If any of you are in a BA program like I am, then chances are that this time of year – when everyone else is screaming “EXAMS ARE COMING!” – has you hunched over a pile of books, huddled in front of computer screen, and pumping out essays like a well-oiled machine.
Yes – Essay season is on its way.
There are many components of a good essay. And there are certainly lots of things to do in advance to prepare for that essay – just ask my friend Monika (and then check out her blog post for some great tips on essay preparation)!
But one of the most important aspects of an essay is research. You could be the greatest writer in the world – but, if you don’t know what you’re talking about, it makes it pretty difficult to get an A.
So, as a supplement to Monika’s article, I thought I’d give you a step by step how-to for doing research – and doing it well!!
Step 1: BRAINSTORM AND INVESTIGATE YOUR TOPIC
Choosing a topic is something that is often taken for granted, as it seems like it would be the easiest part of doing a paper.
NAY NAY, my friends. Picking the topic of your research can be much more difficult than you think!
Why not give the ole’ mind map a try? A mind map is a brainstorming exercise in which one visually writes out a general area of focus (i.e. Animals) and then attempts to think of terms that all fall under that area of focus, yet are slightly different (i.e. cats, dogs, cows, etc). Then, you can create subsequent mind maps, narrowing down your area of focus little by little until you have a solid, well thought out, specific topic (i.e. how cats are fuzzy and cuddly, and why). The whole point of using a mind map is help you make connections between topics and terms, and it lets you visually map out your thinking so that you can refer back to it later! Check out the example above to see what I mean if you are still unsure.
Mind maps are a pretty sweet tool – and outside from helping you choose a topic to research, it helps you to find terms to use while researching. This will be important in step 3!
You can draw out mind maps by hand, however there are some websites and smartphone apps that allow you to create a mind map right from the web or when you’re on the go!
**Note – The first topic you choose is not necessarily written in stone. Although it is good to do some preliminary brainstorming, what you actually discover through your research may be what ultimately decides your topic or your angle on a particular topic. The mind map is just to get those brain juices flowing!
Step 1.5: TAKE A BREAK AND A BREATHER
Stay healthy, my friends! And don’t overwork yourself! Make sure to check out our friends over at Health Ed for some awesome tips on staying healthy!
Step 2: MAKE AN APPOINTMENT AT THE LEARNING COMMONS
Period. Do it. Book one now. Seriously, they are awesome. They will tell you everything you need to know about finding resources and about research services offered, such as inter-campus borrowing, RACER, and lots more! They can also show you all about research methods. For example, did you know that you can grow your search by putting OR between terms? Similarly, you can refine your search by adding AND in between terms! Furthermore, it is really important to place brackets around a set of terms, and to put quotations around a term that is more than one word!
To learn about all of this stuff and more, definitely make an appointment at the learning commons. It will change your life. Seriously.
Step 3: USE WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED AND DO YOUR RESEARCH
Go to town and find that shiz!
Once you leave your appointment at the Learning Commons feeling all pumped to research, just do it! Use what you’ve learned, and get to work!
Now, remember how I said that your mind map will be important in step three? Well, whip out that bad boy and start using some of those terms you thought of earlier to find content! As well, make sure to keep adding to your mind map along the way once you find more information, and don’t be afraid if what you find changes your original standpoint on your topic – that’s just our good friend learning doing its thing!
REMEMBER THOUGH: WHATEVER RESOURCES YOU FIND MUST BE CITED! I mean, you’ve got to give credit where credit is due, right? Always remember to cite all your sources and to keep track of where you found them. Furthermore, make sure to review methods on how to quote and paraphrase, as well as York’s Academic Integrity Policy & Test.
Need help citing? There is an awesome tool called Refworks that we have access to as York students – I’ll let Monika tell you all about that one, though.
These are the methods I use to do research. Feel free to comment below if you think there’s anything I missed – I’m all ’bout that learning-new-things lyfe.
Happy researching, folks!
~ Christopher Ford