Writing a Research Paper and Doing Research
- Writing a research paper
- What a research paper/project is and is not
- Good research habits: keeping track of your work
- Balancing sources
- Books and the library catalog
- Internet searching
- Searching for articles
- Using the subscription databases (online referenes)
- Using PortaPortal
- Using the ebooks (Gale Virtual Reference Library)
Writing a research paper
Throughout your years in school, you will acquire many skills that are useful to you in school and in college, and later in life. Learning to do research, and to write a paper or create a project based on that research, is one of these basic skills.
What a research paper/project is and is not
A research paper is not a report, like the ones you may have written in earlier grades in school. You will not be asked to collect facts on frogs or castles and write an essay about them. A research paper must always include analysis. This means that you will be gathering information, making connections between what you have found, and drawing your own conclusions. In order to write a research paper, you must read and think critically, organize your thinking and writing, and express yourself clearly and intelligently.
Most research papers that you will write in high school are based on secondary research. This means that you are locating your information in a variety of places instead of developing the information yourself, as if you were a scientist recording the results of a laboratory experiment, or a newspaper reporter at the scene of an event. If your research were about, for example, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, it would certainly need to be secondary research because you weren’t there to see it in person. You would have to find the information you need in books or articles or on websites.
Sometimes, students are concerned that if all of their information comes from other sources, it will appear to their teachers that they have “copied” everything from somewhere. But remember, you’re not supposed to make anything up; all of your information has to come from somewhere else. It’s the only way it can be done.
An important part of the process is showing your teacher exactly where all your information did come from. This process is called DOCUMENTATION. This is part of good, honest scholarship; it’s important to give credit to the authors and editors who have collected information for you to use. It allows you to show your teacher how you did your work, just as you may show your work in a math class.
Good research habits
It’s a good idea to keep track of your work as you go, making notes on your research along the way. Staying organized in your research will make it easier to get it done. Unless your teacher gives you checklists to help you do this, you’ll need to find a method of organization that works for you. You might try using index cards, one for each task, such as
- Notes due on Dec. 5
- Need three print sources
You may prefer to type up a checklist and work that way. It’s a good idea to keep a separate folder for each research project and keep all related materials together in one place.
It is incredibly important to make sure that you always have the citation information for each source you’ve used right along with the source information itself. If you’re working with a book or other printed source, photocopy the title page and back of the title page too, and staple them together with the photocopies of the pages. If you’re working with a website, make sure you’ve printed out the pages with all the citation information that you’ll need. Keep everything together.
As soon as you begin working at the computer, remember: SAVE YOUR WORK! Then save it again. Then save it again someplace else. “The network was down” is not an acceptable excuse for handing in a research paper late.
Information is available in a wide range of formats and places. Each information source needs to be evaluated for its usefulness to you and to the project at hand. It is never a good idea to use only one kind of source when gathering information for a research paper.
Information is generally available in these kinds of formats:
- Print, including books, reference books, ebooks (electronic books), and pamphlets
- Periodical articles, including magazines and newspapers, either in print or online
- Online subscription information provided by libraries
- Internet sites, including those found through searches and those found by recommendation
- Video and audio recordings and their transcriptions
- Interviews with other people who are authorities in relevant fields
Make sure that you’ve selected your information from a balanced selection of sources, and not just from one kind. The 9th Grade Research Project will usually require you to use a minimum of three sources, including:
1 print source
1 magazine or newspaper article
You’re not limited to those three; you can use two books, one article, and one website, or some other combination. But you can’t use less than the three different required sources.
Books: Pro and Con
The high school library has approximately 16,000 books in it. All of our books are arranged in order according to a system (called the Dewey Decimal System) that keeps books with similar subject matter together. To find the book that you’re looking for, you need to use the index to the library, which is called the Library Catalog. You can reach the Library Catalog from the library home page, and from a shortcut on the desktop of all the computers in the library. Ebooks, which come to us via the Gale Virtual Reference Library, contain the same information as their printed counterparts, and are considered book sources. (See below for more.)
- Information in books is often in more depth than information on websites
- Books in libraries come from reputable publishers who stand behind the authority of their authors.
- Books in libraries have been selected by the librarians based on book reviews, and are generally related to the subjects taught in our school.
- Books often provide historical information that hasn’t been put onto the Internet yet.
- The information in books is often not as up-to-date as information on the Internet because of the time it takes to write and publish books.
