Choosing the most relevant information is a part of the research process that cannot be isolated from or within that process. As soon as students begin selecting sources, they are making decisions about what is the most relevant information. As books, website, articles, and other sources are located, they must be assessed to determine if they have information relevant to the topic. As already mentioned in Research #1, use the “Criteria for Judgment” to determine the quality of the source to eliminate non-academic, commercial, and biased resources. Once a list of credible, useful resources is generated in a bibliographic manager, it’s time to read the sources.
I have seen many different approached to research by students, and there’s really no exact formula that will definitely work for every student; however, there are four tasks within this process that are interconnected.
The researcher must:
- become an ‘expert’ on the subject by closely reading the sources,
- select information to include in the final product (essay, research paper, etc.),
- record information using a graphical organizer, and
- track references accurately.
Becoming an expert on the subject is done by reading, reading, and more reading! Close reading requires focused attention, so the students can ask critical questions as they read. There may be information that differs in opinion or is contradictory, so the student must apply their critical judgment as to what information is accurate or the best argument.
Selecting information to include in the final product is driven by the thesis of the research. It’s important to write a potential thesis before you start the research, then write a more polished thesis after you have done sufficient reading on the subject. Every piece of information that’s selected should be directly related to the thesis or its main ideas.
Recording the information should be completed methodically. If students do not have main ideas developed yet, they will need to highlight and then record point form notes of what they think is relevant information. Once they have their main ideas developed, they can organize the points and evidence directly into the plan. Some students like to make less organized point form notes first and then decide how to organize them into the plan; others read, and then choose main ideas so they can write the information once in the planner. The teacher should set the guideline for the expected level of detail for the plan, for example, headings and short phrases, or complete statement point form.
Tracking references accurately as you proceed with your reading, and information selecting and recording is crucial if you do not want to do extra, unnecessary work. As mentioned previously in Research #2, keep a running bibliography of resources; however, when completing point form notes or the plan, it’s important to contain all quotes within quotation marks and to indicate page references and the source information. Putting the reference information into the proper format as you plan will make the writing task easier; however, if you prefer to focus solely on the content of the plan, simply indicate enough information to know from which source it was taken (with, of course, the page references).
The information that you choose to support your thesis must specifically relate to the main ideas that have been developed. Determining when to use your own explanation, a paraphrase of another’s idea, or a quote from a person of authority can be tricky. One person may paraphrase while another chooses a quoted statement that explains or illustrates a supporting point. It’s possible that two people using the same source will not choose the same quote even if they are outlining a similar idea.
Here’s a simple system that may be helpful to students just learning how to determine if as a guide:
if you are dealing with an overall idea or concept, write it in your own words; you will not need a page reference but need to acknowledge the source;
if you are dealing with a more specific idea, you can paraphrase it and indicate the page reference and source information;
if you are dealing with evidence to support a point, you can quote a specific statement from the source and indicate the page reference and source information; choose quotes that are well-written and you could not have written better yourself!
The next article will be Research #5 – Writing the Draft.