Let’s face it. When you hear the teacher utter the words “research paper,” you cringe. Don’t feel bad. You. Are. Not. Alone.
But it doesn’t have to be all that bad. I know this sounds funny coming from someone who is a self-proclaimed nerd at heart. I do have to admit, I love the smell of academia whenever I walk into a library.
Research takes time. Proper research takes even more time. Time that most of us feel we just don’t have. So what is a student to do?
Today, students have but to turn to the Internet to research their topics and receive a plethora of information. On the one hand, research has never been easier. I can find out the answer to any question literally from just the press of a button. On the other hand, research has never been more difficult. Even though I can find out the answer to any question, I have to determine which answer to use.
Let’s say I’m writing a research paper on the First Amendment and am not sure where to start. Like many, I can just google the phrase “first amendment” to get my information. There’s just one problem. Although I got the information amazingly fast (0.59 seconds), I find the 19.9 million results a bit overwhelming. Therein lies the problem.
Yes, the Internet is fast. It’s also just too much.
So, here’s a list of my personal favorite sources when it comes to academic research. Not only will going to the right place save you time in the long run, it’ll ensure that you’re getting quality information.
I’m going to start with the obvious first choice – libraries. Now, before you go, just hear me out. I hear students cry all the time about how they need more time; how they need more help; how they don’t know where to find the required “academic peer-reviewed articles.” Well, why not enlist the help of a professional like a reference librarian?
1. School Librarians
When I was in college (sorry, just had to say it), I remember walking to the library on campus to do my research. I remember looking through the card catalog and taking notes from books and making copies of paragraphs from journals I had to find in the stacks. I remember looking through microfiche to find newspaper articles. Boy, have times changed.
College students no longer have to make time to physically visit their school’s library (yes, it’s an actual place one can visit), but I do recommend trying it at least once. You’ll be amazed at how helpful those librarians can be when you’re conducting research! Ask and ye shall receive.
And if you just cannot make it to the library? Those same librarians are just as helpful online. I have taught as an adjunct instructor for many different colleges for many years and one thing they all have in common is an easily accessible library. Most college libraries now offer help via phone, online chat, text, and email. It never ceases to amaze me how many of my students don’t know this.
The downside? Well, procrastinators may not get as much help as they’d like. After all, you can’t email the school librarian at 9pm and expect to have copies of research articles sitting in your in-box by 8am the next morning. Help the librarians help you by asking for help in a timely manner.
2. The Library of Congress
Speaking of libraries, why not try the largest library in the world? Although the library’s mission is “to support the Congress,” researchers can access its vast collections of information online through its online catalog. The LOC also offers many virtual programs and services, including reference assistance. You can submit your question to a librarian through the online form or during their live chat sessions during the week. My personal favorite part of the LOC website is that they conduct a monthly one-hour orientation via webinar.
3. The New York Public Library
You don’t have to be in New York to enjoy “the nation’s largest public library system.” Its Digital Gallery provides access to more than 700,000 images as well as access to articles and books online. And yes, it even offers a link to chat online with a librarian.
4. GALILEO (for Georgia residents)
Sorry for the non-Georgians out there, but this is specifically for Georgia residents. From the GALILEO website, you will “have access to authoritative, subscription-only information that isn’t available through free search engines or Web directories.” Why is this important? Well, it sifts through all the BS for you. Remember the 19.9 million results I got earlier when I googled “first amendment?” A lot of those results are garbage. Using a virtual library like GALILEO helps you avoid the garbage.
5. The Public Library
Don’t worry if you’re not in school right now and don’t have access to an actual college library. The public library has access to the same quality research databases as the colleges do. They also have reference librarians ready and willing to help you. All you need to do is ask. But again, make sure you are giving them enough time to help you.
In addition to accessing academic databases, the local public library has audio books as well as e-books. That’s right. For those of you who just can’t simply fathom the thought of actually holding a real book, the local library can still be of use to you.
The two library systems I frequent are the Statesboro Regional Public Libraries and the Live Oak Public Libraries. Give them a try!
The ipl2 website is a free online source hosted by The College of Computing Informatics at Drexel University. Don’t let the name of the host full you though. This website has a large collection of reputable resources for every subject and is guaranteed to save you even more time. My search of “first amendment” just got whittled down to 500 hits. Another plus? Just like with a school or public library, you can ask for help! This site provides librarian services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week! Just fill out the Ask a Librarian form for help with your research project.
7. Google Scholar
If you insist on googling for research, use Google Scholar instead of Google. The difference? Just like the virtual library above, it sifts through the BS for you. By typing in “first amendment” to Google Scholar, the results went from 19.9 million down to 1.05 million. This is especially useful when you want to make sure you’re looking at scholarly literature and not just another random, ranting blog written by Carl down the street. So the upside is you know you’re gaining access to reliable information. The downside is access to the full article may or may not be free. Click for more search tips.
8. Looking for Cold Stats and Hard Facts?
These websites should do the trick.
www.fedstats.gov – FedStats is a one-stop shop for a variety of data on Federal statistical information.
www.census.gov – The Statistical Abstract of the United States by the U.S. Census Bureau provides data and research regarding the nation’s population and economy.
www.usa.gov – The U.S. government’s official web portal.
www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook - The World Factbook provides an “expansive body of international data” accessible to the general public.
Jennifer Furlong has 25 years’ experience in the communication field and teaches communication and public speaking courses in the Savannah area. She earned a B.A. and M.A. in Communication from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. She currently resides in Richmond Hill, Ga. with her family of canines, felines, and humans. Let's be social! Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter. Just look for Professor SpeechLady. See you in cyberspace.
Get my new book available on Amazon!