Research, The Intimidating Beast

“Class, a final research paper will be due at the end of the semester and the topic of your research should be anything relevant to this course,” states the Professor. As a politics major, I have heard this phrase one too many times. Research papers are an intimidating beast, and expectations are high due to the fact that students are given a long time to complete the assessment. But the start of the research process is probably the most difficult phase. Luckily, next semester I will feel more at ease and more prepared with my next research assessment, as I have learned over the course of this semester various skills and tactics in regards to how to approach this intimdating investigation process. So let me help you, help yourself, with the following tips.

Step 1 — Dissect Topic of Interest

First, think of a topic that interests you. Do not worry about coming up with a research question right away. Learn how to do an advanced search to find the best quality and specific sources for your topic. For help on conducting an advanced search on any given topic on Proquest, check out the following tutorial. Use keywords and utilize your library’s database as opposed to using a generic google search, the quality of the sources will be higher and they tend to be peer reviewed.

Step 2 — Diverse Content

Next, find a plethora of distinct kinds of sources by exploring different data bases. This will help you attain information that comes from different perspectives. This will help you identify emerging themes and possible counterarguments that you can incorporate in your research paper. In the past I’ve made the mistake of using only content from either JStor or Proquest, which sets certain limitations on the content that I am working with.

Step 3 — Annotated Bibliography

Once you have a compilation of different types of sources, (scholarly articles, websites, print books, ebooks etc.) create an annotated bibliography. In the past, I had never done this step before but I found it to be extremely helpful. Essentially, by summarizing each of your sources individually you are able to find commonalities, weaknesses and distinctions between their various arguments. This step will also help you develop your research question. To learn how to create an annotated bibliography, this set of instructions and tutorial video by Writing Commons that will guide you in the right direction.

With this information, you are better able to find gaps in the research and develop your own contribution by filling in the gaps or expanding on what already exists on the topic. I recommend using Zotero to create your citations for each source as it automatically formulates the source and allows you to edit the citation if there is any mishap.

Step 4 — Organize

After reading on the subject you have selected, it will become clear what you are interested in delving into. Create a general outline of your paper. Break your ideas down into sub sections and take each section a day at a time.

Step 5 — Peer Review

Have a peer look over the finished product. It is helpful to get as much feedback as possible before the due date. The constructive criticism that someone will provide you with will let you expand on anything that is unclear, eliminate any unnecessary sentences or sections, and minimize any grammatical errors. If your arguments are clear to someone else, then they will most likely be understood by your professor.

Good luck on your next research paper! Just remember, with each tip you will be better able to tame the beast.