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.
- Prepare: Initial idea for research, creating initial questions to answer in the paper, and starting a research journal
- Determine Keywords: Using broad searches and generalized information to develop search keywords
- Find the Granddaddy of the Field: Finding the base to build the research upon
- Find and Understand Your Research Base
- Find Researchers Who've Cited the Granddaddy Authors
- Reevaluate Your Questions and Start Writing
- The Process Is NOT Linear
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.
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.
Step 1: Prepare
Example: Are women treated unfairly when it comes to expectations about clothing at work?Tip: Stand out from the crowd when selecting a topic. Professors and teachers will often give a list of recommended topics - select the one that you think others won't tackle. By standing out from the crowd, your paper will be more special, and there won't be an in-class comparison. You will have the additional benefit of learning about something you might not have considered. Remember that anything can be interesting once you learn something about it. If you select a topic that someone else is also covering, you better make sure you write it better than your classmate.
Second, you need a list of questions that you will have to answer in some manner. This list will grow as your research progresses, but at the start you should have a pretty good idea of what you'll have to say. Keep a running log of the questions you need to answer. The questions can be answered in anything ranging from half a sentence to 30+ pages. By using questions, it's easier to keep an open mind about your initial research idea, and they won't limit you as much as hard statements. This is probably why I don't like traditional outlines until a paper has been finalized and about to be submitted. There are just too many unknowns unless you are the expert in your field.
Example: What do women wear to work? What do men wear to work? Does clothing affect promotion and hiring? What impact does clothing have socially?At this point, you should start a journal of your research, questions, and thoughts. This "journal" can literally be a Word file, a yellow legal pad, post-it notes, or whatever will work for your situation. You just need some sort of log to keep track of what you're doing and what you're thinking. You do not need to catalog a full and proper bibliography as you go because that will get tedious and frustrating VERY quickly. Generally, you can find the paper you need so long as you scribble down the title and authors. Sometimes you just need the title because many titles are unique, and a title works as a good memory jog in case you forget why you wrote down that particular publication.
Step 2: Determine Keywords
If you are starting off in a new field and don't really know much about it, it's very important to first determine the keywords (or jargon) needed for running effective searches. This requires roughly learning the field as a whole or figuring out what field will answer your big question most effectively, and it can be as simple as trolling through Wikipedia for a few minutes. Yes, you should not cite Wikipedia because the information cannot be verified, but you can certainly read it for your own personal edification.
Example: I want to learn more about professional clothing and differences between men and women, but I do not know how to search for that in a scholarly way. Searching for "professional clothing and differences between men and women" in Google Scholar pulls a bunch of nonspecific garbage as far as this particular research goes. It'd be even worse if I used PsychInfo or some of the other search engines. However, if I throw those words into Google, I see that "gender" is a big word to use, so I search for "professional clothing and gender". Still there's a bunch of garbage, so I eliminate the word "professional" and search for "clothing and gender". Google recommends searching for "clothing and culture" so I tack on "gender" and search for those three words. Again, Google pulls some recommendations, and this time the word "society" appears which makes me think that the research I need is probably within the general field of social psychology. I search for "social psychology clothing gender" and BINGO! Jackpot! The Social Psychology of Clothing: Symbolic Appearances in Context by Susan Kaiser. That sounds like the perfect book to get the research started (and indeed it is).
The process might seem a bit drawn out, but as you get started into just figuring out what exactly you should search for, the word selection will tighten up. Start broad with what you already know. Switch out words. Find a starter piece that's very broad but one that will get you on the right track.
If you start this process as soon as possible, like you should, you can request research and keyword leads from classmates, teachers/professors, and strangers on the internets.
Step 3: Find the Granddaddy of the Field
If you come across something that at least somewhat resembles what you want to write about, read the abstract and look through the bibliography which are generally two things you can get easily off any search engine. Rinse and repeat until you see a pattern in the bibliographies. Typically, you will notice 1-4 authors being consistently cited.
Example: Pratt and Rafaeli are the big wigs who write a lot about "social psychology", "organizational dress", and "gender".
Step 4: Find and Understand Your Research Base
And look through their bibliographies. If there are an additional 1-4 authors that they rely upon, check if it is necessary for you to cite those additional authors as well. Sometimes the person/people you thought were key turn out to be secondary to the true source. Often the works underlying the granddaddy authors are key to underlying theory, and you should at least understand those theories if it isn't pertinent to cite those authors specifically.
Example: There's the theory of fashion as communication and a function of culture.
Step 5: Find Researchers Who've Cited the Granddaddy Authors
Read through the titles and abstracts of your search results and pull the pieces that you believe to be key to your research. For each one, read the intro and conclusion. Based on the title, abstract, intro, and conclusion, start finalizing the necessary pieces for your research and reading through the rest of the papers (method, results, discussion, etc.). At this point it becomes necessary to start cataloging the papers that you find.
It is necessary to know if the research you are trying to do has already been done. If it has already been done, don't fret. You are allowed to duplicate the study, change the methodology, or go in a slightly different direction. At this point in the research, you will start seeing gaps in what's been studied, but you need to double check if a gap truly exists. The list of keywords (and jargon) will be larger and more specific than when you started just by skimming through abstracts and titles, and you can double check the gap with these keywords that you have found to be most pertinent. At this point in the process, you may start discovering research that you haven't come across yet, so be sure to continue keeping tabs on pertinent research as you come across it.
Step 6: Reevaluate Your Questions and Start Writing
For the questions you've decided upon, start arranging them in the order in which you will need to answer them so that your paper flows in a logical manner. If questions are large, start breaking them down into smaller questions which will answer the larger question, but do not eliminate the larger question as a whole. Your arrangement of questions will serve as your outline.
Once you have your outline, start listing the authors you will cite to answer each question. There will be overlap.
Step 7: The Process Is NOT Linear
Writing a research paper is not a linear process. I have yet to research a paper, pull all the necessary research, write the paper, and not return to researching some more. As you write, you will discover unanticipated gaps.
Example: Exactly how relevant is fashion to people? I must show that fashion is indeed important in a substantive way with at least some figures and examples. I know it isn't just important to "fashionistas" and researchers.
When these gaps occur, write a note to the side explaining the gap and what you need to discuss. You can fill the gaps as they occur, or you can continue writing and fill the gaps at the end, or you can do some sort of combination.