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The outcome of any serious research can only be to make two questions grow where only one grew before.
Thorstein Veblen, 1857 - 1929
American economist/sociologist

Writing series

3. Writing an essay: research

Develop your time line
Allow for editing, revision and unexpected developments

  • Inspiration phase:
    This is continuous to prevent losing ideas and inspirations
    Keep a convenient place to organize phrases, vocabulary, events, etc. for later use
  • Research phase; information gathering and recording:
    Do not copy research word-for-word unless using quotes to illustrate ideas.
    The goal is to transform source material into your ideas and organization while adequately representing the authors in a neutral manner.
    Keep a good record of source material for citations and bibliography.
  • Organizing/prewriting phase
    with concept mapping, outlining, even brainstorming
    Determine how you will build the scenes of your argument, narrative, story, etc.
    See our definitions of writing terms in our Guides.

Research phase; information gathering and recording:

Document all interviews, readings, experiments, data, websites, reports, etc.
People: instructor, teaching assistant, research librarian, tutor, subject matter experts, professionals

  1. Develop research strategies and a list of resources
  2. Narrow your topic and its description;
    Pull out key words and categories
    Develop a list of key words--50 or so--that form the foundation of both your research and writing. Build the list from general sources and overviews
  3. Bring your topic and keyword list
    to a local research librarian, teacher, support professional on resources available
    Text books (!), reference works, web sites, journals, diaries, professional reports
  4. International conventions of copyright govern the use
    and reproduction of all material: all information should be properly cited
    c.f. our guide on citing websites for models

What are some resources?

    • Search engines
      c.f. Search Engine Colossus with links to search engines from 148 countries
    • Directories and portals on the Internet that categorize/organize information and links
      c.f. Open Directory Project; Librarians Index to the Internet; Infomine
    • Web sites devoted to particular topics, including text, graphics, movies, music files
      e.g. Internet Directory for Botany
    • Government documents, forms, laws, policies, etc.
      c.f. U.S. Government Printing Office disseminates official information from all three branches of the United States Federal Government
    • Services and information by
      non-profit organizations and by for-profit businesses
    • LISTSERVs or discussion groups
      c.f. L-Soft "the official catalog of LISTSERV® lists"
    • Resources at your local (public) library
      These may require membership or registration
    • Newspaper, journal, magazine databases
      Often restricted to subscribers, require registration, or can be fee-based for access

Using an Internet search engine:
Find the best combination of key words to locate information you need;
Enter these in the search engine

  • Refer to known, recommended, expert, or reviewed web sites
  • Review the number of options returned.
    If there are too many web sites, add more keywords.
    If there are too few options, narrow/delete some keywords,
    or substitute other key words
  • Review the first pages returned:
    If these are not helpful, review your key words for a better description
  • Use advanced search options in search engines:
    Search options include
    • Key word combinations, including Boolean strings
    • Locations where key words are found
      For example: in the title, 1st paragraphs, coded metadata
    • Languages to search in
    • Sites containing media files (images, videos, MP3/music, ActiveX, JAVA, etc.)
    • Dates web sites were created or updated
  • Research using several search engines
    Each search engine has a different database of web sites it searches
    Some "Meta-Search" engines actually search other search engines!
    If one search engine returns few web sites, another may return many!
  • Evaluate the content of the web sites you've found:
    c.f. the Study Guide Evaluating web site content
    Beware referencing blogs as they are basically opinions and not "fact"
  • Track your search:
    List resources you checked; the date your checked them
    Identify the resource, especially its location and the date you found it
    c.f. index card system
  • When printing, set your options to print the
    Title of the page | the Web address | the date printed

Seven stages of writing assignments:

Index | Develop your topic (1) | Identify your audience (2) |
Research (3) | Research with notecards | Summarizing research |
Prewrite (4) | Draft/write (5) | Revise (6) | Proofread (7)