Writing a College Paper Part II: Research
Welcome to part two of my seven part series on writing a college paper. (if you haven't read the first part you can do so here). So now you've written your outline, and it's time for the research. You're probably either wondering why you have to do research when it's not a research paper, or how you go about doing research without the help of your high schools resources.
Let's start with WHY research is important regardless of the type of paper you're writing.
So you were assigned a paper with the following prompt:
"Investigate various points of view concerning a particular topic of your choosing. Then write a 1,250-1,500 word essay bringing to text your own thought and point of view." (this was actually a prompt given to the freshman who have to take college writing at my university (if you're wondering, I mean I don't like to brag ;), but I placed out of college writing)) Ok. Back to the point.
You may be thinking "well I can get away without doing research for this, I'll just write about something I know." This is not good thinking. Researching and incorporating quality research into a paper is a valuable skill, and when the TA grading your paper can see that you have this skill it can help you do better overall on your assignment. (Disclaimer: DO NOT apply research to a paper if it specifically states not to use any outside resources, you will lose points.)
Now that you know why it's important, let's move on to how to get started.
In high school you were told never to use Google. I'm going to tell you to use it. Refer back to your initial outline, then google your first topic. When I was helping my friend write a paper on whether walking or running is better for you for the prompt above, I had her type into Google "benefits of walking". She found a really great article, but didn't know if the source was an appropriate site to use. When this happens that usually means that this site got their information from somewhere else, so I had her look at their references. By going through the references of the site she found a dissertation published online by a Ph.D. candidate.
Ding. Ding. Ding!
THAT IS AN APPROPRIATE SOURCE!
If you find an article with amazing content but it doesn't seem like you would be allowed to use it as a credible source always check their references because chances are they got their information from a credible source that you can use too! (and if you're a little too nervous to use google initially check out your school library's online databases, they're an amazing resource)
So you found a perfect source or two, now what? You need supplies. Whenever I sit down to do research I always have three things with me:
- colored pens
- 5x3 index cards
So the first thing I do is pull out a index card and the colored pen that matches the same colored pen in my outline (if you don't like to use color then this doesn't apply). Then I write down the name of the source I used on the top of the index card, and if it's a book I write down the page number. Then I write down either a quote or a paraphrase of what I want to use from the source onto the notecard.
Before I move onto a new source I go to easybib.com. This website is a lifesaver! It's free or you can pay for a subscription for extra goodies. Basically you copy and paste the URL of the source you were using or you put in the information for any other type of site you used into the search bar. Then it does this magical thing where it makes a correct citation for you! In any form you want: MLA, APA, etc. I always make a works cited while I do my research, then delete unused citations later because that way I'll never forget where I found a piece of information.
Having these color coded note cards of information and an already completed works cited basically ensures that your paper will write itself. Now when I say this I don't mean it will literally write itself, but you already have all the hard parts completed: a thesis, a list of topics you're going to talk about (outline), research to support your thesis, and a works cited for your research. All you have to do is put it all together!
Which is what we'll be talking about next week on the third installment of Writing a College Paper