[dropcap]Y[/dropcap]ou have been assigned to write a research paper, and now you need to do some research. You can find materials by searching your academic library and online databases. You will want to search in scholarly journals and publications are in the field. If you do not know which journals or which databases are most appropriate, talk to the reference librarian who can guide you in the right direction. Read a wide variety of materials on the topic, because the more materials you read on your topic, the more informed your paper will be.
Most likely, you have already read something on your topic in class. Use what you have as a starting point for your research. Look for additional works written by the author or authors of the book or article that you have already read and that you have found useful. Look at the bibliography, reference list, or works cited page of the papers or books for additional authors or publications you may wish to seek out. Read through the bibliography list and highlight any that seem like they would be of interest to you. Seek out those materials that you have noted as secondary sources because they may prove to be valuable primary sources if you can find them. Take your list of potential sources and try to find them in the library or through an online database.
You academic institution likely gives you access to a variety of online databases that will allow you to obtain articles from academic journals, books, and other primary sources. Through your library’s website, you will be able to access these databases. Most academic databases are subscription based, so you will need a current username and password assigned by your school. Some online databases are specific to a certain field, such as ERIC for research on education, while others, such as JSTOR, are multidisciplinary. If you are unfamiliar with which online databases are relevant to your field of research for the paper at hand, you may want to speak with a reference librarian at your school to learn which online databases or journals are available and in the field of study that you are researching. Do not be afraid to ask for help in doing your research. Reference librarians are there to assist you. They may be able to save you a great deal of time by pointing you in the right direction with your research.
Academic databases are an excellent way to quickly and efficiently find sources for your paper. Once you have logged on to the online database, you can search for articles by the author’s name, the topic (keyword), or the journal title. Using keyword searches will likely give you an overabundance of materials, so it is best to be very specific in your search. You may want to enter in more than one keyword search to narrow down your choices or limit the date range. Skim the abstracts that come up in your search, and then retrieve those articles, reports, or books that seem most relevant to your paper.
In addition to using academic databases, search for books, journals, or other materials in the library that may be useful to you. Again, the reference librarian can guide you if you are unsure of where to look. A simple search of the catalog at your library may give you many potential resources. Unpublished master’s theses and doctoral dissertations available in the library can be used in your research. You may also find books, reports, or journals that are unavailable online.
Searching the Internet for material is another option for research material, but you must use a great deal of critical thinking when using any materials that you find online. Be sure that the source is appropriate to an academic paper. Many online sources are unreliable and inaccurate. See our lesson Choosing Sources for more information on this. However, you may find some excellent reports, newspaper or magazine articles, or even books that will support your paper by doing a simple Internet search.
Keep in mind that you will read more research than you will actually use in your paper. You want to give yourself a good understanding of the topic, so you want to read as much material as possible. However, it is not necessary nor prudent to include all of your research in the paper. Be sure that what you include is directly related to the thesis statement of the paper and to the main idea of the paragraph you are writing. If you have thoroughly researched your topic, you will have read information that does only tangentially relates to the thesis and is not necessary to include in the paper.
While it may be easiest to simply search online for supporting materials for your paper, you need to dig a little deeper to thoroughly research the topic. Take advantage of the online databases that your academic library allows you to access. Do not overlook the library itself as it may provide materials that you will not be able to find either on the Internet or in online databases. Talk to the reference librarian if you are having difficulties. You should read as much as possible on the topic, but do not feel that it is necessary to use every source you read in your paper.
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