective the end product will be. If questions are too general, the research findings are likely to be vague. Split each individual question into smaller parts to cover the subject as fully as you can. 

Look for sources to provide the information you will need. This may involve doing online searches, but effective research should not be restricted to articles located on the Internet. It is best if research sources are versatile and diverse. 

Plan your research work and organize it. Decide on the amount of time you should allow for finding information for each particular question you wrote down. When your plan is fully outlined, adhere strictly to it. If your productivity is less on any given day, you will need to do more work the next day. 

Sort and organize your research materials after you have completed this part of the process. Each piece of information should be labelled to show the source type, date, and the issue or question it addresses. 

Review your collected information to ensure all the points in your plan are covered. 

Where to Look for Research Materials

A library is, of course, one of the most common and popular places for undertaking most types of research. There are, however, several other places where information can be acquired. Examples of such resources are articles, textbooks, journals, and databases such as JSTOR, which is a program that provides access to vast quantities of information once you register. Google Scholar, JournalSeek, Questia, and ScienceDirect are other similar type programs and are good places to begin. 

Important Points for Consideration

  • You can divide research resources into a number of types. Information can be found in print publications such as books, brochures, magazines, newspapers, or you can use various media sources and the Internet. You could look at presentations or videos, speak to colleagues, friends, subject matter experts, and so on. You could also carry out experiments of your own or use observation to acquire the information you seek.  
  • Most libraries stock electronic-style catalogs in addition to traditional ones, so it is not always necessary to visit a library to see if it stocks the materials you are looking for. Rather you can simply access one of these online catalogs from home to ascertain if a particular library can provide the resources you want. Then you can order these and you will only have to make a trip to the library when they are there. 
  • If you are planning on interviewing any individuals, you will need to prepare so that you have all the questions you want to ask ready. Otherwise, you might forget something important. Hence, you should compile a list or questionnaire beforehand. Listen carefully to the people you are interviewing and make notes or, better still, tape-record interviewees. 
  • In the event you decide to observe the subject of interest or undertake your own experiment(s), bear in mind your own expectations and feelings towards the subject. Because you have a personal interest in the experiment results, your view may be significantly affected when you come to interpreting your findings. You should, therefore, try to remain as objective as you possibly can, and try comparing your findings against those produced by other or previous researchers. 

Frequent Errors Made in Research

  • Overlooking how important it is to formulate a clear picture of the subject of your work. Thinking that a general approach is sufficient tends to result in a myriad of source materials that are difficult or impossible to use because they are inappropriate or irrelevant.
  • Not understanding the materials properly. It can sometimes seem to students that they have found what they need and they copy straight from the source. However, it can later emerge this was not what was needed, and this may only come to light when the material has already been used and the work submitted. Hence, it is best to ascertain the usefulness of material before you use it.
  • Not paying any or too little attention to copyrighted materials and submitting the work of other authors as yours.
  • Missing deadlines, and cramming everything in at the last minute. 
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