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How to do Research Well

At university, no matter what you’re studying, at some point you will be required to undertake research assignments of varying degrees of scope and breadth. No matter how much research is required, it is important to approach it with understanding and a clear focus for what you wish to achieve. Remember that most assignments will require some degree of research even if it doesn’t state explicitly that you should. But research can be one of the most complex and time consuming elements of academia, and getting it wrong can seriously affect  your work and ultimately your grades. So how do you it well. Here’s some tips to make sure you nail your research and in doing so, your assignments as a whole.

Once you get your research project, no matter how big or small or how much research is required, do a plan for what you need to accomplish and by when you need it accomplished. Schedule in sufficient time to find the information you need and allow time for a second wave of research material gathering if you find as you write, you need to gather more information or different information to support your analysis.

Define your research Question
Whether research makes up a big part of your assignment or project or is merely to  support existing concepts or analysis, it’s important to really think about and define the research question. What is it that you need to find out? What question do you need to answer? What problem needs to be solved. Research problems can sometimes be like icebergs, much of an iceberg is hidden below the surface of the water – what you see on the top of the water or is stated in the assignment may not be all you need to address. If you’re not clear on this check with your lecturer.


Once you have put together your research schedule, examine what information is out there on your particular topic. Review any key theoretical concepts or points that may be applicable from your text or unit material, talk to your friendly CDU librarian {link} and if you haven’t already get to know how to use the library and its resources for research. Cast your net wide though, rely on a broad range of sources in your information gathering. Use Google, but make sure any sources you use are credible.


To Wikipedia or not to Wikipedia
Wikipedia can be a good starting point if you are getting to know concepts or getting your head around theories you might be unfamiliar with. But by no means should you use it as a foundation for your research. If you do use Wikipedia or each point or question you need to research, make it the starting point not the end, and avoid using it for formal definitions of key concepts or theories.


Use a System
Remember that for each resource you use will need to be properly referenced, make sure you create a system that will allow you to easily recall where each point or supporting analysis came from and will enable easy putting together your bibliography. What system you use is up to you – be it index cards, a note book or even software or apps, make sure that every quote, fact, and thought is tied in some way to its source so that you can easily insert references while you’re writing. Also don’t try and tackle each area all at once. Divide key concepts or areas that need to be explored and tackle them one at a time.

Research the Research
Once you find a few, solid really good sources of information, read the bibliographies at the end and write down any that might be relevant to your topic, or help support your analysis and go and find them. This can really help make your research time more efficient.


Make it relevant

Whatever sources you use, make sure the information they contain is relevant to your research question. This means it needs to help support your analysis but it also needs to be from a credible source ( not just some random tumblr blog that your friend’s cousin wrote!) and importantly that it was not written so long ago that the information in it is obsolete.


Get it right

Writing your bibliography and using the correct in text citation styles is an important part of research. Make sure you use the correct referencing format, and don’t omit any sources you use, no matter how unimportant you feel their role was in completing your research. If you’re not sure of the correct format to use, check with your lecturer  or ask the library. Not getting this part right can cost you valuable marks or worse, can lead to a plagiarism investigation.


Ask for help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help with your research if you are struggling. Your lecturer is there to help you clarify your question and give you guidelines for crafting your research plan. CDU library is also a great resource. An don’t forget the bookshop {link} also has some great resources for helping you make the most of your research.



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