Digging for Gold: How the Perfect Research Can Make for a Valued Essay

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Oceana Tomlinson was in her first year of college and was excited to begin pursuing her major of Urban Management. She had been involved in several of her community volunteer programs and grew to enjoy the idea of helping cities to improve their neighborhoods. The first few months of classes had many positives, but there were also some poor grades, something Oceana had not known in high school.  But learning from her mistakes was part of Oceana’s makeup; she simply wanted to improve. The big test for this came when her English professor returned the draft of her research essay: comment after comment after comment indicated Oceana did not have a clue as how to do college-level research.  Fortunately, her professor gave ample feedback to assist, and Oceana realized what so many other college students know: there are important steps and strategies that must be followed to create an effective research tome.  Doing this will not just result in a better school research assignment, but also prove to be helpful at a professional employment level.

When students learn one or more assignments involve research, there is often a roll of the eyes.  This is the type of project that can’t simply be dashed off with one’s own opinion and supporting points. Rather, time and effort must be spent in creating a paper that shouts, “I am a research paper – yeah!” and then searching for and correctly using credible research.  Shortcuts are often taken, and the result is a final product that is less than satisfactory.  This happened to Oceana, and she wanted to be sure to never again have it occur.

Oceana held a Zoom conference with her professor; she explained, in easy-to-understand detail, the mistakes and oversights Oceana did that resulted in such a poor first effort.  Most important, her professor asked, did Oceana begin with a research question?  Oceana admitted she forgot to do this crucial first step.  The professor next asked about Oceana’s targeted audience: rather than understand the audience, Oceana simply focused on her interests; this resulted in a somewhat scattered collection of research. Also, some of Oceana’s research was not considered credible, it was not scholarly, and for two supporting points she used Wikipedia and People magazine sources.  Her professor asked Oceana how she conducted her research, and when Oceana indicated only Google, her professor gave that smile which translated into, “Aha – rather than knowing how to dig for gold, you went for tin instead – let’s remedy that!”  Additionally, it was mentioned that Oceana had collected just a few research sources and went with those. When asked why Oceana was honest: research was time-consuming, and she just wanted to get the paper completed.  This resulted in another professor smile, this one saying, “Let’s widen your net of research catches so you have a nice depth and variety from which to choose.” Three other research “musts” were also overlooked by Oceana: her investigative methods had no variety, her citation formatting was incorrect (and one item could have been tagged as plagiarized), and she did not take notes.   

When the meeting with her professor had concluded, Oceana was elated.  For her professor made Oceana realize not only the importance of good research but also the fun it could bring, i.e., discovering information that could make her feel quite proud of creating a research-based writing assignment.  Oceana had much work to do, but felt that if she made a research guide it could be useful for any writing project that needed solid research to back up a thesis.  

This is Oceana’s Guide for a Perfect Research Paper:

  • Establish a Research Question. This is the primary question to be answered in a research paper. Here is an example: “How does underfunding police departments affect residents and their communities?”   From this question the thesis will develop, such as this: “Underfunding police departments will have a negative effect on residents and communities, resulting in higher crime rates, longer police response time, and less feeling of being protected.” The thesis will now dictate what research is needed.  
  • Determine the audience.  It is crucial that a specific audience be in mind so the research and the author’s text all are in sync with an audience’s needs and expectations.
  • Know the best websites to use for searching.  Google or Bing produces both credible and non-credible sources.  Yet Purdue Global’s library (with EBSCO, ProQuest, CREDO, Statista) and Google Scholar, for example, offer a direct connection to research sources that can be trusted as credible.
  • Understand credible versus non-credible research. There are four areas that determine the credibility of research:  Timeliness (Ideally, research should be no older than five years); Reliability (Is the information accurate and complete; is it fact, not opinion; are there citations to back up quotes); Authority (Who is the author? Is the author or organization qualified to speak on a subject? Are there credentials for the author? Is the organization or author non-biased?); Purpose (Does the article present facts, not opinion? Who is the intended audience? Are website domains the acceptable ones:  .gov, .edu, .org; .com and .net are commercial, yet may offer good research if properly vetted).
  • Use an Annotated Bibliography. This allows for a gathering of possible research to be used, with annotations – notes – to briefly describe each source.  The result: it is easier to determine which resources will be used and appear on the References page.
  • Incorporate varied research methods.  Going to the same “well” of research, such as only using website articles, can result in a rather staid research paper. Yet also incorporating interviews, statistical data, and visuals can add strength to a research paper.
  • Take notes.  Taking notes on how the research is to be used, what portion of a resource is to be incorporated (e.g., quote? paraphrase? facts?), where the research will appear in the paper, what research will be used for X, Y and Z supporting thesis points: this saves time and results in a better-organized, easier flowing researched assignment.
  • Be aware of correct APA citation and formatting. To avoid plagiarism always give credit to the author(s) for any researched material; this would include in-text citations and a matching References page.  Be sure the formatting is in correct APA format.
  • Reach out to university resources for assistance.  Besides PG’s library (PG Library), also visit PG’s Writing Center (PG Writing Center) and the Academic Success Center (Academic Success Center) for extensive assistance with all areas of research.

Oceana stepped back when she saw her finished Guide: it would definitely need more focus, time, and effort than what she put in for her draft.  Yet what initially was to be a stress-filled, anxiety-ridden, and depressing 10 days to get the final of the research paper in order did a 180-degree turnaround.  Following her Guide resulted in not just a really nice college-worthy research product but one that Oceana felt could also be used “down in the road,” in her eventual professional career.  She was sold:  “flying by the seat of her pants” for the research paper would never do; a methodical, step-by-step approach would be the only way to garner smiles from author and audience alike.  

Oceana finally smiled: it was now time for a well-deserved rest! 

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