Second Step in Essay Writing:
Researching the Topic
Once you have chosen a topic you are happy with (and hopefully so is your professor), the next step is conducting a research. The whole idea of a research is crucial if you are to successfully support your main argument(s). At other times, good source material will add factual information and, therefore, credibility to your work. Although the notion of research can seem off-putting, this stage we have to say can prove easier than you might think with the help of different tools and resources. Before going any further, it is essential to first explain a type of source that may appear in your instructions and that is where you are asked to use peer reviewed or academic sources.
A peer-reviewed source is usually a textbook or journal article that has been evaluated from a critical perspective by other scholars with a similar level of knowledge as you in a particular subject or area of study.
It is essential that this term is clearly defined because a lot of online searches you do will not turn up peer reviewed material. The following list shows the different types of sources which can be considered as peer reviewed and those who cannot be.
Types of Research Sources
Most of the following types of sources can be deemed as peer reviewed (although there might be some exceptions):
- Academic sources
- Journal articles
Non-Peer Reviewed Sources
Although the following cannot be considered as peer reviewed many of these are still useful resources for finding additional information/source material:
- Blog posts
- Biographies from personal websites
- Research papers that cite other sources/work
- Yahoo! Answers
This does not mean that any material that is not peer reviewed is not worthwhile or credible. It merely means that some essay instructions require the use of respected sources that a tutor finds trustworthy. So it is best to adhere to the methods that have been repeatedly tried, tested and proven. Furthermore, and quite importantly, the use of respected sources will make your arguments more convincing since the data contained therein will have been written by subject matter experts in the topic you research. If you have any doubts, take the safe route, which is to use peer-reviewed materials for your paper.
Where Can Academic Sources be Found?
Now that you are ready to start gathering your academic source material, and given what has been discussed above about the use of peer-reviewed sources, we have identified the best places to look for such information. There are a number of online databases of an academic nature and these are mostly the best option. Very likely, they will be available to you via your school or college’s online library facilities. In case you cannot access them, there are some other free options available. Below, we will provide a list of some very good academic-style databases that are enormously useful. Our list also indicates which ones are paid and which ones are free (your school most likely provides access to the paid ones).
- EBSCOHost: This is an information or library-style center that provides a wide range of material to subscribers. In other words, users need a current license to access the material in the database. The majority of universities and public-access libraries provide their students or customers with access.
- Google Scholar: This database is available free-of-charge and is full of research source materials. The materials in this database are wide-ranging and it is possible to find academic sources for almost any type of paper.
- JSTOR: As is the case with EBSCOHost, users need a license to access this online library. In recent times, JSTOR has made a lot of its material available free-of-charge to members of the public, although the majority of material is still license-restricted. Most universities and public libraries provide access to JSTOR.
Another excellent way to find credible sources is in the bibliography or reference page of any source you already have. If, for instance, you have an article on civil liberty, you could look at the reference section to find out where the author got the information. Should you choose this method, then it may be possible to find all the information you need from one place or one great source.
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Vary the Search Engines You Use
Although Google is one of the more widely used and popular search engines, there are other very good options you could go with. Examples of these are Ask, Bing, Blekko and DuckDuckGo, amongst others.
Vary Your Search Terms/Keywords
When you are using any search engine, you may get better results by modifying the search terms or keywords you use. Searching for “antiabortion,” for instance, can deliver a different set of results than searching for, say, “anti abortion.” Adjusting both the search terms themselves and their order will provide you with a lot more options to examine. It is worth spending some time exploring the different keyword combinations until you hit on the terms that yield the highest or best results.
Quick Evaluation of Sources
It is important to be able to sift your way through sources quickly. Ideally, each one should be examined intensely to establish its relevance or otherwise. Time, however, is not a luxury that many people have and they need to get source evaluation completed as quickly as possible to know what is usable and what is not. The following is an effective method for evaluating each source:
- Start by reading the abstract, introductory paragraph and concluding paragraph
- Make a decision on whether an article is useful or not
- Identify alternative sources.
Not only does this method save time, but it ensures you are earmarking the best quality material. To speed up the process you can skim over the above parts, but at least be sure you know what an article is about and what point the author is trying to make.
Best Tools for Note-Taking
- Google Docs
- OneNote (Microsoft)
- Word (Microsoft)
Finally, but no less importantly, it is essential to take notes while researching. If your preference is to make handwritten notes, the process of transferring information into electronic format will take longer when you start writing. Therefore, it is recommended you use an electronic or cloud-type mechanisms such as one of the methods mentioned above.
Once you are decided on the application to use for note-taking, it is advisable to read your sources and make a note of any important, memorable or note-worthy quote. This, for instance, may be some vital data or significant conclusion that an author has put forward in the book or article. Remember also to note the chapter and page number because these details will be needed for citation purposes.
Overall, your notes should contain around five or six pieces of solid information for every source you study. The source or link should be saved so that you can also include it in your works cited page or reference section later.