First research steps
The first step in research is to establish a research question. This can often be based off a prompt in the form of an assignment, but if you're undertaking an independent research project, you need come up with one yourself. Ensure that the question focuses on a single issue, is researchable and answerable in line with the timeframe and weight of the task, and is specific enough to answer in adequate depth.
The second step is to get an overview of the subject at hand. Some people tend to dive straight into the specificities, but this can lead to work having a warped focus; you may find later on you've placed too much time and significance on a less relevant feature of the topic. The preliminary stage of acquainting yourself with the general picture will highlight how subtopics interplay with each other and establish the narrative of the subject in your mind. This is the best (and probably only) time to use Wikipedia. Wikipedia is also a good place to start because it is littered with references and hyperlinks to source material, so make use of its references and bibliography. Just don't reference the Wiki page in your submitted work.
The third step is to assemble your sources. While Wikipedia is good for overview and general info, you don't want the breadth and depth of your work to be funnelled through its limited scope. This means obtaining references from additional resources: using academic databases such as JSTOR and drawing from periodicals apposite to your research question. This is where you will find the cutting-edge content at the forefront of the field, the material which will help you answer your research question with as much precision, detail and relevance as possible. Keeping your sources up to date will greatly improve the final product.
Cutting through the content
You should now have gathered a collection of sources: enough to cover the topic's background alongside more specific references for deeper analysis. Now may be a good time to categorise your sources in such a way that allows you to work through them logically and methodically, rather than doing it at random and digesting disseminating information. You can then begin working through the papers.
As you do this, be sure to consider your references with a critical eye. You need to evaluate both the quality of your sources and the quality of the material. How credible is the author? Does the author speak objectively? Is the author affiliated with an institution that may bias the information given? Is the information up to date? Do the conclusions follow logically from the data? It is easy to take academic publications at face value, but the reality is anyone can publish anything on the internet. Additionally, being scrupulous in this respect will give your work greater insight and accuracy.
Now although we don't normally like to self-promote in our articles, we feel this is a reasonable instance to do so. If you have been rigorous with your collation of references, you will have plenty of wordy drawn-out papers to get through. The tool we've created here at genei is built to help you do exactly that: its ability to summarise articles, identify keywords across documents, and make shrewd structured notes has been shown to cut reading times by 70%, streamlining the research process and helping you execute your work in less time with less stress. Hit the Home button in the top-right corner to try it for free today.
As you work through your sources, you will need to decide what is relevant and what is not. Make sure you keep your research focus in mind to strike this balance effectively. During this process, maintain an active mind in order to analyse, integrate and synthesise the various pieces of information you're taking in. Connecting the dots in your research will benefit your overall understanding of the field and help you identify problems and points of interest for discussion. This will make your subsequent work more discerning and exhaustive, and might lead you to an inventive thesis or conclusion.
Needless to say, your research notes should be clear and structured logically. Try to do this so that you have the information ordered similarly to the way you want to compose your write up, but be open to surprises and unexpected findings. Being open-minded and accepting of information that challenges your preconceptions and prior knowledge is part of research, and crucial to constructing a balanced argument in your work. It may require that you restructure the write up, but don't be afraid of that: though sometimes it can feel disheartening or draining, the end product will be better for it.
The last step of the research component is referencing. It is wise to keep a note of the sources you cite (as well as those you don't in the case of a bibliography) and where you use them to make this process as painless as possible. Check which referencing format is necessary or appropriate for the work, implement it properly, and don't forget to give credit for ideas discussed or borrowed.
As a final aside, make sure you understand issues such as plagiarism and information ownership. The last thing you want is your work to suffer, or worse, because you haven't cited in the proper academic practice. Putting your work through a plagiarism checker might help, but it is best to be meticulous yourself to avoid any risks.
We hope this is a useful guide for all you researchers out there. Don't forget to give our tool a try if you need a helping hand! Otherwise, stay tuned for the next article.