Many students neglect this research step when it comes to writing an essay. After all, an essay is a relatively short assignment, so is it really worth spending your time gathering sources, analyzing the materials, and looking for evidence for your point of view? Isn’t it easier to just write up your ideas and be done with it? Well, yes, of course, it is easier – but “easier” does not mean “better”. If you want to write a high-quality essay that attracts the attention of your teachers/professors/the admission committee, you have to approach it as seriously as you approach a research paper or another large assignment.
In this article, we will cover what you have to do to gather data for your essay in the most efficient manner.
Where and How to Look for Information
The most difficult thing about looking for the data for your research is to begin – you do not know where to start and who are the main authorities on the subject. However, when in doubt, you can always start with the course readings – they are bound to contain at least some information on your subject matter. To get a better selection of materials, ask your professor to recommend some literature you can use to kick off your research – it will provide another place to start. Look through these publications, noting down the information relevant to your work, and then go over their bibliography sections. It should contain references to other works containing useful information. Look through them as well. By now, you should already get an understanding of who the main authorities on the subject matter are, which is a good reason to look for other publications by them.
Another good place to start is your college library, especially if it has dedicated librarians working in the section your research belongs to. Do not hesitate to ask them for recommendations and guidance – after all, it is their work.
Finally, learn how to use online databases and academic search engines like EBSCO and Google Scholar. Not only can they help you find relevant sources of information, but also evaluate them right off the bat – the more a source is cited in other peer-review literature, the more you can trust it. However, you should take into account the publication date as well – a useful source that has been published only recently will not have many references in other books and articles, while an old and outdated article may have dozens of them. You have to maintain a balance between the two.
How to Evaluate the Sources of Information
Not all information sources are created equal. To write a successful essay, it is not enough to just gather information from as many books as possible – you should make sure these books/articles/publications can be trusted. The most common way of evaluating this is the so-called CRAAP test, which means checking each source for:
- Currency – how recent is the information presented in the source? Were there any significant breakthroughs in this area of study since its publication?
- Relevance – how relevant is the information for your research? Is this information important for answering your question?
- Authority – what are the credentials of the author of the source? Does s/he have a relevant background for passing a judgment on the subject?
- Accuracy – is the information presented in the source precise? Can you find any inconsistencies with other reliable sources?
- Purpose (objectivity) – what is the goal of the publication’s author? Does s/he have an agenda that may impact his/her objectivity? Is s/he connected to an organization whose purposes can influence his/her judgment?
If you have any reasons to doubt the truthfulness or relevance of any information sources you have uncovered, avoid using them at all. It is better not to use a source at all than to be later accused of including unverified information in your writing.
Look for Gaps in Research
Now that you have gathered a fair amount of sources on your subject and evaluated it, you can move on to defining the direction in which you are going to take your research. To do so, you have to identify gaps in the existing research – after all, there is not much sense in researching something that has already been studied in detail.
The most straightforward way to do it is to prepare a list of preliminary topics to pursue and go with them to your supervisor. S/he is supposed to be aware of the latest developments in the field and will be able to recommend you an optimal choice – something that is both relatively unstudied and at the same time sufficiently connected to the existing research for you to have some firm ground to stand on.
However, before that, you will have to analyze the literature you have gathered and determine the existing trends in the research in the area. Do not try to read everything you’ve gathered – you simply do not have enough time for that. Instead, go through the tables of contents (if a publication has one) or the first sentences of each paragraph (as they are supposed to give you an insight into what the rest of the paragraph contains). Pay special attention to thesis statements – they usually give a fairly good approximation of the paper’s main idea. This will allow you to identify the publications that present the greatest interest to you and, if necessary, you will be able to get acquainted with them in greater detail and determine potential gaps in the existing literature.
Of course, doing research is always a time-consuming and challenging task, and it is not always possible to find enough time to do it properly. If it turns out that it is impossible for you to complete everything related to your task before the deadline, you may always look for an essay writer for hire – there are plenty of reliable online services where you can find one. In this case, a professional academic specialist will do the necessary research for you and write up the results, while you focus on other assignments.