Finding Resources to Write Research Papers in University


by: M.V. Jenkins

I just started my first semester of grad. school and I have to admit…I am way out of practice when it comes to writing papers. I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in 2020, so it’s only been a couple years.

Still, those couple of years have really made me rusty.

As I reeducate myself on writing papers, I figured I’d share some tips and things about the academic writing process.

There are several different styles of academic papers depending on your field/degree. For instance, the humanities disciplines (language arts, cultural studies, etc.) go by the Modern Language Association‘s style (aka- MLA). Social sciences like psychology and anthropology use the American Psychological Association‘s style of formatting (aka- APA). The other common one you might hear is the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), which is used in literature, history, and the arts (Purdue Owl).

This post is going to focus on MLA Ed. 9.

So, let’s dive in! ๐Ÿ™‚

Planning your paper

The first thing to do when planning any paper is look at the instructions and rubric. What is the professor requiring? How is the assignment going to be graded? Is there already a subject/topic? Is there a style requirement? (For this post, we’re assuming MLA Ed.9).

Before doing any “hardcore” research (e.g. going on online databases, looking through textbooks, etc), you need to know what you want/need your paper to be on. Doing some Googling and “Wikipediaing” about your topic of interest can help you get a feel of what type of buzzwords are used. These keywords can help you find the right sources later, so write them down somewhere.

Writing down what you already know about the subject helps too. Brainstorm what you know and what you need to know in order to effectively write the paper.

Where to find resources

#1-University Library

Finding sources can be hard if you don’t know where to start. The first place I always like to recommend is your university’s library. They have all sorts of great resources and the librarians specialize in academic research.

Now, if you’re like me and are completing your degree online (or if you’re just taking online classes), then going to the school’s physical library may not be an option. If that’s the case, check out your university’s website and look for its library home page.

The university’s library will offer a bunch (like…a BUNCH) of resources. Some of these include books, textbooks, online databases (ProQuest, JSTOR, etc.), subscriptions to professional publications/articles, and so much more!

Again, the best thing to do is reach out to one of the university librarians to get the full scope/offerings to find your resources!

#2-Public Library

Public libraries can offer a lot of the same resources as university libraries (albeit without the same level of experience in navigating academic databases). If you have a local library, check out their website and online resources. Oftentimes, libraries have subscriptions with several of the same online databases. However, public libraries may not have full access like university libraries, so keep that in mind.

Another thing great about public libraries is…the books! You can find/borrow books you’re interested in using for your research over having to buy them yourself from Barnes &Noble (or Amazon because let’s be honest, B&N is expensive).

#3-Online Databases (ProQuest, JSTOR, etc.)

The most common resource university students use when compiling resources is from an online database. Online databases offer thousands of articles and research papers that can be accessed by whoever has a subscription (such as university libraries and public libraries).

Online databases allow you to specify your searches such as whether or not you want peer-reviewed articles, whether you want articles that have been published in journals, and so on.

The best way to access online databases (without paying) is through your university/institution or…a public library! ๐Ÿ™‚

#4-The Internet

The internet is the most accessible and difficult resource any student can navigate. There’s the obvious Wikipedia (which I do not recommend as a reputable source to use/cite in your paper.) If anything, go to the article and scroll all the way down to their resources and look at those.

Wikipedia is a wonderful tool when looking at just general information to learn for your own knowledge/benefit; however, it does not make the most credible source when writing an academic paper. The reason for this is that anyone can edit Wikipedia pages.

A good internet search engine for resources is Google Scholar. Google Scholar is an online search engine by…Google (surprise), which allows you to look up papers that are scholarly (scholarly literature).

However, Google Scholar oftentimes only shows you a preview of the document, to which you would then have to request from an online database or institution for full access (which means money). So keep that in mind.

Know if a source is credible

Perhaps one of the most difficult things that every student faces when writing a research paper is discerning what makes a source credible.

Just as you check what information you read in the news and the internet is accurate, you also want to check to make sure the sources you’re using are also accurate (to the best of the author’s ability of course).

When looking at a source, it’s important to consider a couple things. Who is the author and what makes them knowledgeable in their field? Is there an editor? Is it peer-reviewed? Is the article published at a reputable institution? Is the article part of a publication? Does the article contain statistical data or quantifiable information? Does the article cite its sources and properly format the information?

Having discernment in checking if a source is credible (as well as what makes a source credible) can help improve your paper and really showcase your knowledge and expertise in academic writing.

Incorporate sources into your paper

When it comes to the MLA (9th Ed) format, typically you use quotations when citing information in your paper. Depending on the resource (e.g. website article, database article, book, newspaper, etc.), it may slightly vary in terms of formatting, but overall using quotations is the way to go. Synthesizing information is also acceptable, just make sure to give credit to the author.

Whenever you quote a source, be sure to explain its reason for being in your paper. You don’t need to include a bunch of “fluff” quotes or useless information in your paper. Just quote what you need and explain how it supports your research paper.

Where to find help and more information

MLA official handbook (9th ed.)

The most useful resource for any student using MLA is to look at a copy of the MLA Official Handbook (Ninth Edition). It’s going to have all of the information you need in order to correctly format your paper and cite your sources. It has all different citation scenarios and examples of different formats of information (e.g. books, websites, databases, etc.)

The manual is literally what all other resources base their information off of, so looking at it is definitely a must!

MLA Handbook (Ninth Edition)
Purdue Online Writing Lab

Another option, a saving grace for me, has been Purdue University’s Purdue Online Writing Lab. It is such an amazing resource when it comes to all things relating to academic writing and scholarly papers.

Since this is an MLA Ed. 9 style post, I’m going to recommend Purdue’s MLA Style page. It goes over the MLA basics and how the ninth edition varies from the previous editions.

Again, its information is based on what the manual says, but it has its own way of organizing the information on a website to make it easier to navigate (convenient for sure!)

Writing Centers

If your university offers a writing center or academic writing services, definitely check it out! Having an extra set of eyes look at your paper and help you with the formatting can make a world of a difference!

Conclusion

Writing isn’t a destination that you can reach if you follow steps X, Y, and Z. Writing is a process that can flow in different directions. It is a skill that is only earned through intentional study and practice. Even then, just when you think you’ve learned how to write a successful paper, you’ll learn something new or reach a new level of difficulty.

For me, graduate school has opened the doors to a WHOLE new world of academic writing. It’s more intense. It’s more precise. It’s more formated and professionally displayed. It’s just…more.

So, whether you’re a freshman in undergrad or a freshman in grad school, there’s always more to learn when it come to research and writing academic papers!

Do you have any tips or resources that help you write academic papers? How do you conduct research for a research paper?

Share your thoughts in the comments below! ๐Ÿ™‚

*All images and/or graphics were obtained through CANVA following their “One Design Use License Agreement” permitting personal and commercial use of images.*


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