Skip to main content

Essential Skills

Research

Research Overview

Objective:  To solve an information problem. Research is a multi-faceted process, one that requires lots of decision making and involves much more than simply typing a question in Google.  Any research task--whether it is a paper, a presentation, a project, a video, a lab report, or a podcast--can be broken down into smaller, more manageable steps.

THE BIG 6:

     Orient yourself.

1. Define the purpose of your research task and what information you need. (Task Definition)

2. Identify all possible sources and select the best sources. (Information-seeking Strategies)

3. Locate sources and find information within sources. (Location and Access)

     Think analytically.

4. Engage with the information and extract necessary information. (Use of Information)

5. Organize and present information. (Synthesis)

6. Judge the effectiveness of your product and the efficiency of your process. (Evaluation)

People go through these Big6 stages—consciously or not—when they seek or apply information to solve a problem or make a decision. It’s not necessary to complete these stages in a linear order, and a given stage doesn’t have to take a lot of time. We have found that in almost all successful problem-solving situations, all stages are addressed. In addition to considering the Big6 as a process, another useful way to view the Big6 is as a set of basic, essential life skills. These skills can be applied across situations—to school, personal, and work settings. The Big6 Skills are applicable to all subject areas across the full range of grade levels. Students use the Big6 Skills whenever they need information to solve a problem, make a decision, or complete a task.

Habits for Success:

To accomplish this, good students will:

1.  Manage time wisely.  Because research projects are often spread out over the course of weeks, it is very important that students set deadlines and follow them.  Reading, taking notes, citing sources, and synthesizing information takes more time than you think! Students who wait until the last minute to complete work are more likely to commit plagiarism.

2. Create a system for organizing materials. There are many pieces of information to juggle in a research project, so it very important to track ideas, sources, and citation information. There are tools to help you achieve this, such as the outline and notecard feature in NoodleBib.

3. Engage with your sources.  The purpose of research is to learn something new and gain perspective on a topic; it is not simply to list a source on a bibliography.  You will only understand your topic when you read widely and deeply, and then process that information through writing and analysis in your notes. This deep understanding will be reflected in your final paper, presentation, or project.

4.  Follow ethical guidelines in the use and presentation of information.  In other words, give credit for ideas or work (including photos, music, video, or other media) that is not your own in both in-text citation and in your Works Cited page or bibliography.  Also, it is important to follow copyright guidelines. Giving credit for work that is not yours is a scholarly and an ethical obligation. Unintentional plagiarism, while accidental, is still plagiarism, and can be brought before the Honor Council.

5. Be persistent.  Research is a messy process, and you have to be creative in your approach to finding information.  Not everything is available on the internet, and sometimes you have to dig for relevant, quality information in multiple places. If you cannot find what you are looking for, seek help.  The librarians are trained to help you find information.

Strategies

Annotated Bibliographies

What is a Bibliography or a Works Cited page?

A Bibliography or a Works Cited page is an alphabetical listing of all sources consulted during the development and production or your paper or project.

Why are Bibliographies or Works Cited pages required?

  • To give credit to sources for any materials used
  • To show respect for sources used
  • To offer additional information for readers who may want to explore your topic further
  • To allow your readers to check your sources for accuracy

You must include the following information in every citation:

  • Author (Last name, First)
  • Title (capitalize the first letter of each major word)
  • Publishing Info

When in doubt, you can always consult the MLA handbook or online citation guides such as this one at Purdue for any formatting or bibliography content questions.

NoodleTools is highly recommended for constructing your bibliography. It is far more accurate than other online citation generators. The databases will give you a citation in their articles but BE CAREFUL! They aren't always formatted correctly. For example, ABC-CLIO doesn't capitalize the titles of articles correctly. Just use NoodleTools to be on the safe side.

Bibliography Guidelines:

  • Double-space entries In alphabetical order
  • Hanging indent for all entries (the second line of the entry is indented 1/2 inch or 5 spaces see examples below):
  • Can be titled either Bibliography or Works Cited (if sources are cited in-text)
  • The title of the bibliography is centered
  • Margins of 1" on top and bottom and on both sides of the text
  • Do not number a bibliography
  • Times New Roman font
  • If you have done parenthetical or in-text citation those must match up with an entry on your bibliography
  • Entries start with either an individual author's name (ex: John Smith) or the title of the article,webpage, book, etc.
  • Do not start an entry with a corporate name
  • For alphabetic purposes ignore the words A, An, The, etc when they start a source's title

Annotated Bibliographies

Annotated bibliographies follow the same rules as above but with the addition of a paragraph-long annotation. The annotation is a justification of why you chose that particular source.If you keep in mind the TOECAP criteria for selecting quality sources you can also use some of those same factors for generating an annotation. It is best that you write your annotations shortly after using the source rather than waiting till the end of the project. They should not take long to write, especially if it is a quality source.

