1. Select a general topic
Read about your general topic in reference works
- General encyclopedias like Britannica online can usually give you good background information on your topic.
- Special subject reference books such as the four volume set, Africa: South of the Sahara, give you a more in-depth look at your topic.
- As you read, write down important keywords that will help you further research your topic.
- Now ask yourself:
- Are you sure you still like this topic? Do you want to spend several weeks learning about this topic? Should you try another?
- Will you be able to find enough –or too much -- information on your topic?
3. Focus the topic
Your topic may be too broad or too narrow.
- Develop a central question you are interested in answering. As you do your research, your central question may shift because you have learned more about the topic.
- In Upper School your central question should address complex issues. For example:
- A Lower School student might not ask a question at all and would simply do a report on “a river in China”
- A Middle School student might ask: “How are the lives of the people who live near the Yangtze River affected by that waterway?”
- An Upper School might ask: “Were the benefits of the construction of the Three Gorges Dam worth the negative impact on people’s lives?
- Or: “What are the long term implications of the construction of the Three Gorges Dam for the political stability of China?”
4. Find Sources
What kinds of sources? Using the keywords that you developed in the Presearch step, start with broad resources and work toward more specific resources. Most of the sources you use will be considered “secondary sources,” which offer an analysis, explanation, or restatement of primary sources. A secondary source is usually written after the events it describes. Good places to look for secondary sources are:
- SFS Library catalog
- Public library catalog
- AU catalog
- Humanities E-Book Collection
- Articles - Articles can come from newspapers, popular magazines, and scholarly journals. You and your teacher should decide which is most appropriate to use, as it will vary from project to project. These can be found in the SFS online databases on the library web pages.
- New York Times Historical
- Project MUSE
- History Study Center
- Scientific American
Your SFS libraries provide a rich array of books and online databases that should satisfy most of your research needs. However, on occasion, it is necessary to turn to the internet for additional information. Caution: You should verify if your teacher will allow you to use web sites other than library databases and if so, be prepared to prove the validity of the information found. When is it appropriate to use a non-library internet source?
- To find a primary source not found in the library
- To find the web site of a noted expert on your topic
- To find the web site of an organization devoted to your topic. For example, NASA, United Nations, CIA World Factbook, Bureau of Indian Affairs, etc.
Some teachers may require primary sources, which are records of events as they are first described without any interpretation or commentary. Often the books you choose may contain primary source as well as secondary source material, so remember to check!
Other places to look for primary sources include:
- Annals of American History
- Early American Newspapers
- History Study Center
- Library of Congress American Memory Project
- Diaries, speeches, letters, memoirs, autobiographies, original works of art, photographs, political cartoons, and more.
- How do you find these sources?
- Use the key words from your Presearch to enter as search terms in online library catalogs, online databases, and print indexes at the back of the book or in a separate index volume.
- Experiment with combining keywords when using online resources. For example: China AND art; China AND Olympics; “global warming” and “alternative energy.”
- Use the bibliographies and footnotes within the books and articles you’ve already found.
- Use the subject headings in the catalog record for books you’ve already found to guide you to more books on your topic in the library.
- When you are in the library shelves looking for a book, browse the books to the left and to the right of any book you select for your project.
- Your teacher will give you information about the procedure for citing your sources. It may be on notecards, in NoodleBib, or in some other format.
- We recommend using the MLA citation format and NoodleBib is an excellent online tool to help you create a bibliography or works cited page in that format.
6. Outline and take notes
- Take notes
- Taking notes will save you time in the long run and will lead to a better constructed paper.
- There are many methods for taking notes, we recommend using the note feature in NoodleBib.
- You can type your notes directly into the computer
- The citation is already there for you to link to your notes
- You can open them in a Word file, print them out, or rearrange them
- Your notes will then easily form the outline for your paper
- Organize notes and make an outline
- Look at the question you developed in Step 3, do you want to make it a thesis statement? For example:
- If you asked: “Were the benefits of the construction of the Three Gorges Dam worth the negative impact on people’s lives?
- Your thesis statement might be: Despite the huge impact of the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, the benefits were worth it for the greater good of the country.
- Organize your notes (as described above if you used NoodleBib) to write an outline
7. Write the paper or create the project
8. Edit/rewrite: edit, proofread, revise, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.