A new school year also means homework, projects and research papers. Whether you prepare a paper in the area of science, biology, literature, or foreign languages, there are some basic steps you should take when conducting your research to make sure that the final result is accurate and is based on information verified by scholars. There is nothing more disappointing than investing the time and work and discovering — from your teacher! — that the data used is not quite valid. Read our tips to develop good habits for researching an A-plus paper.
Online start-up sources
The Internet makes up for the largest database humankind has ever possessed, housing tons and tons of information. The myth about the Internet not being a reliable source has long vanished, and yet, one has to know where to look for accurate facts. There are places online which contain true information, and can be cited in a paper, and other websites like Wikipedia, which are still considered a questionable source. Wikipedia can still be useful for gathering preliminary information, yet not recommended for actual citing. Websites like Encyclopedia Britannica and InfoPlease.com feature content that is written and edited by editors, not users, making these safe to browse for information.
Online scholarly databases
Websites like InfoTrac, LexisNexis, and EBSCO, ProQuest, JSTOR, provide credible content from academic journals and magazines, as well as e-books or image archives. One such database can contain millions of articles, presented in their full length, and safe to cite.
You might want to pay attention to the ones that are 100% free, versus those that provide some free samples, and then require a purchase. It is always a great idea to check with your school, as some institutions offer free unlimited access to their students to some of these websites.
Don’t forget the good ol’ library. Browsing through books can be pretty fun, instead of spending hours in front of a computer. Plus, when opting for a library, you will always have the help of the librarian, who will know how to direct you to the right section and to the right books. Although e-books have become very popular, there is still a great number of print books that do not have their virtual equivalent available online. Sometimes, the only way to access a book is at the library.
Newspapers & magazines
Many newspapers and magazines today have a digital archive, which is quite easy to access online. The hard copies of these can also be found in libraries. Newspapers like The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, or magazines like TIME, Newsweek, or Guardian, are rich sources of information, featuring articles well-researched, often time by well-established journalists or writers.
Depending on the topic for your research paper, remember that interviewing people can be a source of information too. If you are working on a project about your family tree, what better way to find out about your ancestors than asking your own grandmother, or for the luckier ones out there, your great-grandparents? For a paper in anatomy, for example, turn to the aunt who is a doctor, and ask her to be your source. Don’t underestimate the valuable information that you can find out directly from those around you.