We have a section of our Smart Student Library Guide that is devoted to choosing a topic. There are some examples there to get you started on thinking about how to narrow your topic.
The guide is really helpful, but I also want to throw in my two cents here.
Does this sound familiar? You are told that your paper has to be on a certain topic (usually the topic of your course). You could write a book about it, it’s so big. But instead of trying to narrow down your topic, you go look for an article. If you can find an article, you could build your paper around that, and – voila! – your topic will magically be narrowed in the process.
I have written too many papers to know this will happen. Your professors have written and read too many papers to know this will happen. You really have to narrow down your topic a bit in advance, or your research time is going to be wasted, and you’re going to have a hard time writing anything.
Figure out your topic first. Sure, you might get started and then realize that, no, this topic bores you to tears and you’d rather switch to this other topic you’ve discovered along the way. That’s okay. (As long as your professor doesn’t mind you switching topics.) Just don’t try to research a really general topic and hope to find one perfect article and build a paper around it. That’s really hard. Don’t make things harder on yourself.
Be bold. Stake a claim. Find evidence to support it. You might find that taking a stance and arguing a point is actually kind of fun.
Research steps? Really?!?! Don’t you just sorta think about your topic? Or just go Google it or something?
Well, that’s one way of doing research. That’s usually not the approach that is the fastest, or gets you the best results, but, hey, we’re not going to stand in your way of doing it that way!
If you want to try a more efficient way, we’ve got some concrete steps you can follow. These might be the sort of steps that are “common sense”: if you’ve done a few research assignments before, you know how this works. But it’s like anything else you want to do efficiently: having a checklist makes it better.*
Until you’ve done something so frequently that it has become second nature to you, it’s a good idea to follow a checklist. Save your brain for the heavy lifting, like reading, analyzing, and writing. Let us help you with the Research Basics.
*(For more on checklists, check out Atul Gawande’s The checklist manifesto. Believe it or not, it’s really fun to read!)
If you’ve ever assembled a piece of furniture, you have probably learned that here are two ways of doing it:
- You ignore the directions and do it yourself, just using your ‘common sense’. This approach usually means that you are going to have to take things apart and put them back together several times, until you figure out the best sequence.
- You read the directions and get everything done in the best order, with the right pieces, on the first attempt.
Doing research is like building furniture. Sure, some of it is common sense. Here at the library, we’re interested not only in getting things done, but in being efficient, too. If you want a quick overview of the best approach to doing research, with the steps all neatly explained for you, check out our Smart Student Library Research Guide.
This guide walks you through some basic steps. The guide is particularly designed for students who are new to library research here at Salve Regina University, but it’s a helpful overview for all students.
One of my favorite features? There’s an “assignment calculator” on the first page. You enter what day you’ll start working on your assignment, and what day it is due, and the guide will give you an estimate of when you should meet certain goals on your way to finishing your assignment.
As always, if you need any help, be sure to contact us.
Qiqqa is a free software program designed for academics and the way we need to use PDFs. It’s available for Windows and Android.
I couldn’t imagine going through graduate school without it. Seriously. It’s that good.
Qiqqa helps organize your PDFs in a library. It uses GoogleScholar to help you quickly import citation information into the library, so you don’t have to type it.
You can annotate your PDFs and produce annotation reports that can make paper-writing a breeze.
You can backup your data online and sync your data across computers.
It is hands-down one of my most favorite pieces of software – ever - and if you are a Windows user and you haven’t taken it for a spin, you are missing out on one of the secret weapons available to you in your academic career.
(If only this had been available when I was an undergraduate!)
Want to learn more? Check out my instructional video (Tutorial | Qiqqa), and visit Qiqqa.com.