4.4 Tips to Kick Start Your Research Skills

Start Early

The process of researching, reading, and ultimately writing a paper can take a lot longer than expected. In terms of finding sources, recognizing this is especially important since the library may not have a source that you need readily available. The good news is that most academic libraries have inter-library loan lending programs that allow users to request materials from other libraries at no cost directly from the library’s website. Usually, requested books can be delivered to the library for pickup, and articles can be emailed directly to whomever requested them. Users can also place holds on books from the library’s online catalogue if another user has a book signed out. In either case, however, this can take a few days, or even a few weeks depending on the circumstances.

Know Where to Get Help

Do not be shy about asking your instructor to clarify assignment requirements either in class or during their office hours.

Be sure to also take advantage of library services. Academic libraries are set up to provide students with the tools necessary to succeed when conducting research. In addition to providing access to resources, libraries provide quiet and collaborative work spaces and services where students can get help with research. Often, these services are available at a research help desk in the library itself, as well as online through instant messenger and text message services, where trained experts can provide guidance on where to search, what search terms to use, how to refine topics, and citing sources.

Most academic libraries also have subject librarians that students can make an appointment with if they need more in-depth, specialized help researching a topic in a specific discipline.

Additional services may include a writing centre, and technology support.

Practice Using the Library

These include library catalogues, databases and standalone journals. Try using the search strategies detailed in this chapter to explore different ways you can manipulate search results to quickly find relevant sources.

There is an endless number of tutorials on how to do research available on YouTube and through library websites. Many academic libraries also offer research workshops that students are welcome to attend in person and sometimes also remotely online.

Develop Lists of Keywords

The comprehensiveness of the articles and books you find on a topic are directly impacted by the type of search terms you begin with. Make a list of terms and continue adding to it as you research.

Evaluate Your Sources

Wherever possible, try to make use of scholarly articles and books in your work as these are most often objectively written and reviewed by expert researchers, and the information they cite can be verified.

Track Your Sources and Cite Them Correctly

Research can involve searching through hundreds of sources to find the most relevant and appropriate to your topic. It is therefore important to have a plan for keeping track of where you have looked, keywords you have used, and what you have found. Programs like Evernote (https://evernote.com), Google Drive (https://www.google.com/drive), and Dropbox (https://www.dropbox.com) are especially helpful in this regard since you can store and access your notes, as well as PDF copies of articles, from multiple devices. Most library databases and catalogues also have an option where you can email sources to yourself so that you can easily access them later in your inbox.

If you are working on a major research project such as an honours thesis you may want to try a citation management program like Zotero (https://www.zotero.org), Mendeley (https://www.mendeley.com), or RefWorks (https://www.refworks.com). These products can help you collect, manage, and cite a large number of sources. Zotero and Mendeley offer free basic accounts, while some libraries provide their users with access to RefWorks at no additional cost.

Lastly, and most importantly, remember to cite your sources correctly, both in the text of your paper and in a reference list at the end, using whichever citation style required by your instructor. The next chapter discusses why citing sources is so important, and provides an overview of the American Pyshcological Association (APA) style, which is the citation style most commonly used in the social sciences.

Learn From Your Mistakes

When you get a paper back from your instructor, do not just look at the grade. Read the comments and think about ways you can do even better next time.


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Navigating an Undergraduate Degree in the Social Sciences by Diane Symbaluk, Robyn Hall, and Geneve Champoux is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.