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The Freshman’s Guide to Doing Research

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One of the most frightening things for many freshmen is the dreaded research paper. These can be quite intimidating especially when you’re already struggling with essay writing. Thankfully, research papers really aren’t difficult, they’re just time consuming. What you’re doing is going on a scavenger hunt. And, like any good hunt, you need to start with a list of things that you’re looking for, search for them, and then put them in the figurative basket. Here’s a plan that will help you make the most of your search, and get a good grade on that final project.

1. Read the Syllabus and Assignment Carefully

This may sound obvious, but it’s something that students often neglect to do, either because they assume they already know the assignment, or because it’s 6 AM, the paper is due in a few hours and you feel like you don’t have time to read the instructions However, it is also worth your time to read all of the instructions. Many instructors and professors deduct points for not following the instructions, especially in lower-level courses Before starting research, make sure you fully understand all aspects of the assignment. If you need help understanding the instructions, don’t hesitate to ask for it professors with PhDs tend to write in academic-ese that can be difficult for freshmen to decipher. If need be, take notes on the assignment itself, even if it feels silly; the better you understand what you are going to do, the better your grade will likely be.

2. Plan Ahead

To use a trite metaphor, research is often like a journey. The first thing you need to know is a destination, and then you develop a map. If the first step was figuring out where you’re going, then this one is about figuring out how to get there. Depending on the assignment, you may already have an unresearched draft already written. If you do not, then you want to follow the same brainstorming and pre-writing processes that you’ve used for earlier essays to develop an unresearched draft. Even if it’s tempting to start with research, doing so is generally not a good idea; first of all, you’re more likely to simply repeat what others have said rather than develop your own ideas, and secondly, if you rely on other people’s ideas before developing your own, then it is much more likely that you will inadvertently commit plagiarism, for which the consequences are often severe.

Once you have an original and unresearched draft, then take a moment to summarize the arguments in each paragraph. This will do two things – first, it helps remind you of the arguments that you’ve made, and secondly, it’s a way of double-checking that your organization is logical. Once you’ve completed this step, then it’s time to develop a more detailed plan.

3. Develop a Research Plan And Search For Secondary Sources

When you looked back over your essay, there were likely places where you had to make some logical leaps, or where there were unanswered questions or assumptions that were made. In early drafts, this is often necessary, but when you revise and add research, you want to fill in these holes and strengthen your argument. The first step, then, is to identify those questions and assumptions. More than likely, your instructor or professor has likely provided you with feedback to help guide you, but if not, this is a good time to ask. Now think about how you want to go about completing the research. Does your instructor or professor have any requirements, for instance, that sources be from the library, a database, or peer-reviewed? Does he or she allow online sources? Regular websites, or only .edu? Once you complete this step, then the next step is to search in the relevant places Luckily, this is often the easiest part: just input the search terms that relate to your project in the relevant search, and you should get plenty of relevant sources.

4. Integrate Your Research

In between developing the plan and integrating, you’ll read over several sources looking for information relevant to your project. You want something that supports your conclusion, but does not necessarily say the same thing. Once you’ve found the relevant proof, then you’ll integrate it in the essay, using the secondary sources to support your own. Most of the time, if you’ve been smart about your planning and research, the integration will basically write itself and you’ll be able to focus on the fun of discoveries and watching your paper come together! Research really isn’t that hard. If you look at it like a scavenger hunt where you have a list of things that you must find then it’s actually a lot of fun. And, best of all, you’ll almost be assured an A on that final project.

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