The Right Way to Research
Why do they call it “research” and not just “search” or “looking something up?”
That’s because the research process is just that–a process–not something that can be accomplished in one sitting, or at the last minute.
Research means that you have to try diverse types of sources, such as journals, magazines, photographs, websites, databases, newspapers, and books. You also have to approach a topic from many angles, trying to get all sides of the story. Research implies that you have to dig deeper than just the surface level of information. You have to take more than one look!
For example, Wikipedia is a great first stop for getting an introductory glimpse of a topic, but Wikipedia is NOT a great research source for National History Day topics. Why not? Well, Wikipedia is just giving you an overview – “Just the facts, m’am.” For National History Day research, you need to investigate primary sources: first-hand, eyewitness accounts of an event or experience (diaries, letters, photographs, artifacts, interviews). To get those sources, you need to dig deep, and you need to keep coming back to a topic and asking new questions.
When I took my first group of students to the Library of Congress for NHD research, they had already won prizes at the local and state levels of the competition, and they knew what they needed next: they needed the most specific, personal sources possible! My students were researching a turn-of-the-century Chinese revolutionary woman who was beheaded in 1907. At the Library of Congress, they found original songs, letters and diary entries in the Asian Reading Room, and a librarian from China helped them translate those documents! That trip wasn’t the students’ first trip to a library, but it was probably the most serious and the most specific research trip all year.
So remember that research can’t be put off until the last minute – it’s an ongoing process that keeps going and going and going, and is never really finished (even though the project or competition is done).
Maureen O’Neill is School Librarian at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute.