- By Jason Bacot
- Published 12/28/2010
Doing research for college research papers is a much more efficient process than it was a generation ago. Students could waste a lot of time tracking down library books only to find them checked out or find them to be only slightly relevant to the task at hand. Using the internet for research is far easier, but you have to stick to the standards spelled out by your professor or department for online research. Here are some more ways to make the most of your research time. This first tip may sound stupidly obvious, but you’d be amazed how many students don’t consider it important: Go to your lectures, seminars, and labs. Not only will you pick up relevant information, you can find out more about which sources your professors like, the names of relevant texts to get at the library, and generally how strict your professor is in grading. Go to every class meeting and you’ll quickly learn whether your prof is easy-going about deadlines or a total stickler. If you study with more than two or three other people, you raise your risk of the study session turning into a pub crawl. This is not to say that larger groups can’t function together, but groups of two, three, or four work best as far as bouncing ideas off each other.
Even in the age of Google, a reference librarian can be your best friend. First of all, not everything is online yet, and the reference librarian knows where to find stuff. Some college libraries offer guided audio tours, and you’d be wise to take it because there
are likely all kinds of resources you didn’t even know existed. Find out if you can get access to your college’s journal subscriptions online. This could be the single biggest time saver you’ll find because it totally eliminates the drudge work of photocopying pages out of journals. Learn to quickly weed out the irrelevant stuff on search engines. Suppose you’re writing a research paper on, say, leather tanning. Type “tanned leather” into Google, and you’re going to get a million shopping sites telling you where to buy a handbag or a pair of boots. But type it into Google Scholar (http://scholar.google.com/) and you get informative articles. Learn to use your search engine’s “AND,” “OR,” and exclude functions and you can save a lot of time. For example, if you want to write a research paper on the history and geography of the Aquitaine region of France, you know that you’re going to get tons of vacation-related search hits. By using the exclude symbol (which in Google is the hyphen, or “minus sign”) you can eliminate sites with words like “rental,” “hotel,” and “guided tours,” making it more likely you’ll find relevant information sooner. The Google Guide shows you lots of search shortcuts that can save you time by weeding out irrelevant sites quicker.
Believe it or not, your professor wants you to succeed and learn something, and he or she is probably willing to answer your questions and help you out. Learning to use the resources available to you – including the time and expertise of your professor and library professionals – is one of the keys to doing a successful research paper.