Student Snippets


Next Level Research Paper-ing

I think it would be really interesting to know exactly how many research papers I have written in my life. You would think with all my years of academic experience that I'd be getting better and better at writing papers, that each one would be just a bit more polished (or at least easier) than the last. But for some reason, every time I start a new paper it feels like I'm starting over, back at square one. Choosing a topic is so hard. Reading and sorting through all that literature and selecting the most relevant and important bits takes so much time and work. Generating creative analysis and original thought involves some secret formula that I still haven't mastered. Sounds fun, doesn't it?

You will not have many tests at Simmons SLIS, but you will have lots of papers. As you may have guessed, I'm working on a big research paper due at the end of the semester for my archives class. This time our professor has really upped the ante by requesting "publishable" papers. Yikes. So I've attempted to get an early start because I take academic challenges seriously. The reason I'm writing a blog post about it is that I've found myself doing a few things that I've never done before, but probably should have been doing for every paper. It feels like I'm finally taking my research paper writing to the next level.

The first thing I've done is taken detailed notes on every article I've ready, basically an annotated bibliography. (I think in undergrad they may have forced me to write an annotated bibliography as part of the research paper process, but regrettably the practice didn't stick. Now I'm rediscovering it.) Because I've been reading SO many articles trying to pin down my topic I decided I better keep track of them. In my notes document I record the APA citation, write a short blurb about the article's relevance to my topic, and cut and paste direct passages and quotes. I have a complete history of everything I've read for the paper and I can easily go back and review when it's time to figure out what to include. Worth the extra trouble, I think.

This second thing I just discovered a few nights ago and I'm still testing it out: Zotero. Zotero is a free tool that you can download to manage basically your entire research process. In fact, everything I just described in the previous paragraph I could do in Zotero in an even more organized and elegant fashion. You can send articles straight to Zotero from the web and it will extract all the metadata for you and let you add notes and tags and such. You can create and curate your own collections and libraries and manage all the citation info in one place.  It looks really cool and I'm wondering why nobody told me about this earlier...???

Now I am imparting these tips to you, dear reader, so that (if you're not already doing them because you're a lot smarter than me) you can take your research paper-ing to the next level and skip all that painful trial and error and starting over. May the research gods be ever in our favor!

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