View Full Version : Learning to Research

10-03-2008, 05:41 PM
I'm starting school next September and majoring in writing. Yeah, I know how badly that is usually discouraged, but I'm recovering from severe, complex Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and will benefit from a solitary, quiet job, and I guess I show some raw talent that has impressed the right people, so...it's been approved by the agencies that will finance my education.

I'm spending this year, getting ready for school. I'm brushing up on using MS Office, learning to touch type and want to learn to research like a pro.

I bought a book called "Beyond the Internet" at a second hand book store, that is interesting and introduced me to the "Columbia Encyclopedia". The author was an editor for the 5th edition. She raves about it, but I don't see it listed in any other books or websites as an excellent resource. What do you all think about the "Columbia Encyclopedia"?

Books on research are EXPENSIVE :-( I bought a copy of "Schaum's Quick Guide to Writing Great Research Papers" for $13.00 and I will borrow from the library and read some web sites, and just take notes or make photocopies.

What is the best way to learn to research like a pro? I think mastering this skill will bring a lifetime of rewards. I love to learn, and study everything that falls into my hands, but I don't know how to SEEK information, past Googling, finding online forums, and searching for Books at the library and at Amazon.com

Lyra Jean
10-03-2008, 08:02 PM
The Historian's Toolbox: A Student's Guide to the Theory and Craft of History (http://www.amazon.com/Historians-Toolbox-Students-Theory-History/dp/076562026X/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1223049552&sr=8-1)
This link takes you to a hardcover edition but it also comes in Paperback. I picked mine up at my local Barnes and Noble. I'm a history major in school but it does have a section on researching, taking notes, and figuring out sources.

10-04-2008, 06:06 AM
Thanks for the tip. I just checked my library online catalog and they have it.

Linda Adams
10-04-2008, 02:39 PM
Here's another book that has a section on research:

Write Faster, Write Better by David A. Fryxell. A pre-Internet earlier version may be at your library: How to Write Fast (While Writing Fast). It's slanted to freelancers, but the chapter on how to research may be worth a look.

Some techniques I use:

* Try different libraries. A college library may have more books on the subject than a local library. Likewise, a library on a military base will have a great selection of books on all the wars and campaigns. A local family history center might carry books on Town Histories and topics like what it was like being on a ship in the 1880's. My local library also has a series of databases on their Web site, along with eBooks.

* Library sale. Hit your topics on Sunday (half off day!). You might not find anything, but you also might find a gem you really need. I was dreading having to buy an auction catalog. New, they cost $65. I found a number of used ones at a library sale for about $2 each, and they were written in, which was even better for what I needed. I also hit the travel section, looking for books on places.

* Children's books. These can be great resources. If you need to know about volcanoes, scan through a children's book first to get familiar with the topic, then if you need more in depth information, head for the next level of books.

* Speciality magazines. I had to research auctions, and there were few books at the library on the topic. But an antique collecting magazine yielded results. I asked to see the back issues for a year and started scanning for articles. I ran across a couple others I might use in the future, so I made copies.

* Encyclopedias. This really depends on your topic and what you're looking for. But they can be a good place for an overview. I was looking for the types of fire trucks, and I couldn't find anything online that was useful. World Book Encyclopedia had just what I was looking for.

Sometimes you have to think "Where else can I find this?" I was trying to research a location, and all I had were travel books which listed the tourist attractions. While looking for something else, I ran into the Archecture section, and there were tons of books on the archecture of different cities.

10-04-2008, 08:51 PM
The people who have the real scoop on how to research are librarians. Most librarians are delighted to find someone who is interested in learning about research.

Since you'll be at school anyway, see if there's a department of Library and Information Science. If so, go talk to them. That's usually a masters program, but they may offer an introductory undergraduate class you would be able to take. Or someone may be willing to help you informally. If there's no such department, go to your library and ask the librarians there.

10-04-2008, 09:14 PM
In research, your most effective source is a primary source - that being a first-hand witness. These include personal interviews (if the person is still living), diary entries, letters, etc. A secondary source is information filtered through another writer, ie, newspaper articles (no matter how objective they're meant to be they're tainted with the journalist's view and can have errors), interviewing someone who heard the story from your subject, other news media. Then the sources get murkier, but that doesn't necessarily make them unreliable.

Using an encyclopedia is a great start. Wiki's not so bad as a spring board to better resources, but NEVER use it as a resource for your writing.

The internet with its access to thousands of newspapers, libraries and news media, is becoming the best research tool for writers for current events. When doing historical writing, after you exhaust internet sources, your library is your friend.

At this point in your education, you'd do well to learn where to go for certain types of information. Courthouses offer a wealth of information in deeds, wills, birth and marriage records (if they didn't suffer a fire or flood). Old newspapers can give you a sense of what life was like in the ads (prices and styles), editorials, general news. Our local library has our town's newspapers on film.

And - you have AW. After you've done all the research you can on a topic, but you feel you want more information, post here. You'll gave a wealth of information from people from different backgrounds, cultures and ages.

My humble rambling opinion on a Saturday afternoon. I majored in history in college and spent many hours in the library back in the days of card catalogs.

Good luck in your studies!

10-05-2008, 01:49 AM
Thank you all for the tips. They are VERY helpful.

I bought "Write Faster, Write Better" for $2.00 from a new seller. I hope it's the 2004 edition, as advertised. My library system didn't have it. I try not to ask for too many out of system loans, and try not to travel too far to another system, but it's good to know I can when I really need to. The reviews sounded really good and it was a Writer's Digest books, so...I decided to chance it. It's the shipping that kills you on the used books.

A used book store had an old edition copy of "The Craft of Research" that looked excellent. I'm waiting till I have at least one other book I want though, to save on shipping, as I have enough to stay busy right now.

Do any of you have a favorite nostalgic resource, even if you no longer use it much now? Or maybe you do use something first even if it's not that efficient to do so, just out of habit? I've heard many people say how attached they are to a brand of encyclopedias, because it's what they had as a child.

All of the reviews on the "Columbia Encyclopedia" made me splurge on one. That is going to be one heavy book to cart home on the subway!