How to Plan Your Research Effectively: 6 Steps to Success
Doing research is often even more difficult than writing the academic paper itself. Before starting the process, you need to make a pause and ask yourself, “How do I understand research?” If you clearly see the steps research involves, you’re much more likely to do it effectively and fast.
At this point, you may think, “I know how to research effectively. Research is research: I just google the information, pick the relevant pieces and voilà – this step is done. Now I can get to writing my essay.” Yes, you can do it this way. But what if you google and there are too many controversial or off-topic articles and books? Or, which is much more likely, not enough information you can use in your paper to back up your arguments, and you have no idea where you can find the relevant papers?
So what is involved in the research process? You should start your essay not with the Google search bar, but by outlining what you are going to look for. Academic advisors usually give advice on what you should start with. If they didn’t, the best way to start your research is to find the keywords in the topic of your research paper and to use them as starting points.
- identifying the direction and stages of your research
- collecting data
- taking notes of the most significant facts/data found in the process
- interpreting and analyzing the resources and identifying whether they are relevant to your topic
Using research effectively will help you not only meet the deadline and avoid stress but also improve your academic skills and get a solid grade for your paper. If you follow simple steps from the very beginning, research will no longer be such pain in the neck.
Steps to efficient research that will clarify it and make the process less challenging
1. Make sure the topic of your research is clear and excites you
It seems to be obvious at first but this is actually half success. You can’t imagine the amount of hurdles you will come across if you skip this step. Even if your topic doesn’t seem to be hard at first, try to dig deeper. Once you start your research, you can be surprised of the different paths you can take when the subject isn’t clear to you.
If you’re not sure in your expertise and understanding, go to your lecturer and ask for help. Busy as they may be, they are most willing to help students who are eager to learn. When you clarify the subject or make sure you were thinking in the right direction, your research will be much more productive. Thus, you’ll avoid any unnecessary work.
Research is driven by curiosity. If you’re interested in the topic, you will naturally want to learn more about it, and this is the best feeling you can have when doing research. It doesn’t even feel like an assignment anymore – you just look for more information and dig deeper every time.
Note: when choosing the topic, make sure there are enough articles and books on it. Otherwise, even if you like the subject and are curious, you won’t be able to write about it. Do a quick research to see what sources are available. If you find too little information, you may need to broaden your topic.
2.Determine the directions of your research
- Always check References sections
So you’ve typed in the keywords and phrases from your topic and found your first article on the topic. Even if it doesn’t seem to be relevant to its References to look for more. Usually, the authors of the works that have been published earlier, use great reputable books that can be helpful for your study. You’ll never regret checking the list of references, especially if Google seems to have no idea what has been written on your topic.
- Check out your textbooks and lectures notes
It’s often as simple as that – don’t neglect what your textbooks have to offer. Since they often give a generalized overview, they cite different and most prominent authors who dealt with the subject, so you can find a lot of useful references there. And yes, surprisingly enough, your lectures notes may also be a great resource – sometimes you make them without realizing they can provide you with invaluable facts and information.
- Don’t go past the library (and your college’s e-library, too!)
Your university database is a great resource for articles, too. However, you may find it overwhelming, so try to choose the relevant databases and formats that will be most suitable for your research. If you have questions about choosing the database, ask the assistant at the reference desk. A big advantage of using the university library is that most of the papers are available in full-text format.
3.Assess the credibility of your data
Even if you managed to find a lot of seemingly great sources, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all of them are trustworthy and can be used in your study. The data used in your academic essay should be not only relevant but also reliable. This is especially important if you rely on the internet resources greatly since a lot of them can end up being less than credible.
You can either try to evaluate the accuracy and credibility of the data you have found yourself or ask your academic advisor to give you some tips. No matter which option you’ll go for, we suggest that you read through the CARS Checklist for Information Quality. It’s a universal guide for the assessment of the information’s Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonableness, and Support. The checklist has the list of things you need to appraise (for example, author’s name and contact information, date of the article) as well as warning signs (for instance, the author is anonymous, the article has bad grammar, and typographical errors).
4.Take notes of the key takeaways in the process
In the research process, we usually read tons of articles and books, so it’s hard to remember everything unless you keep notes. There’s no need to write down the summaries of every paper you read. Note the information you can use in your study for easier access to the material when you need it. Again, you don’t have to copy the abstracts – write down a hint, the title and the author of the paper, and the page with the relevant data. It’ll save you a lot of time since when you go back to the article after you have read dozens of other works, it will be as if you are reading a new one unless you take notes.
Technologies make everything even easier these days – bookmark the data, highlight the quotes you’ll use in the essay, and use the keywords to quickly find the abstract you require.
Don’t forget to document the articles you read (not all of them, just the ones you will use for your research paper) to make sure you have them at hand when it’s time to compile your list of references. The most important things you will need to indicate in the list are the title of the article and its author, page numbers, and URL for online sources.
Most of the resources you cite should include:
- Source (a journal where the article was published)
- Edition, volume
- Year of publication
- City and country
- Publisher or university
- Page numbers
- URL (online sources)
- Retrieval date (for online sources with content that can be changed)
5.Writing your research paper
Here’s where the notes you’ve taken will be invaluable since the speed of your writing will greatly depend on the quality of those notes. If you have organized the papers you’ve found during the research process, most of the work is done. From now on, you just need to write about the data and facts you have found consistently and coherently (in a logical order and connecting them to your topic). If you haven’t taken notes diligently, you’ll most probably need extra work now to remember the things you’ve read about and connect the dots. Give your research paper a structure and start writing. You will do it!
6.Proper citing is crucial!
To avoid plagiarism, you need to follow the recognized citation formats, e.g. Harvard, MLA, or APA. The primary purpose of citation is not avoiding plagiarism, though. It’s used for giving credit to the authors of the papers you use and provides the reader with all the necessary data about the article or book you mention to find them in case they want to dig deeper into the topic. Just imagine yourself as an author of an extremely valuable book – you would want people to know about it and to be able to access it easily, wouldn’t you? Proper citation is your “thank you” to the authors of the material you use for their hard work and contribution to the industry.