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Strategies for Research

Strategies for Research

Author: Gavin McCall

This lesson teaches some basic strategies for effectively engaging with research sources.

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Welcome back to English Composition. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me. What are we going to learn today? We'll be learning about strategies writers use to make the most of their research. We'll cover strategies for reading, evaluating, and engaging with textual sources, and notetaking and engagement strategies, including digital notetaking. And then we'll take a look at an example of this.

The key to an effective research process is starting strong, and the best way to do that is to determine what kind of sources to search for and beginning to look for sources online and at the library. While doing this, it's critical that we keep our claims, purpose, and rhetorical situation in mind. Because once you begin researching, the only other thing you'll need are strategies for evaluating and organizing the research you find. The strategies we'll cover today will help ensure that your research and writing process as a whole go as smoothly as possible.

For every source you're seriously considering using, there are a few strategies for evaluating and engaging with it. A good way to begin is to scan the source, looking at it quickly to figure out if it's relevant to your topic and to your thesis, while also looking for any warning signs that the source is not credible. Things like being poorly written, lacking sources, or being inappropriate in terms of tone, structure, or some other criteria.

For many peer-reviewed academic sources, this is easy because they often include an abstract at the beginning of the text. This is a brief summary or explanation of the research conducted. And it can be a great place to begin reading, especially when considering questions of relevance. Of course, you will still have to read the whole article if and when choosing to use it as a source.

You could also use more general reading strategies on sources like SQ3R, which stands for Scan, Question, Read, Recite, and Review. To perform this on a source, after scanning the source, paying special attention to length and headings, the next step is to ask questions about the text before reading it thoroughly, predicting what you'll find.

Then obviously, you read the text. Once that's done, you recite by explaining to yourself, either out loud or through notes, what you've learned in reading. The last part of this process is reviewing, in which you respond to the text, reflect on its ideas, and go back and answer the questions you came up with earlier.

I should say here that it's important not to ignore credible sources that disagree with or complicate your working thesis. Rather than thinking of them as threats or trying to ignore them, consider how to address the information or claims they present in your essay. And whenever possible, keep digital copies of all potential sources in a dedicated folder. This will save time later on during the drafting process as you work to incorporate what you've learned into your essay structure.

Using these engaged reading strategies, especially questioning, critical thinking, and talking back to the text with notes and comments, will help make sure you get the most out of your research time. And just like when we're reading, there are many strategies for responding to sources, most of which involve notetaking of one kind or another.

One tip for making the writing process easier is to highlight, underline, or otherwise mark a source's important ideas, including the thesis, as well as areas or subjects you should address in your own essay and any quotes you might want to use. Another good idea is to summarize the source's primary purpose or rewrite the thesis in your own words and maybe include a note about how the ideas might be useful in your text.

The thing is, even with digital sources, writers can still perform this kind of notetaking. Programs such as Adobe or Microsoft Word, as well as many other word processors, allow writers to digitally highlight, underline, and comment on text. Thus, taking digital notes is another strategy, recording these ideas and taking note of any useful pages so they can be found again, and writing up impressions and summaries of an entire source.

What researchers used to do with note cards, we can now do with computers. And the best part is, like many other aspects of the writing process, how and in what format you choose to do this is a matter of need and your own personal preference. For physical nodes, many writers would use color-coded symbols, either with highlighters or multi-colored note cards, to organize notes in terms of what they are or how they intend to use them.

In general, taking good notes and maintaining accurate records of source data doesn't really help streamline the drafting process, it can also prevent unintentional plagiarism, which is against the rules in academic context and almost always unethical. It can also come in handy if library resources need to be returned or digital sources go missing before the essay is complete. Either way, writers who don't perform any of these notetaking strategies may eventually write effective essays, but they won't do so as easily or efficiently as they might have.

Now we're going to take a look at an example source, one I've already taken the liberty of adding notes and highlights to, as you can see. It's not necessary for you to read the entirety of this source even though it is a short essay, as you can see. I'll just summarize it as an odd, semi-literary analysis of the 1982 movie, Blade Runner.

The writer makes the claim that the robots in the movie are representative of our preoccupation with slavery and the question of what is human? As the writer says in this section that I've highlighted, "In a society that struggles to adhere to the absolute standard of equality of all people, there's nothing that riles the people quite so much as depictions of institutionalized sub-humanity."

Not the best wording exactly, but I wanted to highlight this because I feel like this is the thesis of the source, something I might want to use later. As you can see, I've also used the Word program's Comment function. to add notes to other portions of the text. I'll go through them in case they can't be read easily.

The first of my comments, I put at the end of the first paragraph. I wrote, "Good way to end the introduction. Maybe I can do something like this." This is an example of the kind of comment you might want to make when you see a technique being used that you might want to imitate or use. It's part of how we learn as writers, by reading.

In my second comment down here in the third paragraph, I write that I don't agree with the statement. The statement of the writer says, "The question of humanity is present in many genres, but I think it's most common in science fiction." I wrote this because I'm not sure I agree that science fiction is the one genre of literature in which we find the most comments about racism and slavery.

In my third comment, I picked up on the writer's claim that, "I think that this question, what is human? also fuels the majority of our most heated political debates." My comment was, "I might be able to make this claim myself, but I need more examples than this." This, I thought, was one of the weaknesses of this source. It doesn't use any direct citations of other sources, though it does reference many titles of creative works.

My last comment was focused on a sentence that says, "Racism today is still largely an issue related to levels of humanity, and so is sexism and a whole bunch of other words that end with ism." And my comment was, "What about abortion? That's a question of what is human?" Whether this is something I want to include in my own essay, I'm not sure. This is more me thinking on the page and wanting to make sure I remember that thought later as I look at the source.

As you can see, I've also highlighted most of the last sentence of this source. The section I highlighted states, "If at any time, we, as a people, no longer care about who and what we choose to define as equal to ourselves and include in the roll call of humanity, it should say then we, as a people, will know that we've pretty much lost whatever humanity we had to begin with."

I highlighted this because I thought it was an interesting text. I like it despite the typo in it, and I might be able to use it later, so I wanted to draw attention to it. This is an example of the kind of thing writers can do with sources-- commenting on them, speaking back to them, getting them ready to be used, perhaps, for their own writing.

What have we learned today? We learned about the many strategies writers use to read, evaluate, and make the most out of the sources they find. Then we looked at an example of digital notetaking on a source. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.