Figuring out how to research an assignment the right way can be tough – for beginners and serial essay writers! Whether you’re in a research slump, or new to the game, we’ve rounded up some tips on how to research that’s about more than just punching a search term into Google.
Ask yourself: Is it a primary or secondary source?
This is a crucial step for ensuring you’re getting your facts straight. Primary sources are pieces of information derived directly from a topic, event, person or location that you’re researching. That might mean a video of a chemical reaction, a diary entry from Anne Frank’s journal, or a direct quote from one of our many STEM professionals.
A secondary source is a source of information that is informed by primary sources, or other secondary sources. The important distinction is that the author, photographer or producer of the information was not present or involved in the event, person or location you’re researching. This might include a drawing of a photograph, or a biography written by an author who has never met that person.
Having a greater percentage of primary sources in your work reduces your margin for error. Be aware that secondary sources are often derived from other secondary sources, so the original information might be skewed or distorted.
Try looking in your local library for books or research papers rather than websites for finding information. Anyone can publish a website, but reputable books and research papers need to be fact-checked and reviewed.
Head to your local or school library
Library databases are full of books, journals, magazines and research papers that you might not find on Google. That’s because Google is a collection of information that has been made free for public access. So if you’re looking for specific, in-depth information on a topic, it may not be available for public access.
Having a range of resources in multiple formats is going to gain you serious brownie points with your teacher, so it’s useful to spend an afternoon gathering diverse resources from the library. You might even stumble across some Careers with STEM magazines while you’re there… If not, they’re all available to read for free online!
Librarians are also a great port of call for your research needs. They are experts in how to research just about any topic, and they can help you find the information you’re looking for – even if you’re not sure where to start looking!
If you’re going to Google, Google right
Google is still an excellent research tool – when used correctly. Scroll on for some lesser known tips and tricks on how to Google the right way.
1. Search a specific site
Use this format: “[What you’re looking for] site:[The site you’d like to limit your search to]”
E.g. if you search “How to choose a degree site:CareerswithSTEM.com.au” you’ll find an excellent resource on choosing uni degrees from CareerswithSTEM.com.au, rather than having to filter through results from dodgy, subpar websites. 😉
You can also search “site:.edu.au” or “site:.gov.au” to restrict your results to reputable education and government websites.
2. Search for an exact phrase
Searching for an exact phrase is possible when you Google that phrase in quotation marks, like this: “I have a dream”.
If you’re unsure of a word in the sentence, simply replace it with an asterisk and have Google do the guesswork. E.g. “I * a dream”.
3. Eliminate search results
If your search term infringes on a much more popular search term, use the minus sign to eliminate a category of search results. E.g. “STEM -flowers” to ensure that your results are to do with science, tech, engineering and maths and not flower stems.
4. Use Google scholar
Google scholar is a handy research tool made just for research assignments like yours. It automatically limits results to your choice of articles or case law so you don’t have to filter through what your search yields.
Cite your sources (properly!)
If you’re the type of person to cite your sources by copying and pasting web links into your doc, then it’s time to up your referencing skills. Often, assignments will have particular criteria aimed at correctly citing your sources, so you could be losing marks for something as simple as formatting!
Your school or university most probably has a standard format for referencing. Check whether your assignment criteria lists a format (e.g. APA, MLA, Harvard or Chicago). You can ask your teacher if it’s unclear.
Each style has very specific formatting rules, so we’ve listed some resources which will help you get started with some of the most common referencing formats.
Cite for me is a referencing generator, so you’ll punch in some information about your references and the generator will spit out a completed reference. The golden rule with reference generators is to use them as a guide only. It’s up to you to double check that the finished product meets the requirements of your referencing style.
Here’s how you’d reference the entire Careers with STEM website using the Harvard format on Citeforme.com:
Careers with STEM. (2019). Careers with STEM » STEM Careers Guides for Students. [online] Available at: https://careerswithstem.com.au/ [Accessed 27 Feb. 2019].
This hub will teach you how to reference for the MLA style.
This library guide to referencing with APA includes a handy video to teach you the basics. You’re going to have to live and breathe referencing for your high school and university years so commit it to memory!
Do you have any research tips and tricks up your sleeve? Let us know in the comments!
Author: Eliza Brockwell
Eliza is passionate about creating content that encourages diversity of representation in STEM.