Understanding your research topic is your first challenge. Here are some tips:
Background information can help you prepare for further research by explaining all the issues related to your topic, especially when you're investigating a field that's unfamiliar to you. Tips:
Not finding enough information? Think of related ideas, or read some background information first. You may not be finding enough information for several reasons, including:
Once you have a solid topic, formulate your research question or hypothesis, and begin finding information.
If you need guidance with topic formulation, Ask Us! Library staff are happy to help you focus your ideas.
Courtesy of the MIT Libraries
Too much information? Make your results list more manageable. Less, but more relevant, information is key. Here are some options to consider when narrowing the scope of your paper:
Not sure where to begin?
We recognize that many students will begin their search by performing an internet search for their topic. So, let's learn how to determine if the information you find on the web is appropriate to use in your research.
Let this be a beginning step in your research, not the only step.
Is the resource you've found on the web a good resource? How can we tell?
Why might an Internet search be a good place to start? Discovery
What makes a good resource?
Relevancy - Does this source deal specifically with your topic?
Scope - Does this source only mention your topic briefly or does a substantial portion of the resource discuss your topic?
Currency (as applicable to the topic) - When was this piece written? Does the age of the source affect its relevancy to your topic?
Credibility/Reliability - Who is the author? Do they have the authority to speak about this topic? What are the author’s credentials? Has this resource been reviewed by other experts in this field of study?
Purpose - Informative vs. Persuasive. What is the intention of this source? Is the author trying to persuade you or is the author presenting information? Is there a bias you should be mindful of?
Sources are divided into two main groups; primary and secondary.
Primary sources provide a firsthand account or insider's look at a specific person, a specific time period, or a specific event. If a primary source could speak to us it would say, “I was there; this is my experience or my experiment.” Examples of primary sources include diaries, personal journals, autobiographies, memoirs, personal correspondence, interviews, speeches, newspaper articles or news footage from a specific time in history, official records, original photographs, creative works such as plays, poetry, music, or art, and also original research data. Primary sources can be documents, photographs, film or video footage, and objects/artifacts. Please note that primary source does not necessarily equal factual source. Primary sources provide firsthand accounts of an event, experience, or experiment. It is up to you, the researcher, to evaluate each of those accounts individually to build an informed, knowledgeable, and well-rounded assertion about your topic.
A secondary source is an interpretation or analysis of one or more primary sources. If a secondary source could speak to us it would say, “I wasn’t there but I read about it and these are my thoughts on the matter.” Examples of secondary resources include such publications as biographies, commentaries, criticisms, textbooks, articles, and critical essays.
The first book on the left, I am Not Spock, was written by Leonard Nimoy and is his personal account of his experiences of portraying the character of Spock in the television series Star Trek. The next book, Star Trek: Movie Memories, was written by William Shatner who portrayed the character of Captain James T. Kirk and discusses his experiences during the creation of the Star Trek films. Each of these sources says to us, "I was there; this is my experience." These are primary sources.
The last book, Star Trek as Myth, is a collection of essays about Star Trek. This book is comprised of the different authors' interpretations and analysis of the mythology of the television series and films. This book says to us, "I wasn’t there, but I watched Star Trek and these are my thoughts on the matter." This book is a secondary resource.
5 Clues that the article is peer-reviewed:
Plagiarism is theft and has serious consequences in the academic world as well as in the professional world, so it is important that you understand what plagiarism is and how to avoid it.
When you use someone else's words, word for word, and do not use quotations and a citation to identify that these words were either spoken by or written by someone else, this is plagiarism. This is the most blatant form of plagiarism, but there are other practices that also constitute plagiarism. When you restate in your own words someone else's words or ideas, but do not cite the information or give credit to the person who originally had this thought, this is also considered plagiarism.
Plagiarism is not limited to words. It is important that you also give credit to artists and photographers for any images that you may utilize in your work, be it included in a research paper or a class presentation.
Did you know that you can also plagiarize yourself? Recycling your own written material to fulfill the requirements of another class is considered plagiarism. If you want to expound upon previous research that you have conducted, contact your instructor prior to beginning the assignment to see if you might be able to use your former research as a basis for, not a replacement for, your current assignment.
Using someone else's words, word-for-word, is acceptable only if you include quotation marks and citation information.
If you do not use quotations and a citation to identify that these words were either spoken by or written by someone else, you are plagiarizing!
Use direct quotes sparingly and make sure your quotes have purpose.
When you do choose to include a quote, you should also always include your analysis of the quote.
Don’t end your paragraph with a quote. Always add your interpretation of the quote that is of equal or greater value than the original thought.
Paraphrasing is an effective way to incorporate the thoughts and ideas of others that support your research. To paraphrase is to put into your own words the thoughts and ideas of others. Remember, even though these are your own words, since the idea or thought originated from someone else, you must cite your source!
Paraphrasing can be difficult for students because, typically, the original author has stated his or her thoughts so eloquently that we feel incapable of accurately representing the meaning of their words if we change the dictation of their thoughts. However, to fully incorporate other's words, thoughts, and ideas, you must be able to tell in your own words why this idea applies to your research.
Tips for paraphrasing:
Being able to properly paraphrase requires having a firm grasp of your topic. To avoid inadequate paraphrasing, make sure you understand what you are reading and/or researching. This may require speaking with your professor about the text or it may be as simple as making sure you are reading enough of the text to truly comprehend what the author is discussing.
Paraphrasing means to put an idea into your own words, which will include incorporating your own syntax. Changing only the words of the original text and not the sentence structure is not true paraphrasing.
Some ways to avoid improper paraphrasing:
Avoid copying and pasting information into your paper unless you plan to use the text as a direct quote. Remember, direct quotes should be used sparingly and with purpose.
Avoid looking directly at the original source text when writing your paper.
It is better to read the original text, lay it out of eyesight and then try to explain in your own words what you just read.
Think of paraphrasing as a phone call to a friend. Your friends don’t want you to read your textbook to them, they want to hear in your own words what you have been studying. Try to explain it to them; this is paraphrasing.
A citation provides the opportunity for your reader to locate your sources if they would like to learn more about your subject.
A citation proves that the ideas you have are supported by others in the academic community which lends validity to your paper.
A citation notifies the reader of your paper:
Who – who wrote or spoke these words or ideas originally? Who originally created this picture or graphic?
Where – where (in what source) did you locate these words, ideas or images?
More specifically, to cite a source is to provide your reader with the following information:
Author’s or Creator’s Name
Title of Work
Publication Information (Publisher, Date and Place of Publication)
Page Number(s) if applicable
Medium of Publication
In-text citations are especially important. It is not enough to simply list at the end of your paper the list of your references. You must cite the quoted or paraphrased section as soon as it appears in your paper.
Citations vary depending on citation style which often varies by discipline. However, some rules remain constant across disciplines:
You should always cite a direct quote or paraphrased passage.
You should always provide either in-text citations, end-notes or footnotes. Providing only a bibliography or reference page is not acceptable.