How to Research Effectively
Good academic writing uses information from multiple sources to support its main ideas. For example, unless you personally are an expert on water conservation efforts in China, you are going to need to research information about it if it’s your topic for writing. Of course, in academic writing, research means different things, but primarily:
*visiting the library
*using the Internet
*talking to experts
Libraries are important sources of information–nothing compares to browsing shelves of books or journals. If you are lucky enough to have access to a good library, be sure you visit it and make use of it. Talk to the librarians, and really learn how the library can help your research.
In the modern era, the internet is the most popular forum for our research. Whether using a search engine, reading online documents, searching databases, or asking questions in forums, we can find almost anything we are looking for. The main problem with the Internet, of course, is that we don’t always know the reliability or quality of the information we find there. If you do internet research, answer these questions about any source you find on the Internet:
Who wrote it? (If you can’t find an author, find out what organization sponsors it.) If you cannot find an author or organization, you should doubt the information’s reliability. If you’ve never heard of the author or organization, look them up to learn more about them. Does the author support his or her ideas? If the author states facts or statistics, does he or she say where this information came from? Does the author use reliable sources, or just rely on his or her own opinion?
Is the information up to date? If it is important that your information is current, does the author include a date of publication so you know how current the information is? When was it written?
Talking to experts
One source of information that is often overlooked is talking to experts. ”Experts” aren’t just people who are famous professionals; if you are writing an essay about child-rearing practices, speaking to young mothers might help your research. Think about your topic–is there anyone you could talk to?
If you speak to an expert, be sure you get permission to use her or his words in your research. Also, give your experts proper credit in your paper. If they wish to remain anonymous, be sure you honor that wish as well.