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Tips to Get You Through the Research Process

By Alex MacKenzie, Peer Writing Assistant

In first and second year, I found that one of the most difficult and time-consuming parts of the writing process was research.  With so many sources out there and so many ways to approach research, I always found the experience challenging.   With these tips, you’ll hopefully be able to get through the research process as painlessly as possible!

1. Start early!

As a student, I know how hard this first one can be.  With a million-and-one things on the go, finding the time to start an assignment weeks in advance can be tricky.  However, this is often the key to research success, as it allows you time to play around with your ideas, survey a wide range of sources, and visit your TA (see point 6).  My advice? Spend a few hours doing research as soon as you receive assignment. This will get you going on things early and give you a sense of how time consuming the research process is going to be. By starting early and figuring out how much time you need to spend on the assignment, you will be able to set distinct goals along the way to keep you on track throughout the writing process.

2. Know where to look.  

The initial stages of research can often be a difficult point in the writing process, especially if you are unfamiliar with the scholarship in the field.  Here are a few great places to start:

  • Visit the library website (http://library.queensu.ca/) and search the key words of your topic.  To narrow your search even more, you can tick off any applicable boxes on the left hand side:

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This is a quick and easy way to access some of the more prominent scholarship in the field.

  • Look to your textbook.  If there is a chapter on the topic you are researching, take a look at what sources are used.  This can provide a good starting point and give you some guidance.

3. Stick to scholarly and peer reviewed sources. 

In other words, steer clear of sources like Wikipedia or websites that aren’t academically credible. Generally, the sources you find in the library or on the library website are a safe bet.

4. Be mindful of source variation.

You don’t want all of your articles to be from the same academic journal or edited book.  Including a variety of sources will give you a deeper understanding of all sides of an argument.

5. Keep track of your sources.

It’s easy to become weighed down by all of the information that you’re picking up as you research.  That’s why it’s so important to keep your sources in order and your evidence properly labelled.  You can do this by keeping a word document of your sources and the information you collect from them as you research.  When you do this, remember to include page numbers with information.  This will make it much easier when you have to do citations.  This document will be useful when you start planning, as you will be able to reference it rather than flipping back and forth between sources again.

6. Visit your TA!

The number one thing I recommend to anyone working on a written assignment is to make an appointment to see whoever will be marking your work.  In most cases, this is your TA or a professor.  As written assignments are often subject to some degree of subjectivity, this is a great way to ensure that you’re on the right path. I find it most helpful to go in when I have completed my research and have a clear direction for where I would like to take the assignment.  Don’t be afraid to make multiple appointments if you feel that you need them or would like reassurance that you are on the right track.