Research Tips for Secondary School Students
When you're given an assignment that requires completing research it can be easy to become overwhelmed by that all you have to do. But for many such projects you really only have two tasks: researching and writing. Completing scholarly research might seems a bit intimidating if you've never done it before, but most academic research can be broken down into four easy steps.
When you're faced with your next research project be sure to make a research plan, do some pre-reading, gather your information and then synthesise all that you have learned. You'll be on your way to high marks in no time!
Make a Research PlanA research plan is a lot like an outline of your entire research project, so it's important to take an honest look at how much work you have to do and how much time you have to do it. Begin by carefully reading your assignment. Note what you are being asked to do, and if there are any requirements such as the number of sources or types of sources you must use.
Next take a look at your schedule and pencil in times that you can spend doing research in the library, online research and quiet time for reading and writing. Don't forget to factor in at least a few days between writing your first draft and then going back and polishing your essay or report to perfection. Finally, write down specific goals for each of the research time slots you set aside. Where will you complete your research? What will you want to get done during that time? Which sources do you anticipate using? Is there anything you can do to prepare yourself to meet your goals? The better prepared you are for each research session the more efficiently you should be able to work.
Do Some Pre-ReadingYour very first research session will likely be the time in which you do some pre-reading. This means you will probably look in broad sources such as encyclopaedias or flip through subject-specific journals to get a feel for your topic. You might also skim through a few books on a general topic. If you have been asked to come up with a research question or essay topic on your own then this is the time to see if there are any particular sub-topics which catch your attention.
This may be a frustrating time because you might end up feeling like you have no idea what you want to do or that there is too much information and you don't know where to start with narrowing it all down. Don't be afraid to ask for help from a librarian, or even check to see if your teacher is willing to help you discuss your project. The more evidence you have that you've done your pre-reading the more likely it will be that you'll find someone who is able to help you.
Gather Your InformationOnce you've got your topic narrowed down and a broad feel for your topic it's time to start gathering your information. A lot of students immediately want to find a book on their topic, but remember that you may need to find bits of information in many sources rather than just one source for all of your information. In fact, using just one source isn't a very good way to get the most diverse range of information possible. If you are using books then don't forget to check the table of contents, glossary and index for help in finding information within.
Also remember that books often have bibliographies that you can use to point you towards your next sources. If you use journals then skim the table of contents to see if there are any blurbs about the articles, or look for an index to help you find specific terms. Online databases might also be available at your library to help you locate information.
Online research can also be carried out, but make sure that you know who has written or published information on a web site so that you can be sure that it is correct and unbiased. Also, look to see when the web page was last updated and while you can use Wikipedia to point you towards other web pages remember that anyone can add information to it's articles so it is not considered a reliable scholarly resource.
Synthesise All That You Have LearnedOnce you have all of your different pieces of information it is up to you to put them all together to create a coherent essay or report. Remember that in order to avoid plagiarism you must paraphrase the information you found, or use direct quotes and give credit to the original author. You may also need to cite the sources from which you found specific pieces of information. To avoid any confusion later on, make sure that your notes all list the source from which you found the information and the page on which you got your facts. This will also help you easily create a bibliography or works cited list later on.
Very often secondary students are assigned research projects but are not given any direction for how to complete the research. Making a detailed research plan, doing some pre-reading, gathering information and synthesising this information are the four key steps to any assignment that requires research.