Do Original Research : Researching Your Topic

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Do Original Research :

If you are asked to do original research, you must work almost entirely from primary sources. For example, suppose you were asked to do original research on student protests against the Vietnam War in the 1960s. First, you would probably go to an encyclopedia to find out when and where such protests took place. Then you would pick a period and place on which to focus your attention - perhaps the protests at Kent State when four students were killed or the protests at the Democratic National Convention in 1968. You would then go to indexes of newspapers like the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times to find news stories from those dates that would tell you what happened at such protests, writing your paper from the information you found in those papers or in magazines such as Time or U.S. News and World Report. You would not use more recent articles or books that reflected on the protests or tried to interpret them, although you might want to read such articles for your own enlightenment.

If you were asked to write a paper based on original research in an American literature course, you might pick a topic such as the images of women in Willa Cather's novels. You could then select four novels - perhaps My Antonia, The Professor's House, The Song of the Lark and A Lost Lady - read them carefully, analyze the way Cather portrays her women characters and write a paper identifying and reflecting on her handling of the women characters. Resist the temptation to see what other writers have said - the professor who asks for original research wants to know your response, not that of the critics.

To continue the section on Researching Your Topic,

1. Set up a general search strategy

2. Use primary and secondary sources

3. Do original research

4. Make a research outline for using the library and the Web

5. Find things out for yourself

6. Be open to serendipity

7. Take notes

8. Manage sources and quotations

9. Manage and evaluate electronic sources

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