A good search engine will help you find what you’re looking for on the Internet. A search engine is a program that looks through the titles and content of pages all over the Internet to match the words that you’re looking for. The most popular search engines are Google and Yahoo! The most important thing to think about when deciding which search engine you should use is whether or not it works for you. If you try the same search engine again and again and almost never get the results you’re looking for, try a different one.
- A good search engine can help you pinpoint exactly what you’re looking for on the Internet.
- A search engine may return results with the most popular site listed first, which may be exactly what you’re looking for.
- A search engine is often the fastest way to find what you’re looking for.
- A search engine can often help you with the details of your search, such as correcting the spelling on names and words that you used as your search terms.
- In most cases, a Google search will come up with a Wikipedia article first, and Wikipedia is not accepted as a research source.
- You have to think of the best words to use in your search, or your results may be nothing at all like what you need.
- A search engine that returns too many results will be hard to work with, without any guidance for narrowing down the results to a workable number.
- Many of the results will be advertising, and not informational sources.
- If you have a good idea of your subject, and you know that there are other specific places that have information for you (see below), a search engine is NOT the best way to begin.
Because it would be impossible to keep magazines forever so that students could look for articles in them, we have online subscriptions to periodical indexing services. These make it possible for you to search, just as you would search the Internet, but your results will only be articles from newspapers and magazines. Some of these services are provided by the state of New Jersey at no cost to all school and public libraries, and these are available to you both in school and from home. Other indexing services are purchased by the library for a fee, and can only be used in the library, or in school.
- Articles in newspapers and magazines are current, and are added to the online indexing services every day.
- Historical newspaper and magazine articles are also available, providing information that is often difficult to find in any other form.
- Articles are generally shorter than books, and may be easier to work with.
- Each article is usually about a narrow, specific topic, although articles can be found on a very wide range of topics.
- Periodical indexes usually offer a full-text version of the available articles, and not just a summary, as indexes used to do.
- All the information you’ll need for your works cited or references page are supplied along with the printout of the article.
- You’re limited to the subjects covered by the major newspapers and by magazines, and although this is a very wide range, there’s a slight possibility that your topic won’t be covered.
- Photographs are usually not included along with the articles.
- The indexes often return results for newspaper and magazine columns (as opposed to feature articles), which usually provide very little information but may make up the bulk of your results lists.
In addition to the reference books that the library buys in print, we subscribe to several online reference databases for you to use. Some of these can only be used in the library, but many are available for access at home as well.
- Although each one is about a specific category of information (such as world news, or novels), they provide a tremendous amount of detail for the subjects they cover.
- They are continuously updated by their publishers.
- They are created by the same companies that publish reference books, and so they are extremely reliable sources of information.
- They can be searched the same way you would search the Internet, although you will frequently have the option to select a sub-category first, narrowing down your search before you even begin.
- They often include excellent illustrations, photographs, charts, maps, graphs, etc.
- Some of the subscription databases require you to move through several levels of menus until you can begin searching.
- From time to time, our subscriptions may be temporarily unrecognized, making the databases unavailable. (This is a technical problem.)
Electronic books have the same content as printed books, but can be searched like other online sources, and selections can be printed out. Reference books in ebook form are best viewed on a computer screen, although ebooks for pleasure reading (not available in our library at this time) are often read on hand-held readers, such as the Kindle, or on smartphones, such as the iPhone.
- Electronic keyword searching can make it easier to find information within an ebook than it is in its printed counterpart.
- Electronic searching will search multiple ebook titles in a single search.
- Articles can be printed, saved, or emailed.
- All articles in the Gale Virtual Reference Library are accompanied by the complete, correct MLA citation for your Works Cited page.
- Like printed books, the content of ebooks is not updated unti a new edition of the book is published.
- Content is limited to the titles owned by the library.
Just as librarians choose books to buy for the library, and help you find books that will help you for a particular assignment, the librarian also keep lists of websites that may be useful to you in your research. The list is extensive, and is arranged by categories that have been developed to help you find information you need for your school work.
- According to Joseph Gibaldi, in the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 6th edition:
“Whenever possible, follow the guidance of an instructor, an academic department, or a librarian in selecting Internet sites for research.” Our PortaPortal is the list of recommended sites that has been prepared for you by our library.
The links in the list are often very specific to the assignments you have been given.
- All of these sites have been visited by the high school librarian before being placed on the list.
- If there is a site listed that relates to your work, you can find the information you need very fast.
- The list is not meant to be complete, as a Yahoo! list of categories would be, but only lists sites that the librarian has seen. The topic you’re looking for may not be there at all.
- Some of the sites on the list may no longer be valid because of the difficulty in removing dead links from the list frequently.