Rensselaer Libraries

Introduction to Research Techniques

Posted: Jun 2, 2009

A research paper presents the results of your investigations on a selected topic. Based on the facts and ideas you have gathered from a variety of sources and your presentation of the material, a research paper is a creation that is uniquely yours. The experience of gathering, interpreting, and documenting information, developing and organizing ideas and conclusions, and communicating them clearly will prove to be an important part of your education.

Identify Your Topic: The process of picking a topic for any kind of research project is a lot like planning a trip: if you don't know where you want to go, then you can't plan how to get there. Formulating a definite topic at the outset of your project ensures that you don't waste any time running after information that you don't want or can't use, and makes the entire research process easier on you. The first step is to identify your topic.

Books and encyclopedias can be of great help if you don't know much about your topic. For your specific research assignment, you may also want to look at a number of web sites that have information on minority men and women in the science and engineering fields.

Gather your information: Once you have chosen the person you want to research, you will want to gather as much pertinent information as possible. You may want to go back to the same books and encyclopedias you used to choose this person. In addition, you should check the library's online catalog to determine if we have any books about this person. For example, if you search the catalog for Benjamin Banneker, you will find three books. One is already included in the list of reference books on African American scientists. However, you will also find another book on the history of African Americans in general, and the third book is all about Banneker.

Among the online guides available on the Libraries Help pages, you will find a number of guides that will help you search the online catalog effectively. These include:

Electronic books: Through our subscriptions to various electronic book vendors, we are able to provide access to a number of electronic books in the areas of science and technology. All of these books will be found by searching the library catalog. (For example, in addition to the print copy of the Encyclopedia of African-American heritage, we also have access to the electronic book.)

Web sites: You may also want to look more closely at some of the web sites described under Identify Your Topic above. Remember always to evaluate the source when using web sites for your information. The web sites provided on this list have been chosen as reliable sources from colleges and universities, professional organizations, and well-known commercial sites. If you find other sites using search engines such as Google, Yahoo, or Ask Jeeves, you should always evaluate the information before you decide to include it in your paper. Here is a quick list of the things you should look for before you choose to include information from a web site in your research. Remember that information you retrieve from a web page must be cited in your bibliography, just as you include information from books and articles. In the Style Guides section below, you will find examples of how to cite web pages (usually called "electronic style").

Peer reviewed academic journals are usually the most important source of information for a research paper.

The Flow of Scientific Information
This link leads to a chart that shows how information flows from original research to journals and books.

A Comparison of Different Types of Periodicals
This is a chart that shows how to differentiate between different types of periodicals.

Interviews: As you have already learned, there are some famous minority scientists here on the Rensselaer campus. If you have chosen one of these persons, you may want to conduct a personal interview to get information for your paper. Here are a few good web sites that explain how to conduct a research interview and how to use the information you obtain from such an interview in your assignment.

Style Guides: Finally, you have to write your paper. In doing so, you will want to follow a style guide. A style guide is a set of rules on how to format your paper. In high school you may have been assigned to use Turabian's Manual for writers of term papers, theses, and dissertations or Strunk and White's Elements of style. These are style guides. They explain how and when to use footnotes and provide examples of how to cite the books, magazine articles and web pages that you consulted for the information in your bibliography. Here is a list of the style guides available in the library. The librarians at Concordia University Library have compiled a list of web pages that provide examples of the most well-known guides, including Turabian, MLA and Chicago Style.

Remember that you can always ask a librarian for help with your research. Ask at the Reference Desk, call 276-8320, or send us an email request.

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