Robins' Research Rules
Note: While these steps may appear to take more time and effort than just diving into the task, they will actually save you considerable time, effort, and marks.
Step One: Define the problem.
a. It is important to know exactly what is required of you. For instance, a report is very different from an essay yet your teacher may use the terms interchangeably. Likewise, the terms of the assignment - groups? due date? length? appearance?
Pick out keywords. Reword the instructions/question into your own words. If possible, check out your interpretation with other people. (If you have misinterpreted the task, all your work from here on will be wasted - that’s why this step is important).
Understand and jot down any additional oral/written instructions. (Teachers will sometimes change the task or give hints how to accomplish it - if you have point form notes on your assignment page you can refer back to them if the length, due date, number of sources .... has changed).
Ask clarifying questions. If you’ve read the instructions and thought about them and the task is unclear or you’re uncertain - ask! It is almost certain that a lot of your fellow students will be relieved someone asked the question they needed answered too.
Step Two: Identify what information is needed.
a. What do you need to know and in what form? If the subject is a report on nurses during World War I - you need to know about clothing, living conditions, pay, duties, ...... The number of headings will be determined by the assignment (how long it is, amount of time you have to work on it ....) Don’t get sidetracked into unnecessary information - e.g. non-nurse material such as: conditions in the trenches, soldier’s clothing, ..... Form - Consider what form the information comes in for not only research but how you will present that research (e.g. a picture of a nurse in uniform for her clothing is more effective than a written description).
Step Three: Finding the information.
a. Decide the best and most efficient ways of locating the information as dictated by your assignment. Best - an overnight assignment might use just the Internet, but a report with several days for research should use the Internet, books, displays, interviews, etc (depending on the topic). Be efficient by using the proper source and search words to get exactly what you need (WWI Canadian nurse’s uniform - use those words and try Google images to get both your research and an image for your own report).
b. Read a brief overview of your topic - textbook or encyclopedia or Wikipedia, etc.
c. Now form a list of key words you can use to search the Internet and a list for books. With those lists you can find exactly what you need rather than searching Google and having over a million hits with 99% of them irrelevant.
Step Four: Gathering and using the information
a. Ensure your sources are reliable. Books are more reliable than the Internet. Internet sources from universities, recognized organizations, etc are more reliable and have their name in their web address. Remember, anyone can publish to the Internet and claim to be accurate......
b. Use the specific search words and indexes to find exactly what you need.
c. As you gather information, put it into your own words and note down where you got it from (at the top of your page of notes include all the bibliography information and then the page number for each note or the heading from the web page - you need it for both your works cited page and to clarify from the source an idea if your notes are not clear - ).
d. Check to ensure you are getting what you need without any irrelevant information.
Step Five: Synthesize the information
a. Organize and pick out the best source for each piece of information
Organize - Organize similar information together (under headings for reports, under main arguments for essays, etc). For example, I utilize coloured markers to put the same coloured checkmarks beside similar information. Check that you have thoroughly covered each area required in your assignment.
Best sources - If the same piece of information appears in more than 1 source, then choose the source you will use based on the following order of criteria: if you have not used the source yet so now it can be added to your works cited list, use a source if it is an eyewitness/primary source of information over a secondary source, and use most recent source.
Step Six: Present the information
a. Ensure the information is presented as demanded by the assignment. Next, present it in the best form possible. For an essay, there is no choice - it’s written. However, in a report decide if those facts are best presented in words or a picture or a chart .... Likewise for a presentation....
b. Leave enough time before the assignment is due to make sure it is proofread and works (printed off, the slide show works, etc). An essay that is grammatically correct, neat, and is visually appealing is worth 10-20% more than the same information with grammar mistakes....
Step Seven: Self-evaluation
a. Allow yourself enough time to look over and evaluate your project before it is handed in. Does it meet the assignment’s requirements? Can you improve on its appearance, grammar, content, etc ?
b. Evaluate what went well or wrong in this procedure. You will develop your own variation on this process that best suits your own style. However, you will need all of these steps in order to excel.