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Research Process

Page history last edited by Jon Brammer 14 years, 8 months ago

There are 101 ways to go about doing competent research, and this page will only focus on one common method that will produce a very straightforward, college-level research paper.  The first thing to acknowledge is that different instructors have different ideas about what constitutes "good' research.  Some college professors firmly believe that research is a text of will: it needs to be tedious, time-consuming, and unrelated to a student's life.  Other instructors are at the opposite end of the spectrum: research is all about "I-search" and personal narrative and how a student's thinking is changed by reading an abstract from 1975.  Luckily, most college instructors fall somewhere in between these two extremes.  That still means you need to be aware of what your instructor expects.



Understand the research assignment

This is a no-brainer, but very important.  Read over the assignment sheet on the research you are being expected to do.  What are the requirements for breadth and depth?  Are there mandatory elements like academic journals, specific texts, or primary sources?  Are there expectations about format (e.g. MLA, APA, Turabian-style, etc...) and documentation?  Is there a specific level of complexity your instructor expects? Is there a page length requirement? If you have questions about any of these basics, ASK YOUR INSTRUCTOR!  Don't wait until two days before the paper is due to do that!  Most college instructors will be perfectly happy to give you some more details.



Select your topic

This is also a no-brainer, but something you need to consider early in the process.  Is the topic specific, guided, or completely open?  For example, in an introductory psychology class the topic of cognitive development would be specific, the topic of "something to do with thinking" would be guided, and "whatever you want to write about" would be open.  Sometimes, the most obvious choices for topic are not the ones that will be the easiest to write about or the ones that give you enough complexity to fill out the page requirement.  As much as you can, CHOOSE SOMETHING THAT INTERESTS YOU!  Just about every instructor can smell a piece of bored student research a mile away.  Think about this: if you like the topic, you will like writing about it more; if you like writing about it, that will come out in the paper; if your instructor sees that, he or she might enjoy reading the paper more...it’s a win, win, win for everyone!



Develop a research question or set of questions

There is more information out there about your topic than you can possibly use.  In fact, there isn't much you CAN'T look up on Google these days.  Developing a research question or set of questions will help you focus your information gathering.  Take a look at the example below.  The first statement will be a general topic.  Asking questions about the topic will help narrow the focus.  Then, turning a provocative statement into a question can assist in shaping your work.


·         Topic: personality disorders (too broad- focus by asking what would an uninformed reader want to know about this?)

·         Refined topic- personality disorders and how they impact people's lives (better, but still broad.)

·         More refined topic- the impact of personality disorders on daily life- (better still, this is even more focused, but aren't there MANY personality disorders?)

·         Focused topic- the impact of borderline personality disorder diagnosis on daily life- (good, now turn it into a QUESTION to ask of your sources)

·         Useful research question- How does the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder impact daily life?


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Comments (1)

Answer Blip said

at 2:57 pm on Feb 10, 2010

I came across these great research tools and sites http://www.encyclopedia.com which has over 100 dictionaries and encyclopedias, http://www.highbeam.com which has over 80 million archived articles, and http://www.answerblip.com which has current facts and information.

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