Conducting Research

Writers often have difficulty maintaining their own voice when they work with sources. The strategies listed below will help you to use your sources effectively:

1. Keep a researcherís notebook in addition to taking notes on specific sources. The notebook can keep you in continual dialogue with your sources and your topic; it also provides you with a place to write down questions that arise during your research that you want to pursue at a later date, as well as reminders about other sources you may want to consult. See our page on using a researcherís notebook.

2. Take summary notes as well as specific information notes. Summary notes should explain the main ideas of texts you read, how they fit into the larger body of scholarship on your topic, and how they shed light on your project. Include your critique so that your voice is the prominent one. Specific information notes consist of factual content that you may want to include. It is useful to organize these notes in file folders according to what section of the dissertation they will be used to write.

3. Discuss your ideas with others as you conduct research. This is a particularly good way of helping you remember that you are part of a community of scholars, something that may not be apparent throughout the often solitary process of writing a thesis or dissertation.

4. Think about how each source specifically applies to your topic. The authors of your sources are advancing their own arguments, not yours. Therefore, you need to carefully consider which source material you will use. In the interest of efficiency, try to limit your research to that which is relevant to questions you are trying to answer.

When are you done conducting research? Sooner than you think and never. It seems that more research could always be completed. But do not let that fact stand in the way of your writing and making progress on your project. Write as soon as you have something to say. You will most likely return to researching to answer questions that arise as you are writing. Very few authors actually separate researching and writing into two entirely separate phases. Most recognize that research is an ongoing process that sometimes stretches through to the final draft.

A word about photocopying: commuting scholars can finish many projects with the use of a copy machine. It is possible to spend a week at a research site doing little more than making photocopies to analyze upon your return. In taking on this task, get permission before you make your trip so that you are not disappointed by prohibitive regulations when you arrive. Write citation information on all the photocopies that you make. With the volume of material you are likely to collect, donít expect to remember where an interesting pamphlet came from once you return from your trip.

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