Researching a Research Paper Quickly and Effectively

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During high school and even during undergrad, I don't think I was ever properly taught how to quickly and effectively find research for writing a research paper.  I was taught some tips here and there, but it was challenging to find useful research and information for papers.  I had a knack for finding all sorts of research and information for stuff that was sorta-kinda related to my papers, but I struggled to find research that really helped me connect all the dots and was the best source to cite for whatever I was writing.  I shudder at all the hours I wasted, and I suspect that my teachers and professors simply took the ability to find research for granted and did not consider it to be a process or a skill or maybe they had wrongly assumed that we had been taught how to do it by a previous teacher.

This Instructable shows how to find research and information for writing a paper without wasting time and without struggling to force sorta-kinda-related research into your paper.  There is some time and effort necessary, but putting in the little bit of effort at the start will make your life a whole lot easier and will save A LOT of time and effort in the end.  Finding research and searching for information is most certainly a skill - don't be fooled.  By following this process, not only will you be able to find the research that you need for your paper, but you will also be able to write your paper more easily and with greater confidence which will make for a better paper.  Reading through this Instructable may be helpful to high school students, undergrads, and potentially first year grad students since this was a skill I honed during my first year of grad.  Developing and practicing this skill as early as possible in life will make you a better student and more than likely a better citizen since this skill spills over into other aspects in life beyond just school work.

  1. Prepare:  Initial idea for research, creating initial questions to answer in the paper, and starting a research journal
  2. Determine Keywords:  Using broad searches and generalized information to develop search keywords
  3. Find the Granddaddy of the Field:  Finding the base to build the research upon
  4. Find and Understand Your Research Base
  5. Find Researchers Who've Cited the Granddaddy Authors
  6. Reevaluate Your Questions and Start Writing
  7. The Process Is NOT Linear
For this Instructable to be as useful as possible, it is important to begin this process as soon as you are assigned the paper.  You can write a paper quickly, but pulling research is dependent upon libraries and availability.  So far as I know, public libraries in the US have Interlibrary Services (ILS) which includes interlibrary loan.  If your local public library does not have the actual research on hand, they can request the research from another library.  This takes time but will make for a better paper.  If you HAVE to procrastinate on something, procrastinate on writing the final paper, but obviously it's best if you don't procrastinate at all.  Plus gathering research, in my opinion, is a far less painful experience than writing the paper.

Approximately half of the time between the assignment and the due date should be spent on researching the paper, and the other half should be spent on writing it.  If you are conducting an experiment or a study, you must allot time for that as well.
I'll be using organizational clothing and gender as an example because I'm somewhat comfortable with that topic though I'm not an expert.  It's just a convenience example (please groan if you get the semi-pun).

Note:  If you want to discuss the subject I'm using as an example, please talk to me via pm rather than through a comment on this Instructable.  I'm more than happy to answer any questions.
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dchall84 years ago
It is all good but it is important to understand "The process is NOT linear." It is certainly iterative but sometimes comes with epiphany where you can fill the gaps by yourself instead of making leap of faith from concept to another.
AngryRedhead (author)  dchall84 years ago
It depends on what you're writing. I'm used to writing social science papers/research, so I reserve the analysis for the discussion or conclusion. The bulk of the research tends to go in the intro with only a few bits in the methodology for stuff like statistics and study design, so the intros are like short research papers. The discussion is where I tie the results/analysis back to existing research, but generally research papers are pretty darn dry in my opinion even if they are extraordinarily informative. You summarize the research and say something in conclusion to what the research has shown or not shown. I think one of the dryest (but really, really informative) research papers I read was on the psychometrics of the Beck Depression Inventory - it was 30 pages long, single spaced, excluding the bibliography. Basically, in the social sciences, you don't fill the gaps unless you can document it. You can just say that there is one and potentially hypothesize saying more research needs to be done. Filling the gap is what gets people in trouble (e.g., "Black women are like this because they're part black man and part white woman so there's no need to include them in research"). If you fill a gap without documentation, tread carefully.
Guess I should have explained myself better the first time. Often when doing research the researcher does not understand the leap from point A to point D, regardless of the fact that points B and C are fully explained in the research. By looking at it non linearly (repetitively and iteratively), it is often the case that the epiphany will happen where the researcher "sees" the connection from A to B to C to D. If you have not done your research, you can't see it.  I did not mean to say that you could just make something up to fill the gap.  Although such thinking could lead the researcher to look harder for events that are suspected to be missing from the current research. 

I like the idea of the post-it notes.  You can rearrange them as you see fit with some nomenclature that carries you from one to the other and a different nomenclature that carries you from one to another in a different arrangement of notes.  Such nomenclature might be "Wojohoitz needed to discover [a particular note] before she could discover [a different note]." 
AngryRedhead (author)  dchall84 years ago
Ahhhh!!! Got it! Sorry!

Well, I guess my reply might be worthwhile to someone who might not realize that filling the gaps on your own might not be such a good idea, but you're right about epiphanies and things not adding up until the research is complete. When it all starts falling into place, you know you're getting close to the end.

I'm glad you like the post-it's. I remember back in junior high school and high school, my English teachers would make us do crazy tedious journals that required far more time than what was helpful. It would have been better if they'd allowed us to scribble down stuff and write notes with ideas and such. That's become my method, and I have used a combination of post-it notes, legal pads, and Word files. The post-it notes were used mainly in library books so I could highlight passages and write down thoughts without destroying the books and getting in trouble.

Again, sorry for the misunderstanding!!
1tri2god4 years ago
It took 9 submissions to finally learn how to publish! My wife says she's gifted with only 3! And the buttkicker was always in the preparation! This is a great 'able. It will definitely shorten the learning curve for future journal authors! Awesome job!
kelseymh4 years ago

What a great I'ble! I am stunned that you actually wrote paragraphs with complete sentences, connected ideas, and punctuation! Did you learn that stuff in, like, school or something? ;->

Did you have your Post-It's left over from a previous paper, or did you create them specially just to take pictures? Either way, reading the notes is great fun.

AngryRedhead (author)  kelseymh4 years ago
Ha! I was particularly careful with this Instructable to have proper grammar and spelling. I even got an edit before publishing. Shhhh!

I made the post-it's special and scanned them, but I followed the same process I did while I was researching and writing the introduction to this particular paper.
Ninzerbean4 years ago
This is an excellent Instructable and a real keeper, wish I had had this know-how in school.
AngryRedhead (author)  Ninzerbean4 years ago
Thanks! I wish I'd known all this back in high school.