- Remove all preconceptions about how to do research.
"Googling it" will only get you so far. Most automated search engines like Google only see a tiny part of the Web. The Web is only a tiny part of the Internet, and the Internet, vast as it is, is only a tiny part of recorded human knowledge. Enough said.
- Decide what you really want to find out.
Phrase this, out loud if need be, so that another human being can understand it. We are not kidding; this works. Verbalizing what you need will help you to focus your research.
- Figure out which resources -- tools -- will work best for finding that particular, focused answer.
Go for content, not just for sources that are familiar or fun to use. This is where the librarians can help most.
- Take your search one step at a time.
Don't let yourself be overwhelmed by a complex question; break it down into bits if you have to. Learn to recognize complexity and "bits" when you see them. These are important in the decision-making process.
- Understand how your tools work.
Tools could be reference books, the library catalog, digital research databases, or the Internet. Take a minute to see how a particular digital resource works, and read the help screens if you have to. If you're using a book, use the index, the table of contents, and any instructions that book might contain. If all else fails, ask somebody who knows.
- Evaluate the information you find.
There is a reason why teachers insist on certain kinds of sources. Is the author a recognized expert in the field? Does the information make sense? Is the publisher reputable? Does anyone involved with writing or publishing the book/article/web site/whatever have a political agenda that could affect what is written? Use your own best judgment, and, if in doubt, get a second opinion from a librarian or from your instructor.
- Be persistent.
Don't quit looking because (for instance) you don't find anything under "Bill of Rights". Keep looking and rephrasing your question until you hit the jackpot under "United States -- Constitution -- Amendments -- 1st-10th". If a keyword doesn't work, check your spelling. Remember to ask for help if you are truly stuck.
It is all very well to let serendipity swoop in to give you ideas. You, however, are the one who needs to control whether you spend the afternoon going after your answer or zooming around on side trails.
Find your subject, enter your Library card number and PIN, and dig in.
Last updated: 10/4/2012 11:54:53 AM