Writing a US college research paper is very different from writing papers in high school. You’re required to provide more in-depth analysis, which means consulting more resources.
These 5 simple research tips can help you make the transition and successfully tackle college papers.
1. Get to Know Your Library
Taking a tour of your college library is one of the best tips I can give you, no matter how boring you think it may be. You’ll learn about the various services your library offers and get a tour of the different sections, as well as detailed information on how to successfully search for items.
I made the rookie mistake of skipping the library tour in my first year of college and spent the next three years wasting a lot of time trying to track down books for research. I finally got the hang of it by my last year – but I could have saved a lot of time if I’d gone on a tour at the start!
2. Write Down Every Source
There is nothing more irritating when writing a US college research paper than seeing a great, usable quote or paragraph in your research notes – but then having no idea where it came from. I have spent hours poring through books that I read, trying to find the source for a great quote that I absolutely wanted to use.
Before you even crack open a book, write down at least the title and author on a list. If you find information that you want to use and cite in your research paper, you can always go back and fill in the other bibliographic information later.
If you’re using more online sources, try bookmarking all the sites and online papers you read.
3. Stay Away from Poor Sources
High school teachers tend to be a little more relaxed about sources, but in college things like Wikipedia or “Books for Dummies” should definitely be avoided.
If anything, such a source can serve as a useful primer to give you a basic introduction on a topic – and you can check the sources listed for tips on where to find more (and more reliable) information.
In general, be wary of internet sources unless they are reputable periodicals, academic journals or respected media publications.
4. Find Variety in Your Sources
College research papers are also different from high school research papers in that they are generally longer and therefore require a greater number of resources.
Get a variety of resources together to read before you start writing or trying to develop a thesis. A great tip on how to track down more resources (after you’ve exhausted keyword searches in your library database): Check the index and works cited lists in the sources you already have in your hands. They can usually point you to similar resources.
Also, if your research paper happens to be on a topic about which a professor you know is an expert, it can’t hurt to ask him or her for some tips on recommended reading.
5. Take Notes, Notes and More Notes
Take notes! Your resources won’t do you much good if you can’t remember the information.
I always divided my resources into two categories.
The first consisted of those that I just wanted to use a bit of information from, which I would copy quickly into a document on my laptop, along with page numbers and other citation information.
The second consisted of those that had loads and loads of useful information, where I ended up putting a sticky note on every fifth page. These books I would set aside for a closer read, and I usually checked them out to take home with me so that I had them on hand as I was writing the actual paper.
While this is not an exhaustive list, tips like these can help you organize your work before you tackle college research papers –- and hopefully make the job a bit easier. The trick is to find out whatever research techniques work best for you, develop a system and stick to your guns so you can become a college-paper-writing pro and ace your classes.