How to do Effective Research For a College Paper

Feb 5, 2014
  |  by Jennifer Cook

Writing a college paper can be one of those daunting tasks that we dread from the first day of class. Perhaps one of the most intimidating aspects is the required page length.  There are times when students may not feel that they are well informed on a topic and, therefore, struggle to write a quality paper.  The following guidelines will help college students conduct quality research on any topic.

Select a Topic

Narrowing down a general subject into sub-topics can be challenging.  However, there are ways to simplify the process.

  • Choose a topic on which there is ample information – Do some initial research on a minimum of two ideas to see what is available.  If one subject has significantly more information, it would be wiser for the writer to proceed with that topic.
  • Choose something that interests you – Writing a college paper requires a significant amount of time and effort.  Selecting an interesting topic will make any assignment more manageable.

Begin your Reseach

Once a topic has been selected, the writer can begin to conduct in-depth research.  Reviewing articles that have already been written on the subject matter can inspire new ideas or help to form new conclusions.  It is important to note that not all online sources are reliable.  Be sure to choose information from quality resources. 

To identify quality sources, there are several things to which one should pay attention.

  1. Evaluate the credentials of the author.  To ensure the content is reliable, it is important to learn as much as possible about the author and their expertise.
  2. Some websites do not list the author of online content or list the author as anonymous.  In these cases, students should evaluate the website itself.  Examine the website host.  As an example, material that is published on a university website would generally be considered reliable.
  3. Writers should note the date of publication.  Out-of-date articles can lead to incorrect information.  Additionally, check for resources used to publish the article and make sure they are relevant and up-to-date as well.
  4. Be sure the resource is an official site and not one that is simply stating a personal opinion.

Divide the Topic into Sub-Categories

After the initial search, organize information into sub-categories.  Build an outline to create a general flow of the assignment and to guide the remainder of one’s research.  

Use Traditional Resources

The internet is an excellent place to start but there are other resources available that are considered more traditional and, perhaps, more reliable.  College and community libraries offer access to quality information.  Students can utilize autobiographies, biographies and other types of in-depth information. The encyclopedia is another standard and authoritative resource, which is now updated and hosted solely online.

Think Outside the Box

Consider other resources that are available as part of the research process.  YouTube may host videos on the selected topic, and if relevant, interviews could be a great addition to one’s findings.  Students should consider connecting with someone who is an expert on the subject and conduct an interview of their own.  Often colleges and universities will have additional resources that can be of great assistance.

Check the Facts

Some information can be contradicting, so further investigation will be required.  The internet can be particularly useful in these instances.  Finding multiple resources can give one an indication as to which version is correct.  If information seems conflicting, or just doesn’t sound quite right, double check the quality of the resource and look deeper into the matter.

Writing a paper and doing effective research doesn’t have to be an intimidating experience.  There are often professionals with experience on the subject and peers who are willing to help.  Confirm that there is information available on the topic and utilize multiple resources to confidently write a paper consisting of quality information.


Author bio: Jennifer Cook writes about online education, learning trends and student life for Strayer.edu. She loves it when teachers connect with students online, and she’s scrubbed her social profiles clean, just in case Big Brother is watching.

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