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Writing papers and conducting research can be the bane of many a student’s otherwise ideal college situation. Because, really, how do you conduct research for your paper? Writing papers do not seem to get easier as you start taking your upper division courses either. The lost sleep, the inconsistent grades, etc. It’s a neverending story. If anything, the research papers just get longer and longer. Why are research papers such a depressing experience? Raise your hand if the following scenario sounds familiar:

  1. Go to the library, intent on getting an early start on your research paper. Find a dozen books you think will be relevant to your paper, check them out, and dump them on your bed.
  2. Forget about the paper until the night before it is due.
  3. Start writing frantically. Randomly pick a book when you feel your paper needs a quote. Find a somewhat relevant quote. Insert block quote into your paper.

If it isn’t obvious by this point, that is the worst way to conduct research for your paper, let alone even write your paper. Here are some steps to effectively conduct research for your paper.

Go to the library with the intent of being there for a while.

Grab books you think will be useful. Look online for journals you would find useful.

Look through the books/journals, then and there, and find relevant information.

Make photocopies of all the relevant pages/print out the relevant pages if the sources were online. Make sure you also write down/copy the citations/title of the book for your Works Cited page later on.

Open a document in your word processor. Skim through each photocopy.

As you skim, type in annotations like the following:
page number — quick description of the information there.  These are pointers, not notes. E.g.: pg. 145 — discussion of the Soviet Union on family-run companies in Eastern Europe (negative).

Print the annotations and staple them to the front of your photocopies.

Return your sources to their respective locations. Do not check out the books. Never check out the books. Do not just save the journals onto your computer, leaving them to be forgotten.

When outlining your argument or writing the paper, use only the annotations you created to find the materials you need.

It is amazing how much writing time you will have saved by following these steps.

For me, the research and outline take 2-3 times as long as it would take to actually write the paper. If I had to split up the time, it would take me 10 hours to research and outline, and possibly 4 hours to write a 8-10 page paper. But that’s just me; I’m a fast writer.

Tips courtesy of Cal NewportPhoto courtesy of timetrax23 via Flickr (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0).

Need any more tips? Check out the video below on essay writing.

How do you conduct research for papers in College? Post your thoughts below in the comments section!