Monday, 11 May 2015

Not another research paper! Part 3

1. Topic/Research Question
2. Pre-search
3. Research
4. Outline
5. Research
6. Fill-in-the-blanks
7. Edit

Ah ha ha!  This is where the game begins!  Do a scavenger hunt, be a pirate, search for Easter eggs... whatever prize metaphor you want to use; this is it.

What are the prizes you are looking for?  Why resources for your paper!  The facts and information that are going to explain, defend, and oppose your point (always address at least one point of opposition so you deflate the alternative argument).

I'm sure you remember from grade school and high school that there are:

  •  books, magazines and internet articles.  

But there are also:

  •  journals, personal interviews, audio/video materials, databases (this lies in conjunction with journals, especially), scientific studies, and theses and dissertations.  

All of these are fair game when searching for information to answer your research question.


(and it's a big BUTT)

Not all available resources are created equal.  This is where your intelligence and training come into play.

The main points to look for in all resources (there are nuances between the types but we can get into that later) are:

Author: Who are they?  Have the written other stuff? What are their qualifications for writing this?
     Why is this important?  Do you want parenting advice from someone who never had kids? Would you like scientific data from someone who has never worked in a lab?  Would an atheist give good information about faith-filled living?

Purpose: Why was this written?  Was it to persuade, inform, convince, support something? Was the author biased in some way?
     Why is this important?  If the author is trying to sell you something, they probably won't include information that makes their product look bad.  In the same way, a Christian church website is not going to give you positive information about pagan practices.

Scope: Is this a broad overview of a large topic?  Or does it focus on one or two things?
     Why is this important?  Sometimes a larger view may miss important details.  Conversely, a small focused view might miss out on big-picture connections.

Publisher: Are they well-known? Do they have a specialty?
     Why is this important?  A publisher has someone read, edit and proofread the book before it goes to press to verify quality and accuracy.  A self-publishing company often lets the author do it (whether or not they're good at it) themselves. If the company is known for science tomes, will it have good representations of art?

Date: When was this published?  Is it a first edition or a reprint?  Is the information time-sensitive?
     Why is this important?  It's hard to believe "breaking" news when it's 5 years old.  It's hard to cite something as current when it lists the president as the one who was in office 3 terms ago.

Once you have answered these questions, you have to decide if the answers add up to something you can trust.  Just because a medical book was published 30 years ago doesn't mean you can't use it if you are talking about how treatments for a condition have advanced over the years.

You have to evaluate your potential sources using the purpose of your own paper. 

You are the one to decide, use and defend the resources you are using.

When you are starting out, I recommend actually writing all this information down for each source you are considering using, along with all the pertinent publishing data.  Eventually you will do this fairly quickly and internally and things will go faster.  Until then, you want to make sure you are hitting every point.

So there you are Step 3!  You are well on your way to setting up the fill-in-the-blank template.  Have fun on your treasure hunt and don't be tricked by fool's gold!

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