Publication Year: 2003
There are proper ways to research a paper...and there are the ways most students do it: laboriously, tediously, and inefficiently. Here are the techniques and shortcuts that the pros use. They will enable students to find their way to the best resources for their own projects.
From preparing the preliminary outline, work file, and bibiliography, Research Shortcuts proceeds to using the appropriate resource guides, as well as modern aids to research. It also discusses shortcuts that reach the experts: writing letters that get questions answered, and making face-to-face (or telephone) interviews pay off.
A final section is devoted to using the research data: first drafts, choosing specific quotes wisely, paraphrasing, and final drafts.
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
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We live and work in a college town alongside 40,000 college students. In researching the eighteen books and 1,000 or so magazine articles we've written, we often sit right alongside college students struggling with their own research. Struggling is the word. While one of us spent two weeks in the medical library getting facts and figures for a 200 page book on diet and exercise, she watched a grad student winding down six weeks of research for a term paper. And while the other of us spent...
PART I. MAPPING YOUR ROUTE: SHORTCUTS TO TAKE BEFORE YOU GO ANYWHERE
SHORTCUT 1. Decide Who You're Researching For
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The kind of information you collect when you research depends first and foremost on why you're researching. Even if you go to the same information sources for two different research projects, you'll probably be looking for different kinds of data. For example,...
SHORTCUT 2. Make Sure You Know What Your Topic Is
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Are you really sure you know exactly what topic you're going to research? Check again. The most common research time-waster-and the biggest one-is not having an exact fix on the topic. For example, researching cars can take months and months; researching the quality of 1972 Fords will take less than half...
SHORTCUT 3. Isolate the Purpose of Your Research
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Once you've followed Shortcut 2 to the correct topic, you may think you're ready to research it. But don't go tearing off to the library or your computer just yet. Research isn't just finding information. Our dictionary defines it as a search with a purpose. If you aren't....
SHORTCUT 4. Keep Your Topic's Time Requirements under Control
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Inexperienced researchers often end up drowning in information and wasting valuable time because they've bitten off too big a topic. No matter what the subject, whether it's the universe or the lowly straight pin, you can't research and record all of its aspects thoroughly within a reasonable time frame. How much time is...
SHORTCUT 5. Pick Out the Correct Working Title
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Whether your research is for a paper, an exam, or personal needs, start with a good working title. It's a valuable timesaver. It provides an easy-to-remember record of the topic and purpose of the paper you're researching. If you keep referring to it as you research, it'll keep you from wandering offcourse. A good working title...
SHORTCUT 6. Prepare a Preliminary Outline
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A good specific working title will help you focus your research energy into the narrowest possible area. To pare down your research time even further, decide exactly what information you need before you set out to find it. The quickest, easiest, and most effective way is to prepare a preliminary outline of...
SHORTCUT 7. Turn Your Research Needs into Precise Questions
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From your preliminary outline, prepare a list of questions. This list is what you'll use as your basic research guide. The questions will keep you on track and zoom you right through the task. Sometimes there are so few questions, we jot them down right on our preliminary...
SHORTCUT 8. Determine What Kind of Answers You Need
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There's another step to take before you begin to research
your questions: determine what kind of answers you need.
• Do you need opinion or fact?
• How much authority do you need?
• How up-to-date must your answers be? For each research question on your list, decide on the answer to these three questions...
SHORTCUT 9. Decide Whether Your Answers Should Come from Secondary or Primary Sources
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There are two basic kinds of sources for information. If you get your data secondhand-from someone's report in a newspaper story, a magazine article, a book, or even a movie-you're using a secondary source. If you get your information directly from the expert's mouth-or even directly from his own written words-that's a primary source. Primary sources...
PART II. PACKING YOUR GEAR: SHORTCUTS THAT MAKE RESEARCH-GATHERING EASY
Most students' research results in a stack of cards, a heap of assorted papers, a sheaf of photocopies, and a pile of books with tagged pages. Before they can begin to think about writing the paper, they've got to organize the material, eliminating what they don't need and putting the rest into some kind of sensible order. Often...
SHORTCUT 10. Prepare a Work File
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Before you compile your first piece of data, prepare a file folder and a looseleaf or spiral-bound notebook, and always keep one inside the other. Paste or staple both your preliminary outline and your list of questions right inside the notebook or folder so they're protected. Also save them in backed up computer...
SHORTCUT 11. Keep a Bibliography as You Go
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Most college papers call for footnotes or a bibliography. Even for those that don't, you'll raise your grade by citing your sources fully in the text of your paper. To make footnoting a cinch, systematize. Prepare master bibliography sheets, as illustrated here. Using the illustration...
