Once we’ve chosen solid research topics, it’s time for my students and I to begin compiling our research. This involves a second trip to our campus library where we can take advantage of a valuable partner in our research project—our librarian, Mrs. Kilker.
Search Engines vs. Research Databases
Equipped with a handout that lists the research databases available to us, Mrs. Kilker discourages using search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. for our “academic” research. She cautions:
- Search engines give you millions of sites to search through.
- Using search engines can be overwhelming and time consuming.
- Using search engines makes it difficult to determine which sites are biased, credible, and for profit.
- Search engines don’t have citation machines within them to show us how to follow Modern Language Association (MLA) format.
- Use search engines last!
I taught freshmen this year who have little or no experience in research and many hadn't heard of MLA format before. Because I wanted my students to find success with our research project, and because we had a limited amount of time complete it, I discouraged them from using search engines altogether.
Instead, Mrs. Kilker teaches us how to navigate the research databases located on the Maryvale High School Library Resources page under Research. With two different topics, she researches each topic within each database to show us which topics work well within a particular database. As she does, she asks us to keep notes with the handout she gave us earlier. Our notes include:
- AZCIS (Arizona Career Information System) = Great for researching schools, colleges, and careers.
- EBSCO = Includes newspapers and magazines plus research information for literature, health, history, pro/con topics, etc.
- Encyclopedia Britannica = Three reading levels for research info.
- Galenet = Shares opposing viewpoints on controversial topics (pros/cons).
- Proquest eLibrary Science = Math, science, and health database.
- Teen Health and Wellness = Contains info. about teen issues including relationships, nutrition, green living, physical and mental health, etc.
- NBC Learns = videos, documents and images from NBC News.
After teaching us how to navigate the research databases, Mrs. Kilker showed us an efficient way to keep track of our notes and citations.
Guidelines for Smooth, Efficient Note-Taking
In a new Microsoft Word document, Mrs. Kilker recommends we keep track of our research notes and citations while conducting our research. Again, she models this for us and we follow these guidelines:
- Use Times New Roman size 12 font
- At the top of a new MS Word doc, type in your research topic and title this document Research Notes.
- Copy and paste the citation (MLA Format) above/below your notes. Highlight this information.
- Copy and paste the most interesting information you find in what you read.
- Save it like this: First and last name_research topic. (In addition to a student folders, our school server provides space where each teacher has folders, which providing a place for my students to save their work.)
As Mrs. Kilker pointed out, each database has a citation machine (or similarly named feature, depending on the database used) that allows us to copy and paste all of the citation information we need in MLA Format. This also makes conducting our research smooth and efficient. By highlighting citation information, we’re able to easily identify our citations from our notes.
Once we’ve created these documents, we need to conduct our research. Equipped with Research Questions we created when we used the Content-Purpose-Audience strategy for our prewriting, we already have some idea of what we’re looking for. We pull our C-P-As out of our research folders and re-read our Research Questions. This gives us the opportunity to use key words and phrases in our Questions to further focus our research within the databases.
Using our notes about the databases, we carefully choose the ones we believe we’ll have success with. Conducting our research requires we use the following reading skills:
- Read titles, subtitles, subheadings, and abstracts before reading entire articles.
- Look for key words/phrases within titles, subtitles, subheadings, and abstracts that match key words/phrases in our Research Questions.
- Then, read for important information within the articles themselves. (We identify important information as answers to our Research Questions, other information we find that our audience will be interested in knowing, or anything we learn about our research topics that we didn’t know).
- Be selective. We only copy and paste excerpts from articles that provide us with the information we need. (This is where the C-P-A serves us well).
I conduct my research about my chosen topic with my students, which allows me to experience their frustrations, help them problem solve, and celebrate their successes. Once I’ve added a few notes and citations to my Word doc, I offer my help as needed. They’re also really good at helping each other.
Our goal is to include enough notes and citations to write a one-page research paper with a Works Cited page. This translates into 2-3 pages of notes and citations. I also challenge my students to find at least one picture (with a citation). Eventually, our published draft will look like a real article found on the internet, in a magazine, or in a research journal.
It should be noted that our research time was broken up over the course of two weeks and included 4-5 days between the library and computer lab. Students who needed additional research time were allowed to visit the library/computer lab before school, at lunch, or after school. They were also given the opportunity to conduct their research at home and then saved this research on a thumb drive, on their phones, or in Goole Docs.
With Mrs. Kilker's expertise and a few trips to the library and computer lab, our research went better than I expected it to. We were disciplined researchers navigating databases designed for "academic" research, which warranted our success. More importantly, my students learned valuable research skills they will be able to carry forward throughout the rest of their high school years and well into college.