Dig Deep: How to Conduct Effective Research

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“I think young writers should get other degrees first, social sciences, arts degrees or even business degrees. What you learn is research skills, a necessity because a lot of writing is about trying to find information.” ~Irvine Welsh

The contemporary Scottish novelist Irving Welsh of Trainspotting fame makes a good point. Writing and indeed many other careers require exceptional research skills. Much attention is given to students on how to improve writing skills, but perhaps not so much focus given to how to maximise your research efforts in order that excellent writing be a result.

When you commit to a period of study, you will undoubtedly undertake a number of research papers throughout the duration of your course, not least your final thesis or dissertation. Therefore, there has never been a better opportunity to hone your research skills than while you are studying. While Wikipedia offers a valid starting point for most research projects, it should never be the only resource consulted. Check out these top five tips to perfect your research.

1. Dustin Wax writing for Lifehack includes in his article “ten steps to better research” the importance of having a research question in mind. Although in the early stages of writing a thesis, it’s unlikely that you’ll have a clear vision of the final outcome, having a “working question” will help you to focus your initial efforts and can stop you getting sidetracked or bogged down in too much detail early on.

2. Penn Libraries at the University of Pennsylvania stresses the importance of proper planning. Scheduling a research project will help you to work consistently throughout the duration of the project and is infinitely better than suddenly realising that your paper is due next week and still be wondering how to get started. Break the work down into manageable chunks and schedule it backwards from the due date.

3. Most university libraries offer a tour of their facilities and resources. If you haven’t taken them up on the offer, it’s time to do so. Knowing how to find the information you are looking for quickly and understanding how to use library equipment efficiently is instrumental to the success of your research project.

4. Cornell University Library points to how existing bibliographies can be exploited. Scholarly papers, books, and articles often have extensive sources cited in the bibliography. These references can act as an excellent starting point for your own detailed research. Use the source titles to conduct further topical searches on the internet and in the library catalog.

5. Be prepared for inspiration to strike when you least expect it. This is different to having the standard research journal (which is also a must). You may find that ideas suddenly occur to you when you’re not even working on your project. Having somewhere you can quickly jot these down or a phone that you can quickly record on will be great for ensuring you don’t forget these flashes of inspiration.

Follow these tips to perfecting your research and remember to keep working consistently. The tortoise most definitely beats the hare when it comes to delivering a killer thesis.

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