SHORTCUT 12. Key Your Notes for Easy Access
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To make footnoting and source-citing easy, we've suggested that you systematize with bibliography master sheets, and that you put a reference number on each sheet. Since each source is fully cited on these sheets, you need never again write down all that information until you get to the final draft, so long as you key each reference to the appropriate master sheet. Some researchers...
SHORTCUT 13. Take Adequate Notes
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As you research, make sure you take adequate notes for
each question. In most cases, we suggest you copy the
source's own words and, to remind you that they're copied
exactly, put quotation marks around them. This saves a lot
of backtracking later on.
A rule of thumb is to copy a citation in your own words
1. you're absolutely...
SHORTCUT 14. Keep Your Notes Legible and Segmented
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Most people begin taking notes carefully and legibly. But after an hour of writing, the pen gets hard to hold, handwriting becomes tight and cramped, and abbreviations begin to creep in: crse for course, bl for black, for in addition. A week later, half the scribbles look more like smudges and most...
PART III. TRAVELING THE ROAD: SHORTCUTS FOR SELECTING THE RIGHT RESOURCE CENTER
If you've followed all the tips in Part I, you should know just what you're looking for. If you've taken the shortcuts outlined in Part II, you should have your note-taking gear packed and ready to go. Now you've got to figure out where to go. You've got a lot...
SHORTCUT 15. Head for the Right Library
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The first place to head with your list of research questions is to the right data collector. Most data collections are in libraries. You've probably visited the local public library, your grade school library, and your undergraduate library at college. For most research projects, your college or university library is the place...
SHORTCUT 16. Learn the Library's Book Storage System
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Each library has its own book storage system that may be just a little different from every other library's system. Before you begin your first research project at any particular library, learn the way it's set up. In some libraries, most of the books are kept where only librarians can get to them. To retrieve them, you have to fill out a request card. In other libraries, they're kept on open stacks. If the collection is large...
SHORTCUT 17. Find the Storage Places for Periodicals
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A periodical is a publication that is printed in a series at a set interval. Each publication in the series has the same title. Newspapers, popular magazines, trade journals, and annual reports of businesses, foundations, and other organizations are all periodicals. In large libraries, recent issues are kept on accessible...
SHORTCUT 18. Discover Where Pamphlets, Clippings, and Nonprinted Resources Are Stored
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Many libraries keep pamphlets, brochures, and even newspaper clippings that they deem especially valuable to researchers. The resources that flop over on bookshelves are often put in file folders, alphabetized according to subject, and stored in vertical files—which is a euphemism for file cabinets. These bits and pieces of information are rarely listed in any card catalog. The Great Neck (New York) Public Library...
SHORTCUT 19. Use the Most Specific Resource Guides First
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In the third or fourth grade, teachers introduce students to an encyclopedia for their first research experience. From that time on, students cling to it like a lifeline as they begin every research project. Unless you need some fast general background in your project, forget encyclopedias. While the information may be correct, and even by-lined by an expert...
SHORTCUT 20. Skim the Front Matter Before You Use a Reference Guide
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We were just looking at the University of Wisconsin- Madison's undergraduate course registration guide. It's full of dots and blips and special symbols that make no sense unless we take a few minutes, first, to skim the front matter. There, we discover that each blip has its own special meaning: everything from...
SHORTCUT 21. Make Wise Use of Modern Aids to Research
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There's no need to remind you about photocopy machines. They're a standard component of all but the smallest libraries. If anything, students tend to overuse them. It's tempting—and seemingly time-saving—to throw a nickel or dime into the box and have the machine copy the page that contains the quote you may...
SHORTCUT 22. Ask the Librarian
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If your waterpipes spring a leak and you know little about waterpipes, you don't dab here and tinker there; if you're smart, you call a plumber. If a cut won't heal, you don't try this remedy and that for very long; you see a doctor. Yet students wander through stacks and stacks of books, periodicals...
SHORTCUT 23. Research to Fit the Rule of Three
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Three is a magic number. Make a general statement and offer three specific proofs to back it up, and you can convince almost anyone that it's absolute gospel. Professional nonfiction writers use this rule of three all the time. For every conclusion, they offer three specifics. An authoritative quotation (or a paraphrased quote) is one kind of specific....
SHORTCUT 24. Stick to Dependable Sources
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It saves time and raises grades to stick to dependable
sources and to keep conscientious track of who they are, no
matter how brief or obvious the information is. There are
two practical reasons.
1. It makes your paper weightier...
SHORTCUT 25. Skim for Your Answers
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Most students read too much when they're doing research. Resist the temptation. There's no need to read every word. Learn how to skim for answers. It's easy if you research your questions one at a time. Keep the question in mind as you skim. You may find, at first, that you have to keep rereading it to remind yourself. After awhile, you'll get the...
