How Students Can Improve Their Research Skills

If you feel overwhelmed by the thought of completing yet another difficult research paper, there are a few things that can make the process a little easier. Students can improve their research skills by being comfortable asking questions, understanding how to organize information, learning how to find credible sources, and more.

Research papers involve a level of examination that can be tricky for any student. Luckily, students have many chances to further develop these skills, as research papers are commonly requested from teachers across all grade levels. Ace your next research paper by following these tips:

Improve research skills by asking good questions

Once you have your topic selected, you need to ask yourself some questions. Begin by listing what you know about your subject to gauge your existing expertise. Next, ask yourself what you hope to learn through your research, which is often dictated by the assignment. Knowing what sort of information you’re looking for can give you some direction as you dive into your project. If there are other requirements for your project, now is a good time to list them out; maybe you need an in-person interview, two scholarly articles, and one book. Get all questions answered now to make sure that your paper or project will be complete.

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You should also write your thesis statement (or a version of what it will become) to provide you direction when you’re faced with the wealth of information available to you as a researcher. That way, you can narrow your focus a bit more. Ask your teacher for guidance on this if you’d like a second opinion.

Improve research skills by thinking carefully about your sources

Now that you have a game plan, it’s time to get to work. As you begin to accumulate information, it is always a good idea to check your source and ask yourself a few questions:

  • Is it outdated?

  • Is it biased?

  • Can you confirm the information provided in at least one other place?

If not, your information may be less than ideal. Begin with an internet search for scholarly articles (most web browsers are now smart enough to separate these from less helpful information online).

If you’re struggling to find good information, a great place to look for additional information is in the source material of another source you’ve found valuable to your research. While you’ve probably been told that Wikipedia is an unacceptable source, the sources listed at the bottom could be valid—and could often be good jumping-off points for source material.

You might also think about learning advanced web search techniques, which can help refine your searches by providing you with the tools you need to find optimal keywords, phrasing, etc. in your research. Consult one of the librarians at your school for guidance on this.

Improve research skills by organizing your information

As you begin to make progress in your information, you’ll need to keep it organized to make sure each item you collect is unique and relevant. Chances are, you’re going to be using the internet for much of your information. Bookmarks and subfolders can be a good way to divide up your information for easy access. If you’re someone who likes things directly in front of you, you may consider printing pieces of research you think will be most valuable.

In preparation for your paper or project, you should also consider making an outline once you have a few sources. Where is your paper going? That may have changed from your early attempts at a thesis. Consider making a mind-map if you’re a visual learner or a more traditional outline (make it on a big piece of paper so you can refer to it easily to guide your research), and identify holes in your information (i.e. places in your argument that may be weak).

Improve research skills by seeking out examples

If you’re struggling during any part of this process, it can be helpful if you ask your teacher to view a sample of past student work. Look at a paper that your teacher felt was a positive example, so you know where the bar is set. Can you identify things the good paper employed during research? Emulate them.

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Similarly, have a trusted family member or friend review your paper, which can help make your research stronger. Have them consider the following questions as they review: Are you clearly articulating your information or argument? Are there places where you’ve offered insufficient information? Your reviewers may be able to point them for you.

The bottom line when improving research skills

It can feel like a challenge to capture such large amounts of information when you’re faced with seemingly endless sources, so try not to approach research in such big chunks. By asking good questions, staying organized, using good and varied sources, and utilizing the work and skills of your peers, you’ll slowly master the research paper—a skill that will serve you for many years to come.

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