A big part of being a college student is writing papers and a big part of writing papers is doing your research, In fact, sometimes it can feel like you’re drawing in all the research you have to do, and it can leave you feeling stressed out, burnt out and unable to concentrate.
The good news is, there are lots of little tips and tricks that will help to make research easier so you can do what you need to do and get the grades you deserve without overwhelming yourself in the process.
Below are some of the best research tips and tricks that we think every college student needs to know:
Set a schedule
When you have a new paper to research, the first thing you should do is set a schedule for its completion instead of sticking your head in the sand or leaving the whole thing to the last possible moment.
How do you schedule a research paper? By breaking it down into small chunks and setting a deadline for each individual chunk until the whole thing is completed. In order to do this, you’ll need to get an overview of the material and what is available for you to research. You can then break the topic down into chunks and start tasking notes on each part. Pretty soon you’ll have all of the information you need and it won’t have caused you a huge headache.
Think of a question first
When you’re writing a thesis, you’re supposed to wait for a question to present itself as you look at the research you have collected, but it can make your life easier if you have the ghost of a question in your mind as you do your research. This is because you can assess every piece of research you come across based on whether it will help you to come up with answers to your question or not, which means you can more easily dismiss various pieces of information and thus lower your reading burden and save yourself a lot of wasted time.
Start by checking out Wikipedia
Yes, we all know that you can’t treat Wikipedia as a wholly reliable source and your research should not center around the information you’ve found only on there. However, there is no denying that Wikipedia is a good place to start your research quite simply because it gives you an overview of the subject and a lot of additional source links to check out.
For this reason, it is often a good idea to start your research there. Take notes, hit up the links and sources, and start building your research from there. Obviously, you should not cite Wikipedia as a primary source if possible, and you will need to double-check any information you find there, but, providing your do all that, it really does provide you with a good starting point.
Whatever topic you’re writing a paper on, hit up the library and find a really solid looking academic text on the subject, then head straight to the bibliography section. Why do this? Because it will provide you with literally tens, even hundreds, of potential sources that you can then lookup for your own research purposes. Try skimming the bibliography for relevant keywords and you’ll be able to save time while hitting upon the kind of knowledge you need before hitting the library for more books.
Use automatic search summarization software
When you’re doing your research online, you can save a lot of time and potential headaches by using automatic search summarization software that will weed out, summarize and present you with the most important and relevant information within the content you’re looking at. It’s like reading a really condensed book on the subject and it can save you so much time. It’s a brilliant resource for any student to have.
Stick to one subject at a time
No matter what subject you’re researching, it is almost certainly going to be the case that it can be broken down into numerous sub-categories. It’s a really good idea to work on each sub-category of your subject at a time. If you do this, rather than taking on the whole, it’s far easier to really understand each piece and deal with it in the context of your work, which means, not only will you save time overall, but you’ll come to a greater understanding of the subject. Once you’ve tackled each piece, you can combine your research build connections, and focus on the subject as a whole.
Have a notebook for each subject
These days, there are numerous apps and systems that you can use to collect research data, but research has shown that, when you write something down physically with pen and paper, you’re more likely to absorb and ultimately remember the information, which is why it’s a good idea to have a paper notebook for each sub-category of the subject you’re researching. Write all of your research in those notebooks and it should be just as easy to keep them organized as it would a digital system, although admittedly, searching them for specific keywords could be more difficult.
Don’t be afraid to seek help
A lot of college students fail to research as effectively as they could simply because they are too afraid to admit that they’re struggling and need some help. If you’re having a hard time with your paper, there is absolutely nothing wrong with seeing your professor and asking them if they could help you with things like evaluating sources or organizing the materials you have already corrected, after all, that is what they are there for.
Librarians are another good source of help as they tend to know their source material and where to find it. If you aren’t sure which sources would be the best for your needs, ask them and you will find that they are only too delighted to help you.
Remember the publication date
When you’re doing research, chances are you will come across a lot of older research. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but if you do find an interesting reference in an older book, it’s worth checking it with a more up-to-date book or paper because things change all the time, particularly in the scientific field, and older references may not be true or relevant right now. So, although older references are fine, try to use modern references for the bulk of your research work and it will make things a whole lot easier for you. Google makes this easy because you can typically search by publication date.
Take regular breaks
When you’re researching, it’s easy to get swept up in it all and spend hours and hours going through references and making notes without a break. Although there is nothing wrong with this per se, it’s probably not the best way to do it. Regular breaks are great for refreshing your brain and ensuring that you actually take in what you’re writing about. They will also help you to get some perspective and think through the issues more clearly. Ideally, you should have a 10-minute break every hour and curb research sessions to no longer than 4 hours at a time. If you must keep going, stop as soon as you start to feel stressed or fatigued and start again when you feel refreshed.
Armed with these research tips, you should be able to ace that next paper without all of those sleepless nights or stressed out vibes. Good luck!