Twenty-first century students don’t need to spend a lot of time learning how to find information. After all, many of us are online every day retrieving information: reconnecting with people on Facebook, finding open classes through PiratesNet, downloading driving directions, weather forecasts, song lyrics, recipes, and other pieces of information that get us through the day.
But information retrieval is not research! Research requires that you find information, of course, but it also demands much more from you. The MLA Handbook defines research in terms of exploring ideas, probing issues, solving problems, or making arguments relating to existing ideas. Yes, students need information to complete these tasks, but the depth and breadth of information needed moves far beyond a single source.
Within the research process students also need considerable time to read the information they find, time to reflect on new information in terms of what they already know and what they are learning, and time to write multiple drafts of speeches/papers so that they can present your research as clearly, logically, and successfully as possible.
This guide offers you a set of steps to follow that will move you beyond the mere gathering of information, and into the realm of real academic research. It will help you develop a research strategy that will, with time and practice, enable you to become a more efficient researcher, saving you time and sanity.
What Are You Trying to Figure Out?
Research works best when it is tackled with the true spirit of inquiry. What are you ultimately trying to figure out in regards to your topic? Are you trying to gain an overview of of a brand new topic, or understand something familiar with greater depth and clarity? Are you trying to develop a new idea or find the best arguments for or against an existing idea? Are you trying to find a solution to a problem? Approaching research through the lens of inquiry is a great way to keep you motivated. You aren't just looking for information, you're looking for ANSWERS!
Knowledge and understanding are developed over time by scholars, researchers, and professionals debating and discussing issues. By being familiar with the arguments and different points of view, you can contribute to the conversation.
Think of the sources you read to explore your topic (articles, books, films, videos, images, or websites) as different threads in a conversation. Just like blog comments, each source expresses different ideas, observations, discoveries, or interpretations of the historical problem or question you choose to address.
As you read your sources, try to figure out how they relate to each other:
So when you read your sources, think about the story they're telling you and about what they each have to say about that story.
By actively reading your sources as if you're participating in an interesting, complex discussion, when you write your paper, you'll be able to demonstrate to your teacher that you have a deeper understanding of your topic.
Image from Hobbs, Renee. "New Approaches to Information Literacy." ACRL's New Information Literacy Standards, 30 Mar. 2015, http://www.slideshare.net/reneehobbs/acrls-new-information-literacy-standards.