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Research Surrounds Us

The word "research" comes from the Latin circare, which means, "to circle around, or explore." That is,  conducting research is a way of circling around a topic, idea, or issue to gain a better understanding. Much of what we know about the world around us comes as the result of research and investigation. Indeed, some of the professions we come in contact with every day are dependent on research. Police investigations, newspaper accounts, text books, and medical procedures-all are the result of someone, somewhere, having conducted research.

The Nature of Research

When assisting your children with or assigning your students a research paper or project, ask them to keep the following ideas in mind.  They are extracted from a popular handbook, The St. Martin's Guide to Writing.

Research is driven by a purpose. Researchers seek out information wanting to make a discovery, solve a problem, answer a question, teach others about a topic, advocate a position, correct a misconception or prove a point.

The purpose influences the research. Researchers often start with a general idea of what they are looking for and what they hope to find, but as they progress the focus often shifts. Information gathered may raise new questions in the mind of the researcher.

Research is rarely a neat and tidy progression. The shift in focus may suggest new avenues of exploration. Old leads may grow cold or prove to be unproductive. New bits of information may turn previously held beliefs upside down.

The result of research is a body of knowledge. Good research will yield new discoveries, facts, and ideas that will be reexamined and confirmed or disputed by other researchers. From this process we gain a better understanding of the complex world around us.

Helpful Hints for Doing Research

Research can actually be fun if it is presented to students in the appropriate manner. Encourage them to view their work, not as an >assignment for class; rather,challenge them to make a discovery. Empower them to become "history detectives" hot on the trail of solving a great mystery. Enlist their help in completing a puzzle. A research assignment is like a fine dessert-presentation is everything.

As with any great undertaking, students' chances of successfully completing their research projects can be increased if they are aware of some of the obstacles they may encounter along the way. Often students get frustrated and "shut down" when they encounter some very common research pitfalls. They can feel needlessly defeated, failing to see that each set-back is an opportunity to rethink and redirect their search. When helping  students with a research project, remind them to:

Start by examining secondary sources. Find out what other people have already discovered and build from there.

Some research will lead to dead ends. Close that avenue of inquiry and pick up the quest somewhere else.

Reference librarians are your best allies for understanding the content and limitations of material collections. Their expertise can save hours of time and frustration.

Narrow your focus. The clearer you are about what you are looking for, the more help the reference librarian can be to your search.

Allow your research to take you where it will, even if it is contrary to what you are trying to prove.

Research is not necessarily a linear process. Skipping from source to source and doubling back on material is a natural part of the research process.

Keep a research journal. You will consult many sources as you consider your topic. Keep it all clear and organized in a research journal where you can jot down thoughts and ideas regarding your project.