Getting beyond “googling it” – developing research skills

Research is an important first step to writing. Being ready to write means we have enough information and have carefully considered how to approach our topic. Moving beyond “Google it!” is critical to the development of robust research skills. From the idea in our head to the finished paper, there are seven important steps to get ready to write.

  1. All research begins with good topic selection. Researching a topic is always better when you have a personal interest. Teachers know if students have some say in what they write about (and thus need to research) they are better engaged and more likely to produce a quality piece of writing.
  2. Time to pose some questions. What do you want to know about your topic? At this point we can ask anything about our topic, our next step will help us narrow our questions.
  3. Use those questions to conduct a presearch.  A presearch is when we look to see if we have a viable topic to write about. If our topic is too big, we may be overwhelmed by the information available. If our topic is too narrow, we may be frustrated by too little information. This phase helps us refine our questions and maybe even ask some new ones.
  4. Our presearch and topic questions help us select key words.  These words will focus our search for information. No matter what resource we want to use (books, websites, finding experts to interview), key words make the search manageable. We are less likely to drift off our topic when we have strong key words.
  5. Time for some in-depth research. Using the key words to guide us, we begin our search. We might use any combination of books, websites, documentaries, or interviews to collect information. The more diverse our resources the more accurate our findings will be.
  6. While searching, taking effective notes is imperative once we finally begin to write. Our notes should include information about each resource so we can return if needed or appropriately cite.
  7. Finally, we need to organize our notes so we can prepare a sort of outline of the findings about our topic. These notes, effectively gathered and organized, make the transition to writing much easier.

These seven steps not only make our writing better, but also make it easier to begin. We have plenty of information, we know our topic is solid, and we have answered important questions. If you are a teacher, the goal is to help students become independent researchers. Anyone who writes, whether you are 8, 28, or 88, being an efficient and capable researcher is a lifelong skill.

Harrison, D.L. & Fresch, M.J. (2017).  7 Keys to Research for Writing Success. NY: Scholastic.