I. Introduction of Research Strategies
The ability to find the right background information underpins the success for almost every kind of formal writing. If you can learn how to find out what you need to know, and then how to arrange it logically in the format best suited to the purposes of your writing then you are more then half way to success.
II. Getting Started
The ability to find the right background information underpins the success of almost every kind of formal writing. If you can learn how to find out what you need to know, and then how to arrange it logically in the format best suited to the purposes of your writing then you are more than half way to success.
Once you’ve settled on your research topic, the best starting point is to establish what you already know about it. To do that, you can use one of several techniques—Spider diagrams, Brainstorming, or Free-writing. If you find you really know nothing about the subject, try Browsing.
Look for report topics as you glance through newspapers, magazines, books, or search engines on the Web. A librarian can help you find materials and show you how to use them. Look for articles, Web sites, or pictures that you find interesting. Can you describe why you find it interesting?
Browse through the tables of contents and indexes of books, too.
Do any of these suggest topics that would fit the assignment?
Remember to keep track of particularly good sources so you can use them later.
2. Spider Diagrams
Drawing a spider diagram—a map of ideas—is a good way to identify and narrow down topics, and to organised your notes. Like brainstorming, you start with a topic, then write down as many
aspects of that topic as you can think of. Unlike brainstorming, spider diagrams can help you quickly recognize relationships between topics. On a piece of paper, write a broad topic in the
center, then write related topics or ideas around it. Draw lines between the topics, linking any you think are similar or that show interesting ideas when combined. Keep adding your ideas and
lines until you have exhausted all your ideas. Linked topics might help you think of interesting ways to organise your report.
For example, the linked topics around “Astronauts” in the diagram opposite suggest a way to organised a report on what an astronaut is: a pilot, scientist, and hero rolled into one.
Brainstorming is a way to quickly generate creative ideas about a topic. You can brainstorm by yourself or with a group.
a. Start with a broad topic.
b. Without thinking about it too much, list everything you can think of that relates to your broad topic, even if it seems silly.
c. Look at your list. Start by crossing out any that don’t fit within the guidelines of your assignment. Then cross out the ones that are too general or too specific
d. From the remaining topics, choose ideas that interest you or about which you have a strong opinion.
4. Brainstorming: an example
In the example, you begin with a broad topic, “Space and Astronomy”, and write as many specific topics as you can. Cross out an idea if it is too general, or try to brainstorm more specific ideas from it. For example, the topic “the Moon” could become “the benefits of returning to the Moon”. Below is a start on brainstorming—can you think of some more specific topics?
SPACE AND ASTRONOMY
– The planets
– The Moon
– The discovery of the Hale-Bopp comet
– Do fossilised Martian microbes indicate life on other planets?
For 15 minutes, write about your topic without stopping. Don’t worry about organisation. When you have finished, examine what you have written. Is there any sentence that might make a good
first or last sentence for your report? Are there themes that you keep writing about? If so, you might be able to incorporate them into your report—perhaps you can even use sentences from your free-writing in your report.
6. Using a Know Wonder Learn Chart
When you’ve gathered materials and ideas, it’s time to decide what you have found that is useful, what you feel you need to know, and what you are learning. This will give direction and
focus to the next stage of your search for information. Use the Know Wonder Learn chart to help you with this. In completing it, write down what you already Know, the questions you Wonder about, and the answers you Learn.
II. Finding and Recording Facts
Now that you have an idea of what you are looking for, where are you going to find it? The three most useful sources are a library, a good encyclopedia (which may be on a CD/DVD or online such as Encarta), or on the Internet.
Your research is going to generate a lot of information, some of it important and some not so useful. You need to keep track of what you’ve found and of where you found it, so you can refer back to it when you need to. Use the Gathering Grid to help you record your findings and keep them in order.
This will also help you with crediting your sources – it’s important for your reader to know where you found your information, and how you made use of it.
1. Assessing Your Sources
When you are collecting information from a source, use the following checklist to determine how reliable the source is.
