Research Papers & Writing

Writing the Research Paper  

This is a guide to help you use your library research time more efficiently. No matter how large or small the project, you need to develop a "plan of action" for your research. This plan involves several steps: identifying a topic, deciding what type of and how much information you need, obtaining the information, and deciding the usefulness of the information gathered.

Identifying A Topic

If you have a choice, choose a topic of interest to you.

Make sure the topic is manageable:

  1. "Civil War" - too broad
  2. "Civil War in Pratt County" - too narrow
  3. "Civil War in Kansas" - about right

Determine whether there is enough information that you can find within a reasonable time. If there is not at least some information readily available, consider changing topics. For example, you will not find much information in Kansas on maritime law, so researching this might prove frustrating.

Make certain the topic is suitable for your skill/knowledge level. If you have to do a considerable amount of background reading, you may learn something, but you will also waste valuable research time. In short, be clear, concise and understand exactly what you are trying to research.

Decide What Type and How Much Information You Need

The level of the paper determines the level of the information. Also, the topic itself is key to what type of information is needed. Books would be better sources for a paper on literature or history because there are not that many journals available in these areas and currency is not as critical. Topics in business and health sciences, on the other hand, require recent materials and journals should be used for these.

Know when to stop collecting references. A five-page paper generally does not need forty references. After you have searched the library catalog and other appropriate indexes, you will probably find very little elsewhere. Use your time for retrieving the materials.

Locating the Information

Begin your research early so that you will have time to get the books and articles you must have. No library will have all of the books and periodicals you will need. If the books and periodicals you need are not available at your local library, ask a staff member about interlibrary loan and allow time for this step. Fill out the interlibrary loan forms thoroughly, making sure you have complete information. For periodicals you will need the author (if given) and title of the article, the name of the periodical, the date of the periodical, and the page numbers of the article. For books, you will need at least an author and a title; most libraries will be able to trace the rest of the information for you.

The Interlibrary Loan librarian will make every effort to borrow the materials from another library, and most of the time this effort is successful. Interlibrary loan is a free service offered to Kansas citizens.

All interlibrary loan requests are sent out daily online to the closest holding library. After this, you are at the mercy of the lending library. Materials you request may take from one day to a week or more to be received. Make sure you request ALL materials far enough in advance of the time you will need them.

Determining the Usefulness of the Information You've Found

Just because information is in print or in front of you on a screen does not mean it is accurate, authoritative, valuable or useful. Evaluate each piece of information as you retrieve it. If it is not useful, do not use it!

Remember - The process of researching, organizing and writing an acceptable paper is not something you can do quickly. Never Begin the paper the night before it is due. While we know you're tempted, this is not a good idea!

Also - Librarians are trained professionals trained to teach and guide library users. So, don't hesitate to ask us! We are happy to  assist you in your research and will guide you to the best sources the library has for finding your information. We can save you hours of research time!

Evaluating Information

A common mistake people make when using the library is that they assume that everything the library owns is equally worth using. The books, periodicals, and other materials are not necessarily of equal scholarly value. It is important that you look critically at sources you find.

Factors to Evaluate

  1. Date
    • If you are looking for recent facts about something make sure that the source you are using is as up-to-date as the information you seek.
  2. Originality of the source
    • Certain types of research call for the use of primarysources of information. These are works that provide original information about a topic. Original experiments, historical letters and manuscripts, autobiographies, newspaper accounts contemporaneous to an event, and official records are examples of primary sources. Secondary sources are works that are based on primary sources.
      • For example, the minutes of the State Board of Education are a primary source. A book on the history of the State Board of Education is a secondary source.
  3. Biases in the source
    • An author’s viewpoint and agenda will affect the presentation and interpretation of facts. You should be aware of the biases of the author, and think critically before accepting everything he or she says.
    • On the other hand, resist the temptation to dismiss an author's ideas or statements of fact simply because they represent a viewpoint different from yours.
  4. Format
    • The Internet has undergone enormous growth in the last few years. Much information originally difficult or impossible to access has been made available online. However, some people have a tendency to think that anything they find on the Web is good and valid.
    • For a number of reasons, there is an abundance of material on the Web that is simply “junk.” Poor quality or even fraudulent material can be pulled up in the same search that retrieves useful information. It's important to look carefully at the information you find on the Internet to determine what's valid. Also, bear in mind that the Internet is a means to an end, not the end itself.
  5. Level of scholarship
    • Many of the holdings in the Library are of a scholarly nature, but many are popular sources. The difference between them is very important and the quality of your research may suffer if you do not distinguish between them.
    • Popular magazines are not necessarily of poor quality; they simply are not very useful for most high-level academic research projects although they may provide suitable material for a short speech on a popular topic.

Examples of Popular vs. Scholarly Information:

 

Popular

Scholarly

Content

Personal narrative; news; opinion

Report or research; conclusions based on data

Author

Non-expert, often a professional writer

Expert with credentials in the discipline

Audience

Public or non-specialists

Scholars in the discipline

Language

Everyday language

Terminology of the field

Features

Eye-catching photos, illustrations

Analysis and explanation

Authority

Few or no references to sources

Footnotes and/or bibliography

Periodical Type

Magazine

Journal

Examples
(periodicals)

Reader’s Digest, Sports Illustrated

Nursing Research, J. of Sports Medicine

Examples
(books)

Our Bodies, Ourselves

Principles of Anatomy and Physiology

Writing Resources 

Citation & Writing Styles  

 

Chicago or Turabian 

Writing Tips Sites 

Remember that the Library also has the latest MLA and APA manuals in book format in the reference section.