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Step 4 - Gathering Information

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Goal: Gathering information which clarifies and supports your focus.

Step 1 - Getting Started

Step 2 - Discovering and Choosing a Topic

Step 3 - Looking for and Forming a Focus

Step 4 - Gathering Information

Step 5 - Preparing to Write

Step 6 - Writing the Paper

Feelings: Many people feel interested and challenged at this stage. The agonizing part of choosing what to research is over and the task of finding the specific information you need is more like solving a puzzle or going on a treasure hunt. If any part of this process is going to be fun, this is the part.

Thoughts and Actions: Follow the steps below to get an idea of things you should be thinkingabout and doing, and some of the strategies which will help. Note the type of information search you should be doing at this stage.

Info Search

Hiker and backpackYour information search at this stage is focused and specific, and you're keeping a careful record of what you find. Instead of the square mile of land to explore, you've roped off half an acre. You're walking it systematically, bending down now and then to pick up something and chuck it in your backpack, then recording in your notebook what you found and where you found it.

4.1 Info Search - finding, collecting and recording

This is the step most people think of when they think of "library research." It's a hunt for information in any available form (book, periodical, CD, video, internet) which is pertinent to your chosen focus. Once you know the focus of your research, there are lots of tools and strategies to help you find and collect the information you need.

Your information search should be focused and specific, but pay careful attention to serendipity (finding, by chance, valuable things you weren't even looking for). Keep your mind open to continue learning about your focused topic.

Now is the time to carefully record your sources in the bibliographic format required by your instructor. Every piece of information you collect should have bibliographic information written down before you leave the library. See the links to Citing Sources for information on how and when to use quotation, paraphrase and summary and how to conform to the required styles of citation in different fields of study. You should also pay attention to the quality of the information you find, especially if you're using information you find on the internet. See the linked articles about Interpretation and Evaluation of Information.

Now is also the time to learn the details of using search engines. Many of the sources you will want to use are online, whether in the library or on the internet. See the Info Search section and specifically the Skills for Online Searching article.

4.2 Think about clarifying or refining your focus

As you gather information about your focused topic, you may find new information which prompts you to refine, clarify, extend or narrow your focus. Stay flexible and adjust your information search to account for the changes, widening or narrowing your search, or heading down a slightly different path to follow a new lead.

4.3 Start organizing your notes

Start organizing your notes into logical groups. You may notice a gap in your research, or a more heavy weighting to one aspect of the subject than what you had intended. Starting to organize as you gather information can save an extra trip to the library. It's better to find the gap now instead of the night before your paper is due (obviously!).

Look through the articles linked under Organizing Information, which includes taking notes, outlining and organizing by mapping, cubing, etc.

4.4 Think about what your thesis statement will be

The thesis statement is the main point of your paper. The type of thesis statement you'll be making depends a lot on what type of paper you're writing—a report, an issue analysis, an advocacy paper or another type. As you gather specific information and refine your focus, intentionally look for a main point to your findings. Sometimes, a thesis emerges very obviously from the material, and other times you may struggle to bring together the parts into a sensible whole. The tricky part is knowing when to stop gathering information—when do you have enough, and of the right kind? Seeking a main point as you research will help you know when you're done.

Read the linked articles on Thesis statement for guidance.

Ready to go on? This way to Step 5

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A+ Research & Writing for high school and college students was created by Kathryn L. Schwartz