20/20 – Day 20: 20 tips for effective research

It’s the final day of 20/20.  Sniff! I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of posts.

Today we return to study and, in particular, conducting awesome research.  It’s all too easy to rely on a limited set of information to complete your study, but that won’t help push you to better insight and better grades.

Here are some ways you can excel.

  1. Start right away.  The longer you leave it, the less effective you can be.
  2. Don’t stop.  Keep going through the whole writing process.  Even better, keep going between essays and exams.  Engage in your subject without needing a reason.  Without a reason you read differently, which often yields the most surprising and useful results.
  3. Go beyond Google, Wikipedia, your reading list, etc.  Research involves pushing further than what’s obvious to you.  Effective research opens up many avenues.
  4. Check bibliographies.  They’re great for finding new texts you may not easily find another way.
  5. Ask a tutor.  Briefly tell them where you’ve looked and what you’ve found.  See what other ideas they can suggest.
  6. Ask a subject librarian.  You may check certain shelves and subject headings, but a subject librarian can help you look beyond the ordinary.
  7. Consult recent journals.  The latest insights, studies and surveys are a great way to discover what’s happening right now in your field.
  8. Look for relevant quotations and references before writing, during writing, and after writing.  This will help you gain different perspectives and approach texts from different angles.
  9. Explore books within other disciplines, but with similar features.  For instance, you may know which shelves contain the books in your field, but have you checked the library in related subjects?
  10. Start with the basics and work inward. Finding the in-depth analysis tough to handle? The specifics don’t need to come first.  Discover those as you dig deeper.
  11. Treat it seriously, with respect and time. This is one of the most important aspects of study. Never attempt to start and finish an essay in one go, especially if it’s the day before the work is due to be handed in!
  12. Check Intranet portals (library and your School), as well as dedicated subject sites. Nobody can show you a definitive list of resources. Make use of all the lists you can.
  13. Refer to lecture notes and handouts. I’m guessing you already do, but the point is that the tutors will provide you with a good jumping off point.  Don’t ignore the relevance; they haven’t included anything just for the sake of it.
  14. Exploit Google to the max with their Book Search and Scholar tools.  Be on the lookout for new features with Google Labs. However, bear Point 3 in mind as you enjoy the Google beast…
  15. Use contents and index pages.
  16. Scan for important headings and features in texts.  Faced with a huge book with a couple thousand pages, it can be daunting.  After checking the contents and index, flick through and see how the book is laid out. There could be a handy summary for each chapter, or bold points throughout to give you the key arguments.
  17. Keep tabs for new and incoming online research.  Many websites have RSS feeds, email subscription services, and update pages that tell you what’s new.  Use them!
  18. Check basics on subjects/topic, looking for names of authors you could explore further.  Perhaps you’re just looking for the most important names in a particular subject or need an overview before you explore in depth (especially if using Point 10).  This is where Wikipedia does function well.  Need it more basic than that?  Try Again But Slower.  When you need brief answers quickly, don’t feel bad about taking a basic route.
  19. If you like the research part, accept the need to stop too. The rest of the work still needs to be done!  Undertaking good research is about doing enough and finding relevant information.  It’s not about finding every possible reference under the sun.
  20. Start right away. I mentioned this first and I’ll mention it last. Start now. Right now!

That’s all for this series of posts.  I hope you enjoyed 20/20.  Now get on with your research! How many more times…? 😉