Getting Ready to Research
How to Begin
Once you have a general topic for your research (The Middle Ages, World War I, Women's Suffrage), the best place to start reading is an ENCYCLOPEDIA -- even if your teacher won't allow it for a source on your Works Cited page. If you look up your topic in the encyclopedia INDEX first, you will find all kinds of articles and ideas about your topic. From there go to the designated volumes listed in the encyclopedia index.
An encyclopedia article will:
- help you decide if you really want to write about this subject.
- help you determine what part of the subject to tackle for your paper and what direction to take your subject.
- help you NARROW your subject.
- help you organize your ideas about your subject.
- help you write your controlling idea or thesis statement.
The middle school library has general and subject specific encyclopedias in print and online.
After you've read the relevant encyclopedia articles on your subject and skimmed a few more non-fiction books, you will be ready to begin taking notes and develop a thesis statement and outline.
Just What IS a Primary Source, Anyway?*
A primary source is a document or visual that is created by a participant or observer for communication of an idea, not for research.
What do you mean? Give me an example.
- Government documents such as The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, The Bill of Rights, ours or anyone else’s.
- Scriptures and sacred books related to a particular faith or creed.
- Videotapes and audiotapes of actual events.
- Photographs and paintings created as a direct response to the event around the time it happened or to a person in his/her lifetime.
- Speeches, diaries, editorials.
- Original editions and facsimiles.
- Law books (such as state codes).
- Raw data from research studies.
- Books that created change, such as Mein Kampf, Das Capital, Origin of Species, Silent Spring.
I’m still confused. If I am doing research about Chinese immigration to America during the 1800’s, and I find a book written in 1850 by a Chinese immigrant entitled A Journey to San Francisco, is this a primary source?
Yes!! The book is written by a Chinese immigrant who has described his/her actual voyage in 1850.
What about this? I am researching Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic and have found an article describing the flight in a New York Times article dated May 22, 1927. Is this a primary source?
Yes!! Since Lindbergh and other witnesses to this event are no longer living, this article describing his flight after it happened would constitute a primary source.
How about this? I am researching the latest treatments for breast cancer and have found an article about the discovery of a gene linked to breast cancer in a 1995 issue of Science News. Is this a primary source?
No!! Science News publishes summaries of original studies. You would need to find where the original study was published in its entirety for this to qualify as a primary source.
Finishing Your Research
Be sure to cite your sources!