Students carry out online research for many different reasons. It helps to learn new information, prepare for writing an essay, get ready for classroom discussion, to mention but a few. At the same time, we should understand that doing online research is more than googling and using the first search result. If you want to collect trustworthy and accurate information, you need to spend some time following each step of the research process. Our article will help you to figure out what these steps are and how to perform them correctly.
Step 1: Develop a Research Question
Any kind of research should begin with a good research question. Take some time to figure out what you want to find. If you were assigned a certain task, read it again to make sure you understand it correctly. Then, think about the volume of your work. It will help you to decide on the number of sources you need to find to draw a conclusion.
Sometimes assignment instructions even specify the required types of sources, such as books, peer-reviewed articles, electronic sources, audiovisual materials, etc. Pay attention to such details as they can significantly narrow down your search, helping you cope with the task much faster.
Developing a research question, jot down what you know about the topic and what you need to find. Next, identify keywords related to it. Include principal terms, both broader and narrower, and their synonyms. For example, if you want to find a service writer to get a consultation, you need to specify your request. If you enter only the job title, search results will be too broad, including job duties, description, and probably some contacts. You will get too many results, which will slow down your research. Therefore, finding correct keywords is crucial because they determine the accuracy of research results.
Step 2: Collect Information
Start collecting information from brief background research. It will help you to see the bigger picture. Look through your textbook, general encyclopedias, and articles. Even such a quick overview shows the basic facts and serves as a great foundation for further refinement of your research.
At this point, you should be able to identify which subject areas you need to focus on. See what has already been done by scholars and scientists in this field. Be careful not to get lost in large amounts of sources. Keep only those that refer to your research question directly.
Your research will benefit if you combine information from different sources. Your paper will be more convincing. Use books to find a wide coverage of a topic and scholarly articles to learn about the latest discoveries. A lot of useful sources can be found in open academic databases. Usually, most of them provide advanced search options to facilitate research.
Step 3: Evaluate Information
Once you have collected all the necessary sources, it is time to move on to the evaluation step. It is probably the most important stage of online research because it allows you to eliminate fake and conflicting information. Performing evaluation, make sure your sources are trustworthy, accurate, and relevant for your task. Concentrate on the following questions:
- Who is the author? What makes them competent in the topic?
- Does the author provide references? Are they credible?
- Who is the publisher?
- Is the source of information reputable?
- Are there any signs that the source is sponsored?
- What is the publication date? Is the source still relevant?
- Does the source answer your research question?
- Is the source peer-reviewed?
- Is there any conflicting information that is refuted in other sources?
- Are there any obvious errors in the form or content of the source?
- Does the author seem biased?
- Who is the intended audience of the source?
Use the information only if you are completely sure of its accuracy and reliability.
Step 4: Put It All Together and Draw Conclusions
This is the final step of the research when you need to structure the information you have found and make conclusions. Many students feel overwhelmed during this stage as they do not know how to work with sources. Let us help.
First of all, you should go back to the first step and read your research question one more time. You need this to reestablish the focus. Then, read each of the selected sources carefully, taking notes and identifying key ideas. It will be easier to structure the information if you create an outline and fill it with takeaways from sources. Do not forget that you should document them and provide correct citations. If your assignment is large and complicated, it might be better to create an annotated bibliography with a brief description of sources to organize information in a logical order.
Doing thorough online research is crucial to the success of your academic endeavors. This process requires intellectual rigor and a lot of time to do everything properly. We have outlined the basic steps that any online research should include, but this list is not exhaustive. Depending on your research questions and strategies, you may need to adjust the process and add some extra data collection and analysis methods.
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