Making the most of your research resources

by Marie Sherman

Now that the semester is over halfway through —crazy how fast time flies—it’s getting to be that time where lots of research papers are being assigned. A big question that I often ask myself when I first see a new research paper assignment is, “How do I even start my research?”

At Principia, we have access to thousands of resources to use, both in print and online. Rather than facing the challenge of not having enough material to research, we often deal with the problem of having too many places to find information. It can certainly be easy to feel overwhelmed! There have been many times where I have found myself wondering how to know what resources to use, how to sort through all the potential sources, and how to find information within a source!

I’ve found that the answers to these questions can vary from paper to paper. But if you’ve ever wondered any of these questions as well, hopefully this post will give you some helpful strategies that you can apply to your own writing. That way you can lose the feeling of information-overload and rock that research paper! 

A great place to begin is by reading any information you’ve been given about your assignment. Check to see if your professor has given you any specific research materials to use or tips on where to find information. For many classes, the library sets up a “Course Guide,” which is a  web page  on the library website that provides links to possible sources you can use both throughout the semester and for your particular research project.

If you don’t have a “Course Guide,” or are still feeling stuck, take a look at the library website and decide whether it will be more helpful for you to find books, journal articles, news articles, or dictionary and encyclopedia entries connected to your topic. You can make this decision first based off of what materials your professor has required for the paper (sometimes they specify if they want a certain number of peer-reviewed journal articles, books, news sources, etc.). If you don’t have any specific requirements or suggestions, try to think about what type of sources you use in your class, or ones you’ve had the most success using before.

Once you know what type of source you want to use, the best way to find information is by typing in different keywords related to your topic to find the sources that connect the best! If you can’t find anything by doing specific searches, try using general keywords at first.

When you’ve found some general material, you can dive deeper and gather the specifics. If you’re using online sources, it can be very helpful to do searches for certain words within the source to find what you’re looking for. The more specific search terms you use, the less time you’ll have to spend sorting through thousands of useless articles just to get to the one helpful one. Set up an appointment with a research librarian or a writing tutor to get extra help with search terms!

Oftentimes, you just need a few good research sources to get you started and make sure you feel like you’re on the right track. The more experience you have with doing this, the easier it gets. And don’t forget, if you ever need help with research, your friendly neighbourhood writing tutors are always here to help!


Marie Sherman is a sophomore at Principia College studying education and global studies. When not writing, she is probably running around campus or dancing!

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