How to Research a Topic?
It’s in the wee hours of the morning and you’re on the sixth cup of coffee. Or you’re crouched in a dark corner of the school library surrounded by ten open books and you still haven’t written a word of the paper that is due in a couple of hours. Many things can explain how you arrived here. And they include poor organization, procrastination, and a messy timetable.
In most cases, it’s usually a lack of research skills to research a topic. And this is not your fault. Most institutions are poor at teaching students how to conduct research. Most students feel like they are expected to figure out everything on their own. This article will help you do better than this. We are going to share with you a few critical processes that will help you learn how to research more efficiently and write.
Let’s get started!
Before we start talking about the tips to researching efficiently, you need to understand what research is. Research involves attempting to answer a question. It could be anything from philosophy to cooking.
You need to consult academic papers, books, historical records, newspaper articles, or anything that will help you answer your question. The term that we can use for these things is sources. After doing your research, you need to summarize it. This could mean writing an essay, giving a presentation, or creating a video on YouTube. Even if you are not interested in academia, developing your research skills is essential.
When you know how to conduct your research, you will work more effectively and this will greatly improve your life. Instead of having to consult every time, researching will help you identify and solve problems effectively.
Remember, research also involves performing experiments, conducting surveys, and visiting archaeological sites. While all these activities are essential for advancing human knowledge, we won’t discuss them here. We will focus on what you can do in a library with an internet connection.
The research process
The research process when researching a topic can be overwhelming. However, it is manageable when it’s broken down into a few steps.
Find your topic
Without a topic, your research will be inefficient and undirected. You’ll spend several hours reading different sources simply because you didn’t take a couple of minutes to come up with a topic. So, how do you come up with a topic? The best way to go about this is by creating a mind map. A mind map will help you visually generate ideas. Here’s how you create one:
- Grab a piece of paper and a pen. Ensure that the paper isn’t too small since you’ll be recording lots of ideas.
- In the center of the paper, draw an oval, and write a vague topic. You can start with whatever your tutor assigned you
- Draw lines from the oval towards the papers’ edges
- Draw other smaller ovals and connect all of them with these lines
- Inside the small ovals, write specific topics or ideas related to your main topic
- Repeat the process until you generate at least three or five ideas
- This process seems kind of strange but it works like magic.
Refine the topic
With at least three to five topics, you’ll agree with me that they are quite general. This means that you’ll have to narrow them down to a central topic that you can research on. You need to spend around 15 minutes doing some research on each of the topics. Take each topic and plug it into the catalog of your library and search tools. This process will vary depending on the library.
Consulting your librarian will make your work easier. They’ll help you learn how to use the tools that we’ve talked about. Further, you need to ask for your professor’s recommendations. They might be conversant with a resource page that will improve the results of your assignment. To refine your topic, you need a sufficient quantity of sources. You need books and journal articles because it demonstrates that scholars are serious about the topic at hand.
In some cases, you’ll only need to find journal articles. This technique will help you eliminate other less important topics quickly. You need to be ruthless with your time. And most importantly, don’t get attached to a topic.
If you happen to find two topics of interest with the same number of sources, you should consider asking your professor to help you figure out the best alternative. With your topic in place, you need to narrow down your sources.
After picking a good research topic, you likely have a lot of sources to use. This can be a blessing and a curse. A wide range of sources signifies that there is a lot of content about your chosen topic. Plus, you also get plenty of sources to the site.
However, this abundance can quickly become a nightmare in which you spend most of your time reading without getting close to producing a paper. How do you prevent this from happening? Choose three key sources and focus on them. You might end up needing several sources especially if the paper is long or it’s a requirement. If you start by reading ten or more sources, you greatly increase your chances of getting frustrated and overwhelmed. As the popular saying goes, less is more.
Take notes and read them
- Skim: Go through the source and look for headings. If any words grab your attention, take note of them. Look at the beginning sentences of each paragraph and section to get an idea of the argument presented by the author. The goal is not just comprehending but also preparing your mind to read effectively.
- Question: After skimming the article, write down questions that you expect the article to answer. Keep thinking about your topic as you do this.
- Read actively: Start reading but don’t do it passively like you are scrolling your social media page. Read with a pencil and underline any terms or ideas that seem interesting. Remember to make notes about concepts that come to mind. You can make notes on a separate book or paper if you are reading a library book.
- Rest: After reading, you need to take a break. Go for a walk in your neighborhood. Stretch. Or, have a cup of coffee. Getting your mind away from the entire research process will boost your productivity and performance.
- Summarize: Go back to the article and analyze the things that you noted or underlined. Gather your notes and transfer them to an app like Evernote. Look up the terms that you need to and make note of the sources cited by the author. Remember, you don’t have to read an entire book while conducting your research. Only read the sections or chapters that are relevant.
Write your paper
Research is essential in the crafting of a good presentation or paper. However, it’s also a good way to procrastinate. Some students spend more than 8 hours researching a 5-page essay. At some point, you’ll need to end your research process and start writing. How do you know when it’s time to terminate the research process? There are no rules. However, the smaller the research paper, the fewer hours you should spend in the library.
Conduct additional research if necessary
Once you’ve written the draft of your paper, you’ll probably find several gaps. You may realize that one argument isn’t relevant to your research paper. Or, you need more information about a particular section. In such a case, you can revisit your sources. However, don’t spend too much time here as it will negatively affect your productivity and performance. Conduct your research and get back to writing immediately.
As you write your research paper, you’ll need to cite sources. Remember, you can never get away with plagiarism. Plagiarism can lead to a suspension or worse, an expulsion. How you cite sources will depend on your professor’s expectations and the subject of study.
Some of the most common citation formats include MLA, Chicago, and APA. You don’t need to type your citations by hand. Instead, you can use tools like Zotero to help you in the generation of citations. You can also consult your librarian or supervisor to help you understand the format that you are required to use.
Revise and edit
You should never submit your paper without proofreading, revising, and editing. You need to check the flow, transitions, and make necessary changes in your essay. You should ensure that your ideas are developed and supported by reliable sources.
You need to eliminate filler phrases, improper word choice, and correct grammatical and punctuation errors. You need to go through your paper at least three times before submitting it. If you can’t do this, ask your study partner or family member to review your paper and show you where you should improve on.
With all these points in mind, you should have the ability to write your research paper with confidence. Using the tips that we’ve discussed here will help you perform your research effectively, research a topic, and manage your time wisely.