“Ready, aim, fire!” is how the saying goes, but often times as students we fire before readying or aiming. This happens often when a student heads to the library in search of stuff to help them complete a paper. You know there’s no preparation when you’re going to the library for “stuff.” But with these few research tips you can learn to be laser focused before ever entering the library or online database.

First, make sure you understand any assignment your professor may have given you thoroughly before beginning. It so often happens that a student is searching for a couple hours before a light goes off in their head that they don’t really know what they are looking for. Don’t let this be you. Ask questions to help you clearly get a picture of what you’re going to be doing when you go to research.

Second, don’t wait to begin your research. Students often think for whatever reason that they’ll be able to zoom into the library, get what they need and get out the day before their paper’s due. You may be able to do this, but you’re teaching yourself a bad habit. Picking out the first 5 articles that come up in a journal database search is not the same as going through a good amount of them and weeding out the irrelevant ones and picking the best that will help you understand the topic you’re presenting thoroughly. Schedule some research time as soon as you receive an assignment. This will ensure that you have plenty of time to write your paper.

Third, know where to search. Sometimes it’s confusing what database you should be searching to find scholarly articles on your given topic. Sometimes what you’re looking for can be found in several different ones. Take some time to learn from a librarian what the different resources include. Have a list handy of the kind of articles available in each database. You may luck out and have a smart interface that removes the need to know the difference between all the different databases, but just in case you don’t, make sure to pick the database that is specific to your field of interest, like Earth Science, Psychology or Economics.

Fourth, be specific in your searching. Google knows that most people don’t find what they’re looking for the first time they search. They often rephrase or add modifiers to their search. You may be the same way, especially if you don’t put much thought into what you’re searching for. You may start with a broad phrase. You may do this intentionally to see what subtopics are included in a subject. Once you find the area that you are looking for, getting more specific can help you narrow the amount of results greatly. When being specific do your best to leave out words that may narrow your search like “pros and cons,” “relationship,” “cause,” “effect,” or any prepositions like “of,” “at,” “to,” “in,” etc.

Understand your assignment, begin your research early, learn where to find what you need, learn how to find what you need and leave some time for your writing and you’ll have a better research experience for your online college papers.

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