- DO NOT PROCRASTINATE. A good research paper cannot be written the night, or even the week before it is due. Getting a jump start on looking for articles and organizing your thoughts is the best preparation for writing a good research paper.
- PICK A TOPIC YOU ARE INTERESTED IN. Research is tedious. It is time consuming. You don’t want to be stuck spending hours of labor on a topic you hate.
- DO NOT PROCRASTINATE.
- AVOID BROAD SEARCH TERMS. Search engines really will find every source that mentions your search term, even if the article/book/who-knows-what has nothing to do with your paper. Typing in just “birds” for example, when you are specifically researching Alfred Hitchcock’s film “The Birds” could have you sifting through hundreds of articles on junk when useful things are out there. Try to tailor your search terms i.e. “birds AND Hitchcock.”
- AVOID TOO NARROW SEARCH TERMS. Search engines are also case sensitive. If you type in something too specific you could miss useful material because the search engine only knows to look for what you tell it to. For example, if your assignment is to research the psychological effects of playing violent video games and you type “psychological effects of playing violent video games” into a search engine, you won’t find near as much information as if you used “video game violence” or “video games and psychology” alone. While you may spend more time deciding if an article is useful or not, the number of hits on your search will increase exponentially.
- TRY MULTIPLE DATABASES. Don’t just rely on a single source when searching for material. There are lots of places to get good, credible information. What seems like a dead-end search term on one database could unearth a gold mine on another. Don’t limit yourself, and never underestimate ordinary print sources.
Choosing Useful Articles
- NEVER JUDGE AN ARTICLE BY ITS TITLE. Read the abstract. Abstracts are a much better gauge of whether or not the article is useful. If an article doesn’t have an abstract, it may still be useful, but you are gambling if you decide to use it without at least skimming the article itself. On that note...
- SKIM THE ARTICLE IN ADDITION TO READING THE ABSTRACT. All too often what sounds like a great piece in the abstract will turn out to be either too vague to suit the topic, or have some other defect that makes it unsuitable for your paper. You can’t know, however, if you just download the article after reading the abstract. If you can get a full text copy, skim it.
- PAY ATTENTION TO THE PUBLICATION DATE. In some fields, medicine for example, you generally can’t use old articles. You may find research that perfectly suits your topic, but is too old to be considered relevant. Also, it often strengthens your argument to use current research. Always double check the year a piece was published before you use it.
To print a copy of this handout, please click here.