Here are some suggestions for what you can include in your annotations:

  • Typically 150 words in length
  • Start with the book/source’s citation information
  • The annotation informs the reader of the quality of the information found in this source and the accuracy of that information on your topic
  • An annotation can include your opinion. It takes a critical look rather just a descriptive summary.
  • Usually the annotations include comments on the background/qualifications of the author of the work
  • Elaborate on the central theme of the work as a whole.
  • Identify the intended audience.
  • A statement comparing/contrasting various sources on the same bibliography is also acceptable.
  • Any exceptional features of the source (index, appendices, glossary, maps, photos etc)
  • It is acceptable to use phrases rather than complete sentences or a combination of both. However, it still must be readable!

Here are three examples of annotations:

Hahn, Steven. "Political Racism in the Age of Obama." The New York Times. 10 Nov. 2012: n. pag. New York Times. Web. 16 May 2013. . This source describes how even though many Americans believe that political racism still exists, modern day political racism is not too different than it was in the Reconstruction era; many Southern whites feel that the black vote is illegitimate. While this article is meant to persuade the reader, it does not really come off as bias because the writer uses many examples from the past to strengthen his argument. Even though this is an opinion piece, it is well written and well researched so that it does appear to be a valid argument. The author, Steven Hah, is also a professor at Penn State with a Ph.D from Yale with a background in African American studies. this article was written on November 12, 2012 so it is not outdated.

Shatzkin, Mike, ed. The Ballplayers: Baseball's Ultimate Biographical Reference. New York: Arbor House/William Morrow, 1990. Although Shatzkin's The Ballplayers is more comprehensive in biographical content than Porter's Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: Baseball, Porter provides somewhat lengthier entries, focusing on better known individuals. Both are excellent sources, particularly for information about individuals who lack book-length biographies. Both include citations for further research.

Waite, Linda J., Frances Kobrin Goldscheider, and Christina Witsberger. "Nonfamily Living and the Erosion of Traditional Family Orientations Among Young Adults." American Sociological Review 51 (1986): 541- 554. The authors, researchers at the Rand Corporation and Brown University, use data from the National Longitudinal Surveys of Young Women and Young Men to test their hypothesis that nonfamily living by young adults alters their attitudes, values, plans, and expectations, moving them away from their belief in traditional sex roles. They find their hypothesis strongly supported in young females, while the effects were fewer in studies of young males. Increasing the time away from parents before marrying increased individualism, self-sufficiency, and changes in attitudes about families. In contrast, an earlier study by Williams cited below shows no significant gender differences in sex role attitudes as a result of nonfamily living.

Trustworthy? Ask yourself: Is the information on the site reliable? Who created the site? Is the creator well-known? Should you trust the creator? Where did the creator get the information?

Objective? Ask yourself: Is the objective or subjective? Does the creator of the site have any reason to be biased?

Enough? Ask yourself: Does the site have enough information for you? Is it easy to navigate the site? Is it easy to find the information you need?

Current? How recent is the information on the site? When was it last updated?

Accurate? Ask yourself: Does the information seem right to you, compared to other information you have found? Does it make sense? Does it seem like someone fact-checks and edits the site for minor errors?

Purpose? Ask yourself: What's the purpose of the site? Why was the site created?

Remember, you are doing this research for school projects. You want your sources to be scholarly and school appropriate. For example, teachers would prefer you go to the Library of Congress site on the Civil War rather than the About.com overview of the war. Your research reflects the effort you put into your project.

Citation

Citation is the cornerstone of good research. Giving credit for work that is not yours is a scholarly and an ethical obligation. Unintentional plagiarism, while accidental, is still plagiarism and can be brought before the Honor Council. Tools like Noodlebib provide a thorough and accurate bibliography format. It is a much more reliable bibliography generator than Easybib because it walks you through a citation step by step. We have listed below some helpful hints to keep in mind when making a bibliography. Remember, there are two parts of citation: In-text citation (which is used to give credit to a source directly in the body of your paper) and a bibliography (which is where all sources used in your project, both cited in-text and consulted, are listed). See below.

What is a Bibliography or a Works Cited page?

A Bibliography or a Works Cited page is an alphabetical listing of all sources consulted during the development and production or your paper or project.

Why are Bibliographies or Works Cited pages required?

  • To give credit to sources for any materials used
  • To show respect for sources used
  • To offer additional information for readers who may want to explore your topic further
  • To allow your readers to check your sources for accuracy

You must include the following information in every citation:

  • Author (Last name, First)
  • Title (capitalize the first letter of each major word)
  • Publishing Info

When in doubt, you can always consult the MLA handbook or online citation guides such as this one at Purdue for any formatting or bibliography content questions. NoodleTools is highly recommended for constructing your bibliography. It is far more accurate than other online citation generators. The databases will give you a citation in their articles but BE CAREFUL! They aren't always formatted correctly. For example, ABC-CLIO doesn't capitalize the titles of articles correctly. Just use NoodleTools to be on the safe side.

