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Sabol, Debra » Research Papers...Help!

Research Papers...Help!


Scroll to the bottom for the following Quick Links:
Tentative Outline Instructions
Works Cited Instructions
Note Card Instructions
NoodleBib Online Citation Machine Instructions

Steps in the Research Process

Hey! If you've just been assigned a research project and aren't sure what to do, then this is the place for you! There's a little bit of reading involved, but this page has all the basic information you need to complete a great research project.

A research process model is a set of steps that one must go through to conduct research--sort of like a set of directions for completing your research project. Many researchers and teachers have created different research process models. Although they all have slightly different ideas about the "correct" steps for conducting research, many of them agree on the same basic steps. Listed below are the basic steps you will have to go through in order to complete your research project. If you need more information about a particular step, click on it, and you will jump to more detailed instructions..

Stages in the Research Process (click for more information):
1. Choose a topic.
2. Choose a final product.
3. Organize your ideas into a tentative outline.
4. Gather information.
5. Revise the outline.
6. Organize your information.
7. Create drafts of your project.
8. Revise and recreate your drafts.
9. Create the final version of your project.
10. Evaluate your project.

1.  Choose a Topic

There are three main methods of connecting with a research topic: you choose a topic, your teacher assigns a topic, or your teacher assigns a general topic and you choose the specific topic. Let's look at what you have to do for each of these three choices.

If you have total choice in your topic, choose something that you're curious about. It's always great to learn something new! Brainstorm! Make a list of everything that comes into your head. Then look at your list and decide which idea will best meet the requirements of your assignment.

Sometimes at school, however, you don't have a choice at all. Your teacher may assign a topic to you. In this case, all you can do is smile and get to work! (Unless, of course, there's a reason why you feel you can't work with the assigned topic. . .then you'll need to go and discuss this with your teacher.)

Then there's the in-between option, where your teacher may give you a general idea of what your topic should be, but leaves the details up to you. For example, you may be asked to complete a research report on an animal, but the choice of which animal is left up to you.

No matter how you get matched with your topic, it's really important to remember to narrow your topic to a specific item that you can research. If your topic is too broad, then your research will go on forever and your report will be too long (not to mention confusing!). This is easier to understand if we revisit our animal research example. If you choose to write about bears, there are many different species of bear and each has its own different characteristics. If you write about all the different kinds of bears, it would be overwhelming. You will be able to write a much more effective report if you narrow your topic to one particular species of bear, say the polar bear.

2.  Choose a Final Product

Now you must decide how you want to present your research. Again, if your teacher determines this for you, you must follow your teacher's guidelines if you expect your teacher to approve. If you get to make your own decision, though, there are lots of interesting ideas. Consider trying one of the following:

written report
diorama (three-dimensional scene)
art project
display board
web site
computer-generated presentation

3.  Organize Your Ideas

You will need to decide what types of information you will want to include in your report. Sometimes your teacher will tell you what he/she expects to see included in your research project. If that's the case, then make sure you follow your teacher's guidelines.

Other times, you will need to decide for yourself how your project will be organized. It's important to organize your ideas before you begin your research. This helps you focus (take notes) on the information you need, and ignore the information you don't need. In other words, organizing saves you time. One of the most common ways to organize your ideas is to brainstorm and outline. Here's how it works.

First, you brainstorm. Think of ideas you will need to cover with your project. You may wish to organize these as a bubble organizer. Start with your topic in a circle in the center of your page. As you think of ideas that need to be researched, put them in other bubbles connected to the center one. Then, as you think of more detailed ideas, place them in bubbles attached to the subtopics they match. That's really hard to understand when you read it, but click here to see an example of a bubble organizer. This method of organizing is good for brainstorming; that is, when you're thinking of ideas in a mixed-up order and trying to see how they fit with the other ideas you've thought of. It's also good for organizing information when your project doesn't have to go in any particular order, like when you're creating an art project, diorama, poster, or web site.

If your final project is a written report, then you'll need to take the next step in organizing--an outline. This method of oganizing is usually required if your final project needs to be in a particular order to make sense, like written reports, timelines, or PowerPoint projects. Outlines must have several qualities: they have unusual numbering and spacing, they must be in an order that makes sense, and ideas are grouped with related ideas. Click here to get instructions on how to create your outline and see the sample outline for the polar bear report discussed previously on this page.
Remember, you're not really putting any facts into your outline yet. You're just deciding what type of information will go into your project so you can focus a little better during the next stage when you gather information.

4.  Gather Information

Gathering information means you will have to decide where to go to find information. This could include your school library, local public libraries, your church library, the Internet, or government agencies.

You will also need to consider what types of resources you can use. Possibilities include books, magazines, newspapers, videotapes, CD-ROMs, Internet sites, personal interviews, pamplets, and audio recordings.

Once you find resources (places or things in which you find facts), you are ready to start taking notes. Remember that if you write sentences word-for-word (or even close to it), that's plagiarism and it's against the law. It's not fair to use someone else's research or hard work and not give them credit for it. When you take notes, you will be paraphrasing; that is, putting the ideas together in your own words. You can also write in incomplete sentences (really!). You just want to quickly jot down the main idea. You'll put it into a sentence later when you write your final draft.

Even though you are not using someone else's exact sentences, you will still be using someone else's ideas and research. We have to give people credit for their work by writing a works cited page (sometimes referred to as a bibliography). A works cited page is a list of all the resource materials in which you looked to find facts. Click here to find a printable works cited instructions page.

Notecards: This is the preferred method of notetaking for almost all projects. It involves writing one fact on each notecard. This allows quick organization of ideas for your final draft and saves you lots of time! Click here to get instructions on how to write and organize notecards.

Note Charts: This is a good method if you have a very short report with only three or four subtopics you need to address and only two or three resources required. Make a grid on a sheet of paper. At the top of the first column, write "Resources". At the top of the other columns, write each of your subtopics. Fill in the appropriate box as you find facts.

Notebook Paper: This method usually involves writing notes on notebook paper as you research. It is not recommended due to the excessive length of time required to organize your report according to your outline. This method is better for taking notes during teacher lectures or videotapes.

5.  Revise the Outline

As you gather your information and take notes, you may discover that you need to change parts of your outline. Perhaps there is a great deal of information on an idea you never even thought to put into your original outline. If you have enough information on a particular topic to build a strong paragraph, then add this subtopic to your outline now.

6.  Organize Your Information

Now is the time when you put your information in order according to your outline. This step is much easier if you took notes on separate notecards, one fact per card. Click here if you'd like to see a reminder of what your note cards should look like. Re-order your note cards according to the outline section you wrote in the lower right corner of each card. If you have more than one card with the identical section and subtopic, then you'll have to read your cards to decide which order makes the most sense. You'll end up with a stack of notecards in the proper order.

7.  Create Drafts (early versions) of Your Project

Now is the time to create a rough draft of your project. Take your ordered notecards and convert the ideas back into complete sentences (in your own words) and write them down in paragraphs. Have others (teachers, parents, friends you trust) read your writing and see if they understand it and enjoy it. Ask them if there were any parts that confused them, and ask for suggestions on how to make your project better. Don't get angry if they give you suggestions. Remember, you have been working on this project for a while now, and that makes things make more sense to you than to someone who has never seen your project before. Your report has to make sense to the average person who knows little or nothing about your topic. Try to remember that every suggestion given probably moves your project closer to being awesome!

8.  Revise and Recreate Your Drafts

Take the suggestions given to you by those who viewed your project and make the changes. Sometimes, if there are lots of changes, it may be necessary to start from scratch. Sometimes you will need to do more than one rough draft.

9.  Create the Final Version of Your Project

When you are satisfied that your project is as good as it can be, then create the final version that you will turn in. Remember, EVERYTHING counts! You must follow your teacher's directions in addition to having a project that is accurate and attractive.

10.  Evaluate Your Project

Each time you complete a long-term project like this, you will learn new things that will make your next project more effective. You have to take a little "time out" at the end of the project to think about these things. Ask yourself the following questions:

Compare your report, item by item, to the guidelines that your teacher gave you. Did you meet every goal?
What new information did you learn about your topic?
What new information did you learn about the process of researching?
Is this your very best work?
What would you do differently next time to improve your final project?
What parts of the research process do you still need help with?