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How to Research a Term Paper

Apr 9, 2008
In some courses, especially in your senior year, you may be asked to submit long pieces of writing that may be loosely classified as term papers or research reports. Typical among these are studies of an author's characteristics or surveys of literary movements in honor English classes or analyses in depth of various topics in your science or social studies courses.

Now, a bit of advice. It is your obligation as an intelligent student to become familiar with the frequently used sources of information in a well-equipped library. Unless you have a first hand acquaintance with these valuable aids to research, you cannot hope to do a quick and efficient job of gathering material for your report.

Assuming you are reasonably familiar with library reference sources, you would not abandon your topic until you had checked with each of the following:

A. Your Textbook

If your topic is an extension of a subject studied in class and covered in your textbook, look at the end of the chapter that dealt with the subject. The author has probably listed the names of the books he used to get his information. Or he may have supplied the titles at the end of the book in a bibliography. Get some cards or slips of paper and jot down this information for each book:

Author (last name first)

Title of the book (underlined)

Publisher

Date published or latest copyright

Number of volume (if more than one)

Pages (if supplied)

B. Reference Works

These are the books, in single or multiple volumes, that supply condensed accounts of any subject you can think of. The various biographical dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases, gazetteers, yearbooks, annuals, literary histories and handbooks, indexes, and language guides summarize for you pertinent information about famous people, places, events, historical movements, scientific achievements, and literature. Perhaps more important than the facts you can get from these general reference works is the titles of additional books that are often listed at the end of articles. These, too, jot down on cards or slips in the same way you did the textbook references.

C. The Card Catalogue

You have probably learned in the library work that is part of every course in English how to handle the title, author, and subject cards that are found in this primary source. Start with the references suggested by your textbook and by the general works.

Look up the call numbers of the books on your cards. You will find these numbers on the upper left hand side of the catalogue card. Jot them down. While you are at the cabinet, check the key words of the title of your topic against additional catalogue cards. For instance, if you have selected "Fur Trading in the West," try "Fur," "Trading," and "West." Use more cards for listing these.

D. Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature

If your topic is the kind about which articles appear in newspapers, magazines, or journals, you must also consult the Readers' Guide, which is a monthly publication later bound into volumes covering one or more years.

Here again you can find information, by title, author, or subject, about articles that have been published in hundreds of periodicals. The advantage of using such a source is clear when you realize that you may have selected a topic that is so new that it has not yet found its way into books. Again, you put any suggested lead on a card or slip by:

Call number (if periodical is bound)

Name of author (last name first)

Title of article (in quotation marks)

Name of periodical (underlined)

Volume number

Pages covered by article

Date of issue (month, day, year)

E. The Librarian

A slogan found posted in many stores could well apply to libraries: "If you don't see what you want, ask for it." Librarians welcome the opportunity to help visitors find information. Don't hesitate to talk over your problem with a librarian if you are having difficulty locating useful references. She is a professional at this game and can offer you invaluable assistance.

Research your topic well and you will no doubt write a first-class paper.
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