SHORTCUT 26. Find Leads to Literature from Groups with Causes
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Back in fourth grade coauthor Judi had a teacher who was savvy when it came to research techniques. She knew that countless organizations sent out reams of helpful fact sheets, pamphlets, and brochures for just the cost of a postage stamp. The heavy packages of colorful materials that arrived from foreign consulates not...
PART IV. GETTING INTO UNEXPLORED TERRITORY: SHORTCUTS THAT REACH THE EXPERTS
Most students—and many instructors—assume that a research paper can only be researched in a library or online. But that isn't true. Professional writers know that the best and most up-to-date facts and opinions haven't been published yet. To spark their articles...
SHORTCUT 27. Write Letters That Get Your Questions Answered
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The first choice of students, when it comes to reaching a real live expert, is to send a letter requesting the information that's needed. We consider it the poorest method of attack unless you need just a few short answers, and unless your questions are both simple and so precise that there's no chance to misconstrue them. Even with these...
SHORTCUT 28. Make Face-ta-Face Interviews Pay Off
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When we want an expert for our articles on anything from the weather to tomato canning, we head first for the local university. Yet few students take advantage of the resident experts right on their own campuses. If you're engaged in serious research, most...
SHORTCUT 29. Use the Telephone or E-mail
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Most people go out of their way to avoid telephoning strangers. For some odd reason, the fear of a slammed receiver is greater than the fear of a slammed door. If you approach telephone interviewing as professionally as we suggested you attack face-to-face meetings, you need have no fear. Even when...
SHORTCUT 30. Become Your Own Expert
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For some questions on your list, it's conceivable that nobody's yet found the answers. You may have to compile your own data. Coauthor Judi ran into that problem when she was researching for her book Stopping Out. She could discover no document that answered the question, "Do medical and law school admission committees penalize students who've...
PART V. ROADMAP FOR A GRADE-A PAPER: USING YOUR RESEARCH MATERIALS
If you've followed the routes we've plotted for you, you should have, by now, (1) an outline for a paper and (2) the research facts and citations you need to plug all the holes in the outline. Now comes the hardest part: putting the two together. What follows is a step-by-step guide to getting from here to there....
SHORTCUT 31. Rethink Before You Write
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When you've completed all your research, collect your file of photocopies, printouts, and bibliography sheets, the at-home books and clippings that you'll be copying from, and your notebook of answered questions. In your notebook, safe from harm, is the tentative outline you made at the beginning of the project. Now it's time to reevaluate the outline, so pull it out and begin....
SHORTCUT 32. Zip Through Your First Draft
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Students who choose meaty topics, research brilliantly, and take enviable notes, sometimes get totally hung up on the simple task of beginning a paper. They ponder for hours, days, weeks, in front of that first blank page, wondering how to start. Here's a tip to cure writer's block before you catch it: start your paper by...
SHORTCUT 33. Choose the Best Specifics in Your File
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Way back in Shortcut 23, we suggested that you collect a little more research than you need. That little bit extra will come in handy now, as you write your first draft. For each statement, you can pick and choose the best three pieces of evidence in your file. For each scene, you can isolate the best three details. For each...
SHORTCUT 34. Quote Wisely
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Most students use quotations like salt, sprinkling them here and there in hopes they'll liven up and lend weight to the paper. Unfortunately, a poor or dull or incomprehensible idea doesn't gain either credibility or excitement just because it's a direct quotation. You must choose...
SHORTCUT 35. Paraphrase Carefully
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Quotation is using the exact words of your source. Paraphrasing is rephrasing the ideas in your own words. Most students quote much too much, and make too little use of paraphrase. It's easy to know what to leave out, and what to put into your own words, if you keep in mind that, like every...
SHORTCUT 36. Know the Fine Line between Fair Use and Plagiarism
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Throughout school you're warned, "Don't plagiarize." The consequences are grim. Everybody knows that if you buy or borrow someone else's paper and turn it in as your own, that's plagiarism. But what about borrowing a source's unique idea? How much can you borrow, and how much do you have to change something...
SHORTCUT 37. Fiddle with Your First Draft
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While you'd never catch a professional writer worth his salt turning in an uncorrected first draft, most students rush their papers right to school the minute the last word's been squeezed through the printer. Some don't even reread for typographical errors and spelling mistakes. This cavalier approach (cavalier: given to offhand dismissal of important matters) is what turns grade-A research into grade-C papers....
SHORTCUT 38. Print a First-Class Final Draft
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No matter how objective the grader, a paper that's easy to read seems a notch better. So pay careful attention to form—and your instructor's guidelines—in preparing the final draft. If you need to submit the paper on an electronic disk or as an e-mail attachment, make sure you know what word processing formats are acceptable. If it's wanted on paper, stick...
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Publication Year: 2003