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How to Perfect Your Research Skills

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 7 Nov 2012 | comments*Discuss
Research Research Information Academic

The end of the term can be a whirlwind of exam stress late nights and many, many trips to the library. This is also the time that many courses require research papers and projects to be completed, meaning that students become over-worked and over-tired, so every task seems overwhelming. When faced with your next research nightmare, don’t fritter away your time figuring how to get started - follow the PLUM plan to research success instead!

PLAN Your Research

The minute you are assigned a research paper, sit down and take out your diary. Clearly mark your final deadline, and begin to work backwards through each step of the research process. Once you see your mini deadlines mapped out in front of you, you’ll realise that you have plenty of time for everything. Be sure to include dates for:
  • Final draft ready for proofreading.
  • First draft ready.
  • Stopping your research and starting writing.
  • Becoming acquainted with the college/university library and commencing research.

LOCATE Appropriate Information Sources

Most of your academic research will be conducted in libraries and on the Internet. When it comes to this research, simply asking the librarians for help will do you a world of good. Remember that for most research you will be working with:
  • Almanacs.
  • Atlases.
  • Audio recordings.
  • Dictionaries.
  • Encyclopedias.
  • Works of fiction.
  • Films.
  • Journals and serials.
  • Literary criticisms.
  • Newspapers.
  • Websites.
Evaluate Your Sources
Before you waste time with a resource that may turn out to be useless, a few clues will help you make sure it is appropriate to your purposes.
  • Check the source’s authority by reading the blurb about the author.
  • Make sure the source is accessible and you can easily find information within it.
  • Find out the purpose of the work to ensure you are reading objective research and not propaganda.
  • On web sites, make sure you can find an author’s name and contact information, just in case!
Find Information Within Your Source
Every book and website is set up with a blueprint to help you find information quickly. These tools are designed to help you “drive” through you research, so use them to cruise on by! Be sure to check out your topics in:
  • The table of contents.
  • Lists of illustrations/graphs/tables.
  • Index.
  • Sitemap.

USE Your Information Ethically

Start paying attention to plagiarism the minute you begin to take notes and you’ll have nothing to worry about further down the line. Get into the routine of taking notes in your own words, and using quotation marks to offset direct quotes.

Also, copy down the bibliographic details of the sources you are using, and the page numbers of where you found this information. Not only will this help you double check your facts later, but it makes building a bibliography a breeze.

When you are busy writing your draft, remember to cite your sources the minute you use them. Parenthetical citations, end notes and footnotes are all options for helping you give credit where credit is due.

MODIFY Your Assignment

Often when the pressure is on and deadlines are looming, students will be happy enough that they’ve hit their assigned word count without worrying about getting their draft proofread and edited. Big mistake. Spell check can only catch so much, and there is no software program available that can match a human in terms of reading for content. Have someone else read through your writing with a fresh mind. You’ll be surprised what they pick up, and what they can add to your work!

Once you’ve followed the PLUM Plan to research success, all you have left to do is tidy up your final draft and hand in your paper. Just remember not to brag about your new expertise, or your high marks!

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