During a recent tutoring session, I was helping a ninth grade student begin the research process by finding sources for her history paper. She was feeling a bit overwhelmed, but the “hunting and gathering” stage of research is one of the most fun parts. As a senior at Barnard, I’ve had lots of practice writing research papers and offered the following advice for getting started:
Wikipedia: Wikipedia is incredibly controversial with faculty and is not a scholarly source. Let me repeat, Wikipedia is not a scholarly source and cannot be cited for any academic work. However, it is a great starting point for research for two reasons.
- Wikipedia often gives good background information to get started on grasping the topic you have chosen or are assigned.
- Wikipedia usually cites “real” academic sources that you could use. Check the “notes,” “references,” and “further reading” sections on the Wikipedia entries for your assigned topic and use those cited sources as a starting point for research.
Google Scholar: There are many ways to utilize Google Scholar, Google’s search engine for scholarly articles, books, theses, dissertations, and other publications. To start, you can type in your research topic—for example, “minorities in national revival literature in the Balkans 19th century”—and see what comes up. Most likely, you’ll have to play around with the search terms, which is an art in and of itself.
You might try using these keyword phrases as well:
- “Romanian national literature”
- “Bulgarian national literature”
- “Minorities in national literature”
- “19th century nationalism and literature Balkans”
Once you find a search term that seems to be bringing up good search results, put that search term into quotations to limit the results.
If earlier searches (or the Wikipedia citations) produced a really relevant source, try plugging that source into Google Scholar. Once you see the entry, click on the “cited by” and “related articles” links directly under the entry to find sources that use this same piece, and other works that are related in topic. Chances are, if someone else used your source or considers his or her own article to be related, you’ll also find it useful.
And remember, always write down all the bibliographical information for all sources you find, whether in print or online, as soon as you select it. Recording this information as you go will help to avoid last minute scrambles to track down the source for your works cited page.
For help automatically generating citations in APA, MLA, and Turabian formats, visit:
By Shira Borzak, Private Tutor