Bibliography Guidelines:

  • Double-space entries In alphabetical order
  • Hanging indent for all entries (the second line of the entry is indented 1/2 inch or 5 spaces see examples below):
  • Can be titled either Bibliography or Works Cited (if sources are cited in-text)
  • The title of the bibliography is centered
  • Margins of 1" on top and bottom and on both sides of the text
  • Do not number a bibliography
  • Times New Roman font
  • If you have done parenthetical or in-text citation those must match up with an entry on your bibliography
  • Entries start with either an individual author's name (ex: John Smith) or the title of the article,webpage, book, etc.
  • Do not start an entry with a corporate name
  • For alphabetic purposes ignore the words A, An, The, etc when they start a source's title

Include publishing info:

For a book the publisher and city of publication can be found on the title page, the date of publication can be found on the back of the title page. For a website: the publisher of a website is usually found at the bottom of the page next to the copyright symbol or can be found in the about us section. For a database: on the library database page  the databases are listed by publisher and database name. So, for example, ABC-CLIO Ancient World History, the name of the database is ABC-CLIO Ancient World History and the publisher is ABC-CLIO.

In-text citation

In-text citation is used to give credit to a source directly in the body of your paper. Many students are aware that direct quotes need to be cited, but so do the following: ž

  • 1-Direct quotes. ž ž
  • 2-Information that is not common knowledge: statistics, facts, ž
  • ž3-Paraphrasing: Requires in-text citation. Rearranging sentence structure, substituting synonyms or changing a couple of words is not paraphrasing but PLAGIARISM. ž ž
  • 4-Summarizing: condensing someone else’s ideas into your own words. This is plagiarizing if not cited. ž ž
  • 5. Pictures, audio, any text that is included in your projects that is not your own work.

What does in-text citation look like:

Include the Author’s last name and page number or if author’s name is referenced in your text, just include the page number in parenthesis at the end of the sentence. Don’t interrupt the flow of your sentence with the citation. Put it at the end of phrase. žA study of the early Republican Party before revealed that.... (Foner 33). ž Or ž žEric Foner 's study of the early Republican Party revealed that….(33). ž žFor many websites, no author is listed. In this case use a short form of the title (the shortest form that will allow you to recognize the work properly). For instance, if you were working with an article called "Thirty Reasons to Spay Your Pet," you might use the following: ("Thirty Reasons" 26) These Parenthetical references (a fancy name for citations) should match up with sources on your bibliography. When in doubt with anything citation-related ask a Librarian!

Using Databases

What is a database?

Databases are huge online storehouses of information that is not readily available to the general public. While searching the internet is fun and useful for personal purposes, databases should be your first stop for academic research. You can find all of the databases that MICDS subscribes to on our database page. Most of the databases require that you use our school's username and password; see the librarians for this information.

Databases contain information that has been published elsewhere, in journals, newspapers, magazines, and books, among other publications; it has been written and edited by experts. As a result, the information in databases is likely to be more credible and authoritative than what you may find doing a general internet search.

Types of Sources in Databases

Newspaper articles: Reports about newsworthy events. Generally these articles provide factual information regarding an event, person, social issue, or governmental issue.

Editorials: These are articles found in newspapers and magazines. They mix facts with personal opinion.

Magazine articles: These can be factual and opinion articles. Magazines contain popular topics and can be found in grocery stores, convenience stores, and book stores.

Academic Journals: Journals that contain scholarly articles written by professionals and experts in a particular field of study. Often the articles are published to report research results. Most articles have been peer-reviewed meaning that other experts in that field have reviewed and commented on the research.

Primary Source Documents: An original document, speech or other sort of evidence written or created during a particular time. Examples: letters, diaries, autobiographies, speeches, official records.

Books: These may include reference books and encyclopedias.

Periodicals: These can be either magazines or academic journals.

While every database has its own search quirks, there are some general guidelines that you should use for searching any database.

  • Use advanced search; it will give you all of the options for searching within that database.
  • Use more than one search term; this will help to narrow your search.
  • Use quotes around phrases unless you want the database to search for individual words separately.
  • Limit your search to full text documents; it will save you a lot of frustration.

Not finding what you're looking for? Try these tips:

  • Check your spelling.
  • Get rid of unnecessary words, especially if you are using quotes around phrases.
  • Try using other key words.
  • Use broader terms.

Note: The URL in the address box at the top of the screen is not stable for databases; if you copy and paste it into a document hoping to use it later, the link will not take you back to the original article. Use the tools of the database to bookmark, print, email, or download the article in order to save it. This simple step will save you much time and frustration!

Search Strategies

There is more to searching the Internet than you might think.  Follow these tips to become a superstar searcher.

  • Think about how the page you are looking for will be written and search for those words

  • If you are not finding what you want, modify your search terms

  • Eliminate unnecessary words like a, an, the, and others

  • Use more than one search term to narrow your results

  • Use quotes around phrases; this will search for words in an exact order

  • Use the minus (-) sign to exclude undesirable words

  • Use domain limiters, including site:gov, site:edu, and site:org to limit your search to government, educational, or organization websites

Loading ...