– Is the source based on original research or writing, or does it interpret and present information from other sources?
– Is the source current enough for your research?
– Does a World Wide Web site belong to a university or other reliable institution?
– Does your source present personal opinions as facts? If so, you may want to find a different source, or at the least, make sure you back up any information from that source with information
from other sources that are more reliable.
2. The Library
After the books, the most important and helpful resource you’ll find in a library is the librarian. He or she will have been trained to help researchers, and will know how to direct you to useful sources of information very quickly. Make friends with them – they can save you a lot of time. Ask them to explain how their books and resources are classified and placed on shelves. They will almost certainly introduce you to either the Dewey Decimal or the Library of Congress classification system, and it’s worth understanding how they work.
3. The Electronic Encyclopedia
One great advantage of the electronic encyclopedia is that it is very easy to search for information by using keywords. The first stages of your research should have highlighted a number of keywords for your use.
Tip: using a single keyword will deliver a large number of general results. Using more than one keyword will give will be more sharply focused. Try searching for “Blair”, then try again using “Tony Blair” to see how this works.
4. The Internet
The Internet is very easy to use and lets you access an enormous amount of information. The key to finding exactly what you want is the Search Engine – there are several, but they all work in
roughly the same way. By entering a keyword or keywords, you will find links to what you want to know. Again, you need to know how to narrow your search to keep the number of results manageable. Using the ‘Advanced Search’ option will help you with this. Most search engines will offer you detailed guidance about this.
A word of warning. You will find a great deal of up-to-date and accurate information on the Internet but, because anyone can use it to publish their own work, what you find may not be reliable or truthful. A book or an online or CD/DVD-based encyclopedia has been produced by well-informed writers and checked by editors, and their reputation rests on the accuracy of the information they offer. Trust information from the Internet only when you know that it comes from a reputable academic source, or when you find three unrelated websites that agree with one another.
III. Note-Making and Summarizing
If you are using electronic sources for your research, it can be very tempting to copy passages of original material and paste them into your own research report—a couple of mouse clicks can
make it look as if you’ve done a lot of work.
DON’T DO THIS
– Learning comes from the connections you make between pieces of information—copying and pasting short-circuits the process because it doesn’t give you the chance to think about your
Before you begin taking notes, think about how you want to work with them. You will probably want to arrange your notes into related sections before you start writing. You can use paper,
note cards, or a word processor. Depending on how you will be organising your report, you could use tools such as the outline template or the Venn diagram.
1. What to include in your notes
However you take notes, you need to include all of the information you will need to complete your report. Be sure to include:
– A clear, specific title that sums up the point that note supports.
– One piece of information you will need for your report. When taking notes from a source, you can summaries, paraphrase, or quote the source (see below). If your source contains a lot of information that supports many of the points in your report, put each idea in a different note.
– Your ideas, opinion, or comments about the information.
Summarizing means that you read what the author says, then briefly describe his or her points in your notes. Summarizing is useful when you want to note the general content of a source in a condensed form.paraphrase Paraphrasing means that you follow the original text more closely than in a summary and provide more detail about the content of a source. When you paraphrase, you restate what the author says in your own words. Paraphrasing is valuable when you want to communicate the author’s point but think a direct quotation is unnecessary. quote Quoting means that you use the author’s exact words and enclose them in quotation marks (” “). Quoting is useful when the author’s choice of words is irreplaceable or compelling.
IV. Crediting your sources
It’s important that you show that you have done your own, independent research, and to do that you must acknowledge what you have found and used in other people’s work. You must, at all costs, avoid any suggestion that you have used other people’s ideas with the intention of passing them off as your own. This is plagiarism, and is taken so seriously that it can invalidate the results of any examination or assessment.
The way to do this is through the proper use of footnotes and a bibliography. See the tutorial on how to use footnotes and create a bibliography.
Now that you have gathered all your material, you are ready to begin writing your draft report. You will find it helpful either to use the Outline View of your word processor, which will help you structure your final piece, or to use the Outline template.