Once you’ve either chosen or been given a topic to begin writing an essay/thesis on, the very first place to start is with research. Or, more specifically, a research plan.
Devising your research plan
– First, consider very carefully exactly what question your assignment is asking you to answer;
– Then, identify the research problem, which is often referred to as the purpose of the study;
– Create a research plan by listing key sub-topics you feel you need to explore.
Read light sources, then delve deeper
– Search the web: familiarise yourself with the basic issues – Google Books is actually a great and trustworthy place to start.
(Evernote is a fantastic little app that enables you to record things to one place as you go, so that you can quickly sift through webpages and record what’s worthy of going back to, as well as note down any little epiphanies you might have as you work.)
– Investigate online journal databases: For example, JSTOR – however, note that most require an ATHENS login or paid subscription.
– Visit the library: Academic institutions want to see that you’ve availed yourself of a wide range of resources, which might include books, journals, websites, and primary (original) source material, among many others. When using print sources, it’s a good idea to put a checkmark or Post-it note beside interesting passages.
Researching the sub-topics you’ve identified as the keys to unlocking your research problem often throws up more questions than it does answers. However, remember not to digress from your plan, which can easily happen when embarking on an in-depth investigation of a specific area of study. Always have your research plan by your side to ensure that you stay on track.
Record useful quotations
As you read about your topic, record any interesting quotations you find (but remember to use these only very sparingly when actually writing an essay). However, don’t just record the quotation itself – take a record of the following key descriptors, where they apply:
– Author(s) name(s)
– Year of publication
– Full title of the work
– Publisher/journal name
– City of publication
– Edition, if it’s a book
– Volume and issue number, if it’s a journal
– Full url and date of access, if it’s an online resource
However, always consult your referencing style guide when recording your references to ensure that you record all the necessary information about each type of source. Leaving this work until the end creates a mammoth task, which can lead to big mistakes.
Review and refine
– Review: What were your key findings? Did you discover anything you weren’t expecting? Anything that changes the direction of your argument?
– Refine: Scrap any weak or irrelevant references.
– Plan: Write an essay plan, backing up all the key points of your argument with references from several authors.
– Fill in the gaps: Identify any weaknesses in your argument, and areas for which more research is required to bolster it.
Always remember to reference a wide variety of sources and academics, and use quotations from them very sparingly.