Set Up a General Search Strategy :

Researching Your Topic

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Set Up a General Search Strategy :

Only when you have defined your purpose, considered your audience and formulated (or begun to formulate) your research question are you ready to begin your research. As you plan your research strategy, keep several important principles in mind: Make a plan for your time, working backward from your due date.

For example, if you receive your assignment on March 15 for a paper due on April 20, you might plan your time like this:

April 20 : Submit revised final paper to instructor.

April 16 : Receive annotated draft from instructor.

April 12 : Give draft to instructor.

April 8-10 : Revise and rewrite draft.

April 1-7 : Write first draft. Confer with classmates or a second reader for feedback.

March 24-31: Refine and focus topic. Do additional research online and in library. Make notes and rough out an outline.

March 16-23: Select topic. Do preliminary research on the Internet in ProQuest and in LexisNexis.

It helps to set deadlines for yourself and post due dates in some prominent place where you'll see them every day.

Remember that everything will take longer than you think it will. Electronic sources are wonderful, but it's very time-consuming to search the Web and be appropriately critical of the results or to search library databases and indexes (like LexisNexis, Humanities Abstracts, Art Abstracts or the Applied Science and Technology Index) and then follow up on materials you find. Taking careful, thorough notes on index cards or on your laptop, downloading articles and highlighting relevant passages or making photocopies and annotating them is also slow going. Inevitably you'll run into snags - copy machines don't work, your Internet server goes down or you can't locate a source. All are good reasons for delay, but your instructor doesn't want to hear excuses when the paper is due.

Make some sort of research outline that tells you what sources you need to consult and the order in which you need to work through those sources. In particular, if you are going to need to send away for information, set up interviews, or conduct surveys, take care of these time-consuming research tasks first so that you will have time to complete them and to think about your information before you begin to write your paper. Then if your research takes longer than you anticipated, you won't find yourself having to begin writing your paper without having consulted your most valuable sources.

Set a deadline when you must stop researching and begin drafting your paper. Sometimes it's tempting to keep looking for more information, especially when you discover new leads. However tantalizing these leads are, you may not be able to follow up on them, simply because you are running out of time. If this is the case, you might mention the potential value of these sources for further study in your conclusion or in an informational note.

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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