Once you have a solid topic, you should begin researching. Research at the university level requires expertise on a topic while drawing from a wide variety of sources. The YC Library is a wonderful source of information, with articles and even whole books accessible completely online. In addition, there are many reputable websites from which credible information can be gleaned.
As you research, I want you to remember that your goal is to find out more about your organization and the problem it solves. Many students begin research simply by looking for quotes that will support their own opinions. This method does not create good arguments! Before you begin researching, write down some questions you have about the organization you chose and the problem it solves. Do your best to find the answers to those questions in your research.
Image in the public domain.
For a wonderful overview of the research process, visit https://www.yc.edu/v5content/library/improve-research.htm
Types of Sources
Both print and internet sources may be utilized effectively in an academic argument. Depending on the situation, one type of source might be more effective than another type. For example, when discussing the Civil War, print sources will probably be the most effective. But, when discussing the whole foods movement, internet sources like the Weston Price Foundation might be more effective. The key is to find a diversity of sources, both in type and viewpoint. Diversity in your research will lead to balance in your argument, which, in turn, will lead to credibility with your audience.
The YC Databases will prove to be your most important research tool over the course of your academic career. With the databases, you can find credible, academic sources online right from your computer. The databases even include a citation shortcut!
See this YC Library Tutorial for using databases: https://yc.libwizard.com/proquest-basics
As mentioned previously, the quality of your sources is an important factor in establishing your credibility with your audience. The following are important factors to consider when evaluating sources.
- Relevance Is the source relevant to your topic? For example, if I were to write an essay about creating a community garden on a college campus, a source relating the history of community gardens might be relevant, but one discussing the creation of a campus garden might be even more relevant to my topic.
- Reliability Reliable sources provide verifiable information. Sources that do not give citations or references are not reliable because the information given cannot be verified. In written sources, documentation is usually provided within the text and in a references page, as well. Internet sources may have documentation incorporated, or they may simply include hyperlinks to the source itself.
- Credibility The credibility of a source can be determined in many ways. A quick way to rule out a source as credible is to check for spelling and grammatical errors. Another is to look for logical fallacies and author bias. Does the author make reasonable claims, support them with reliable evidence, and appear to treat any opposing voices with respect?
- Timeliness Check the date the source was published. If the topic is very current, older sources may not add useful information. If the topic is historical, older sources may help put the issue in perspective. For example, a 1997 report on elderly drivers may or may not be helpful in an argument about elderly drivers 23 years later in 2020.
- Diversity Does the author utilize sources that all come from the same website, for example, or sources all written by the same author, or does the author’s work contain references from a wide variety of perspectives?
Keeping a Research Journal
As you research, it’s important to keep a record of the information you find. It might not seem difficult to remember a handful of sources, but, as you continue on in your academic career, you may have a source list of 10, 20, or even more sources for a single paper. Getting in the habit of keeping track of your sources by using a research journal will help you to keep your information organized and make writing your paper much less work.
Keeping a research journal is simple. First, create a new Word document. As you do your research, take note of the correct citation of each source. Write a short summary of the source, including any important notes (ie this source contains a lot of data). Finally, write any quotes that stand out. Make sure to put the quotes in quotation marks and add the in-text citation at the end of the quote. That way, when you are writing your paper, you can easily copy and paste in a quote from a source with no worries about plagiarism!
Tip: You might find it helpful to use a table to keep track of your sources. Simply put each source in a different row of the table. Another option is to add a dividing line after each source. This helps keep sources visually separated on the page.
Here is a Sample Research Journal:
Another way students are often asked to record their research is an Annotated Bibliography. In an annotated bibliography, a writer includes certain information about each source he/she plans to use in his/her paper. The Annotated Bibliography should include the following:
- The correct citation of the source as it would appear in the Works Cited page
- A summary of the source
- An evaluation of the source–this includes information about how the source adds to the author’s understanding of the topic and/or how the author might utilize this source in the final paper, as well as thoughts about the reliability, credibility, etc of the source.
Watch this short video for a quick overview of what an annotated bibliography is and why it’s important to write one: