Rail yard background, from the Library of Congress

Connections

A Hypertext Resource for Literature

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Three Points about Research

On the next page, I will refer you to some resources that cover different parts of the research process in detail. For the moment, I want only to emphasize three points:

Research expectations vary widely from paper to paper and teacher to teacher.

Before you start thinking about writing a given paper (ideally, at the very beginning of a course), pay careful attention to the amount and kind of research that you will need to do for each assigned paper. If you cannot tell what research is required or expected for a given assignment, ask the teacher to clarify her or his expectations.

Make research a habit of exploration rather than a paper-driven chore.

Once you understand exactly what a teacher expects for each assignment, forget that information for a while. As you read for classes (and even better, as you read anything), make a habit of noting anything you would like to explore further. Having a reliable system for taking notes will help you capture your thoughts in class; see this page for suggestions. Then look around for information that can help you understand more about the ideas or problems that interest you most. That way, you can ensure that when deadlines approach, you will be prepared to write a paper about a topic that is an old friend rather than an unwilling helper whom you press into service. You will also develop the habit of learning interesting things even when a teacher has not forced you to learn them.

Beware the Internet.

Allow me to bend your mind: the biggest problem with the Internet is that it now offers a lot of really good information. See, if the whole Internet were junk, my job would be easy: I could tell you to avoid the Net altogether and be done with it. The Internet has sneakier ways of winning our foolish hearts: it gives us a great deal of information easily, and some of that information comes from reliable authorities. A tiny bit of information even passes through a process of professional review and editing like the process that scholarly books undergo. The huge pitfall of the Internet as a means of doing college-level research is that less reliable information tends to look like more reliable information; often, only expert eyes can tell the difference, and sometimes even experts need to do extra research to confirm information gathered on the Internet. Cultivate an understanding of what the Internet does well and what it does not do well. When researching a paper, use a strategy based on one of the balanced approaches explained in the rest of this section. For best results, start your research at the library and use the Internet with the assistance of a research librarian.

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