The Research Paper: Getting Started

Information Literacy 1

  1. Choose a topic or identify your question
    • Be as specific as possible.
    • Have your goal in mind. Are you writing a research paper, an essay, a speech, etc.?
    • How much information do you need? Do you need a specific number of sources? You may need more sources for a lengthy paper.
    • What type of information do you need to accomplish your goal? Do you need a variety of sources? Do you need to use books, magazines, journals, online sources, etc.?
  2. Select a topic by using information sources
    • CQ Researcher, a weekly publication covering current and controversial topics. Available electronically from the library's webpage under "Research Resources."
    • ProQuest National Newspapers provides online access to current, full text newspaper articles. Available electronically from the library's webpage under "Research Resources."
    • Credo Reference searches encyclopedias and dictionaries to provide overviews of a variety of topics. Available electronically from the library's webpage under "Research Resources."
    • Ask a librarian: reference@hartnell.edu or call 831 759-6078
  3. Narrow or develop a topic
    • Read about your topic. Find background information from an encyclopedia, textbook or other general source. If your topic is current or new, you may need to use a periodical or newspaper article available in the library's database.
    • Write down keywords, important names, dates, ideas and variant spellings and synonyms.
      • Using "bilingual education" as an example:
        • List synonyms and related words about the subject such as education, language instruction, bilingualism, limited English speaking, second language, non-English speaking, immersion programs, etc.
        • List the people involved such as students, teachers, parents, school administrators, politicians, etc.
        • List the time period covering your topic such as 1960s to present
        • List any other pertinent information such as politics, class size, economy, fiscal impact, student success, etc.
        • List words that describe the geographical and/or political area such as United States, California, Texas, etc.
  4. Create a rough outline
    • Organize your ideas.
    • Include an Introduction, Body, and Conclusion. Your instructor may prefer a slightly different organization.
  5. Create a preliminary bibliography
    • This is an alphabetical list of sources on your topic.
    • As you gather information on your topic, write each source in a separate document in the proper bibliographic format
    • See our handouts for MLA (PDF) and APA (PDF) citation styles from the guides on the library webpage under "How to Cite Information."
  6. Select the appropriate sources of information
    • Critically examine the information and sources.
    • Choose the best information.
    • Take notes using the sources that give your paper depth.
    • Write down the page number and source for each note.
  7. Make this information part of your own understanding
    • Arrange your notes. Use the outline from step 4 as your guide.
    • Revise your outline and bibliography as you add new sources.
    • Integrate material from sources into your own writing by summarizing, paraphrasing, and/or quoting.
    • Draw from your own experience and knowledge.
  8. Write a rough draft. Include the information from your outline. Check for grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Does it read logically and fluidly?

  9. Format your paper correctly
    • Include your list of works cited or references using the bibliographic format required by your instructor.
    • Use Times New Roman size 12 font for your paper with 1" margins

Web Sites:

Writing a Research Paper from the Online Writing Center at Purdue University

Writers Workshop: Writer Resources from the Center for Writing Studies at University of Illinois

Books at Hartnell Library

Badke, William. Research Strategies. Call Number: Z710 .B23 2017

D'Yanni, Robert. Scribner Handbook for Writers. Call Number: PE1408 .D56 1995

Hacker, Diana. A Writer's Reference. Call Number: PE 1408 .H2778 2015

McDonald, Stephen. The Writer's Response. Call Number: PE1408 .M267 2010

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