Researching a topic requires essentially three skills:
- Finding the best and truest of what has been written and said about that topic
- Finding this information in the most efficient manner
- Giving proper credit to the sources you use to write about the topic.
While the Internet is a powerful tool for retrieving information we want, the information we find there may not be as reliable as the materials your teachers and librarian have hand-picked for you to borrow from the library.
The Internet has made research both easier and more difficult. It provides you with lots of choices (not to mention distractions!) at fifty different websites, but doesn't necessarily help you get what you need quickly.
If you are on a schedule, you need to decide how you'll spend your research time to get the job done most efficiently. This research guide shows you not only how to find what you want quickly, but also how to plan for finding only what you need, not whatever you stumble upon while surfing the Internet or flipping through books.
We make Works Cited lists not only out of respect (and because law requires us to), but also to help others find the sources we used to complete our research. Please refer to your Student Agenda for information on how to correctly build a Works Cited list.
In the past you may have used the Internet or an encyclopedia to find information for a school project. There are many places to look but some may be better than others. For example, you wouldn't go online to find movie times if the newspaper is in front of you. In the same way, when doing longer research, you want to find the right tool for the job. Here are some good places to start!
Visit the library where you will locate and study the sources you listed earlier. Gather your sources and then consider the following questions:
- Did you find enough information to meet the requirements of the assignment?
- Can you read and understand the sources?
- Are the sources current? Not out of date?
More questions to ask about your sources:
- Who is the AUTHOR of this book or website?
- Do you know anything about the author's education, training or experience?
- In the case of web sites, do you know whether they are commercial, educational or governmental (.com, .edu, .gov)?
- Is the CONTENT of the book or website accurate and reliable?
- Is there support for statistics and facts?
- How current is the information? If it is a web site, when was it last updated?
- Do you know the PURPOSE of the information? Is it intended to inform, teach, sell, persuade, entertain?
- Does the presentation of the information seem fair?
In order to complete your research assignment you have read and used information. To be fair and honest, you must indicate when you borrow another writer's ideas or words. You do this by documenting, or citing, your sources. "Citing your sources" means nothing more than telling your reader whose ideas or words you have used and where you found them. To use someone else's words or ideas without giving them credit is dishonest. It is called plagiarism.
In summary: Do not plagiarize. Document all quotations and borrowed ideas. Avoid paraphrases that closely resemble your sources. The text of this section is adapted from Hacker, Diana. The Bedford Handbook for Writers. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, 1991.
Source: Any resource from which you gather information. Common SOURCES are books, magazines, newspapers, websites, interviews.
Citation/To Cite/Cited Material: The form you use when you give credit to the author of actual words or original ideas from one of your SOURCES.
Documentation/To Document: Giving credit to your sources.
Works Cited Page: Page that lists all the SOURCES CITED in your paper. Appears at the end of your paper and follows very specific guidelines.
Plagiarism: Presenting the work and ideas of others as your own.
Acknowledgments: The Sayre Middle School Research Notebook and the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers.