When a student gets an essay assignment, they know what the professor expects them to do. The student is supposed to conduct research and write a unique essay on a narrowed-down topic.
That’s pretty clear.
But do you know what most students do? They write their topic as a keyword on Google, and they check out the first three websites. Sure; there’s a great deal of information on those websites. One of them is probably Wikipedia.
So the student writes this essay, feeling pretty confident about it. And they get an unexpectedly low mark on it.
Why does this happen?
Even if the essay was well-written, the professor was not impressed with the volume of research that the student conducted. Writing is not the main point of academic assignments. Your professor is more focused on research. Without enough research, you can’t form an opinion that stands out. You can’t express convincing arguments.
An excellent essay starts with thorough research. So it’s about time for you to learn how to do it.
How to Conduct Research for a Great Academic Essay
1. Understand Why You Need to Research
You have to realize that you can’t just type a phrase on Google and rewrite the first few sources you run into.
If you don’t reference those sources and the professor recognizes them, your essay will be stamped with the label plagiarism. And if you do reference such sources, the professor will simply get the impression that you weren’t serious enough with this project.
You don’t want any of those two outcomes.
That’s why you’ll need to dig deep into academic and scientific data, so you can identify sources of information that are worth mentioning. Some of these sources will require paid access. But don’t worry; there are plenty of free materials online that are also highly reliable.
2. Start With a Broad Topic for the Preliminary Research
Your professor gave you a broad subject for this assignment, right? For example, maybe you got The American Civil War as a theme. But you can’t take The American Civil War as an essay topic. It’s too broad. You’d have to write an entire book on this subject and you’d still fail to say everything there is to say.
So you need to narrow down the subject. That’s where the research process begins.
Conduct a simple Google search on that subject. Don’t limit yourself on the first few results. Even the first page is not enough. Start reading interesting information and take notes. Somewhere along the way, you’ll come across an aspect of the subject that really gets your attention.
That’s your topic.
The preliminary research process helps you set a specific topic. Make sure that topic is very precise. In addition, you have to make sure there are enough sources of information that allow you to write an elaborate essay on that topic.
3. Identify Reliable and Relevant Resources
It’s okay to start with non-academic sources. Newspaper articles, magazine publications, and long-form blog posts may be a good start. Hey; even Wikipedia is okay when you want to learn about a particular topic.
You can also search for documentaries. YouTube is a great source of educational information.
Of course, you won’t stop there. That was just a start.
From there on, you’ll carry on with the real challenge: academic sources. These are research and scientific papers, as well as books and scholarly articles that you can actually reference. Use Google Scholar to locate them.
Don’t worry; you won’t need too many. Three to five academic sources are enough.
4. Do a Close Reading
If it’s hard for you to read on the computer screen, print out the articles you’re going to use and reference in your paper. A hard copy is great because you take notes directly on it. You can underline the points that get your attention and write ideas straight away.
It’s important to do a very close reading of these sources. Notice if there are any contradictions between the materials or within a single article. Ask questions and try to find more answers. That’s what the research process is all about.
5. Organize Your Notes
You’ll be taking a lot of notes during the research stage. That’s a good thing. However, if you scatter your notes around, you won’t be able to synthesize them into a logical thesis statement. That’s why you need to put them all together.
If you have your notes on the printed articles, write them on a piece of paper or in a blank document. Don’t just repeat what the authors said; add your own opinions. Once you have all notes in one place, figure out how you will use them in the paper.
This is where you wrap up the research process and start outlining the actual paper.
See? It doesn’t seem that hard. You just need to give yourself enough time and approach the research process very seriously. It will have a major effect on the end result.