How To Do Research

You�ve got an idea for a story. Now you need information. Gathering information can be a snap if you know what you�re looking for and where to look.

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Planning Your Research

  • Choose a working title for your story. The title should tell both the topic of the story and your purpose in writing it. Refer to the title as you do research. It will help you stay focused.
  • Make a list of specific questions you want to answer in your story.

Identify sources you can use to get your questions answered. Basic sources include

  • the library  the place to find reference works (encyclopedias, dictionaries, almanacs, atlases), government publications, historical documents, books on many topics, newspapers, and magazines
  • the Internet  where you can surf the Web using search engines to find information about almost anything
  • people  through face-to-face interviews or by telephone or letter
  • observation  your own take on a particular situation

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Doing the Research

  • To locate useful resources available at the library, you might be able to search the electronic card catalog from your own computer (such as by accessing OPLIN from the Research Beat main screen). When you go to the library, search the electronic or regular card catalog there for books in the library�s holdings. Browse in the book stacks and reference section. Consult the Reader�s Guide to Periodical Literature for magazine articles. And don�t be afraid to ask a librarian for help.
  • Skim written sources you find for answers to one question at a time. Pause to read carefully and to take notes when you find an answer. Then continue skimming for additional information that answers the question.
  • Keep track of where you found information. Write down the author, title, publisher, place and date of publication, and pages on which you found answers to a question.
  • Prepare for interviews, whether you meet with the person or speak by telephone. Think of questions in advance. Listen carefully. Take notes or use a tape recorder. Follow up with the interviewee if necessary.
  • When making observations of your own, be aware of how your own background and experience and your emotions affect what you observe and how you see it. Test what you�ve observed by examining other evidence. Compare your observations with those of others.
  • Before using information you�ve found, evaluate each source you�ve consulted. See Evaluating Sources below for information on how to do this.

Finally, review the information you�ve gathered. Have you found answers to all your questions? If your research has taken you in a different direction than you planned, you may need to rethink your story. Ask new questions if necessary. Gather additional information if you need it.

Once your research is complete, you�ll be ready to write!

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Evaluating  Sources

Reporting the news is all about facts�obtaining them and then passing them on to others. That means that your news stories are only as good as the facts you put in them. If you use sources that aren�t reliable, the facts you are reporting might not be reliable either, and you could end up reporting gossip instead of news.

This is the reason it is very important to evaluate your sources of information, whether those sources are books, newspapers, magazines, or the Internet.

When you are deciding which facts to use, ask questions such as the following:

  • What person or organization is the source of this information?
  • What do I know about him, her, or it?
  • How could I check the source�s reliability?
  • How current is the information; is any of it out-of-date?
  • Why is the person writing this piece? Is it for information, entertainment, opinion, or marketing/advertisement purposes? If for information, is the writer objective?
  • How does the information compare with information in other sources?
     

When evaluating sources on the Web, keep these points in mind:

  • Almost anyone can put information on the Web, so much information has not been edited or checked for correct facts.
  • Since anyone can put information on the Web, it is sometimes hard to know what the exact source of the information is, the source�s reputation, or qualifications.
  • To some people, the Web is a place to voice opinions and not necessarily report facts. It is hard to tell if the sources are objective.
  • Dates of publication are sometimes not put on the Web site. If they are, the date could mean the date the information was first written, when the information was put on the Web page, or when the information was last revised. Because of this, it is difficult to know how current the information is.

Keep in mind that you should use different kinds of sources to make sure you have accurate information. When using Web sources, always use a non-Web source as well.

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