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Conducting research for your paper: how to organize your work

Jun 17, 2013 - Posted to  Research Paper Writing
No matter what subject you are taking in academia, at a certain point it will require that you do research. When you think of research you probably think of science, but there are all sorts of subject matter that will require that you find outside sources to support your ideas, or facts. Sometimes the hardest part of doing research is knowing where to find it, how to sort through it, and what parts are pertinent to your subject and which are outside the scope of your discussion. With so much information available from so many different sources, deciphering through which are useful and which aren't is not always an easy task.
When writing any paper it is important to organize your paper before you begin, knowing where to find the information you need to substantiate your assertions. If you make any claims in your research paper, you need to back it with proof. Proof can come in the form of an argument, or it can come from finding credible sources that agree with your statements. Once you have done the research there are steps to follow to organize what you have found to make your paper more credible and supported.

Where to find sources for your research

There are different places that you can look to find information depending on what you are trying to research. Some of the places to find the best cited sources are:
  • Journals
  • Academic papers
  • Text books
  • First hand interviews
  • The internet
There are many credible sources and these are just a few. The most important thing to make sure when you are using a source is that you know where it is coming from. When you use information from the internet it is sometimes hard to find the originating source. It is not appropriate to cite second hand sources. If an article is referencing a specific article, or work, you must go back to the origin to cite it. Second hand citation is not an appropriate way to use information.
Also, if you are citing a "professional" it is important to make sure that they are actually a professional. Not everything that is written on the internet is from credible sources, or people who should be held in high esteem. In academic work it is imperative that you only use sources who have the credentials to be making the assertions, or the proof to back up their results, or findings.

Where to start researching for your paper

Once you have decided on a thesis for your paper, it will set the tone for the entire work. Making sure that you have a clear defined thesis, is therefore the cornerstone of organizing and outlining your research paper. The steps to organizing your research are:
  • Choose a thesis
  • Make an outline of key points
  • Define what organizations or where you can find credible sources
  • Do a Google or internet search to find the most recent research available
  • Check the library catalog to find excerpts for the subject you chose
Finding out where the information is is the key to finding the information you need to begin.

Once you have identified sources to look through

Once you have identified the key sources to use for your research, begin compiling the information in such a way:
  • Begin by skimming the most relevant information first
  • Go to the table of contents to get to the key points for your research - often times it will not be necessary to read an entire article. Reading the abstract, or excerpts, is often times enough to get the supporting information that you need
  • Go to the chapters that contain the information that you need instead of reading the entire body
  • Go to any summaries that are available
  • If you find a source that has exactly what you need, spend some more time reading carefully
  • Once you find information that is relevant, look to the reference page to see where other information that is linked to the article is
  • Search out the links and do the same with them
Researching is like following a trail. Once you find the leader which is the article which is most pertinent to your subject, chase the reference page and citing to find other works that match with the information that is contained within it. Once you have gotten to the link in the chain where it begins to branch from what you are looking for, you have reached the end of the chain to investigate.

Final tips

Sometimes knowing where to look to find the information you need for a research paper is the most difficult part of finding it. The first step in doing research for any paper is clearly defining the thesis of what the paper will entail. By clearly defining the thesis, or point of the paper, you will be able to make arguments and find the information that will be necessary to substantiate them. By making an outline of what you are going to write, outlining the arguments point by point, you will know where you need to find the credentials you will need to substantiate them.
Finding research is not the hard part, finding research that is relevant is. Learning to sort through all the works that will be available is an important skill that will take time. Not reading entire journals, but instead, learning to skim for the important information is something that will save you a lot of time, and will teach you to only use the information that is needed for your individual topic. Using abstracts, summaries and works cited from other articles are a good way to organize what needs to be read and what can be skipped. Overall, it is important when using any source for research that you know the validity of the source you are using. Making sure they are credible and have the proof to substantiate their claims lends validity to your research paper as well.
By Martha Buckly. Martha is an experienced writer. She helps students with academic writing and editing by sharing her knowledge and completed works.
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