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Advice for Students: 10 Steps Toward Better Research

Advice for Students: 10 Steps Toward Better Research

A little while back, I wrote about ways for students to add a little extra “kick” to their research papers. Those strategies were meant for students who had already mastered the basics of performing research, not students just getting started doing research and writing papers. As with writing, though, research skills are rarely taught very clearly — professors assume students know or can figure out how to do good research, or at best turn their students over to a librarian for a tour of the library’s facilities and resources. Is it any wonder that so many university students rely on Wikipedia as the first and last stop in their research itinerary?

To help students get up to speed on basic research skills, here’s 10 tips to help you find, organize, and use the information you need to put together a decent research paper.

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  1. Schedule! I tell my students that the first step in writing a research paper is to admit you have a research paper. Write up a schedule with a series of milestones to accomplish by a specific date (e.g. find 10 sources by September 20, finish preliminary research by October 15), and keep to it. You will need time to get an overview of what material is out there, find out what’s in your library, select relevant material, read it, take notes, and start putting it together — and to do a second wave of research to clear up points raised in the writing of your first draft.
  2. Start, don’t end, with Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a great place to start your research — spend some time searching for keywords related to your topic, browsing the links you find on each page, and following their suggested resources. Take notes, especially of any good sources they recommend. The goal here is to get a good overview of the subject you’re writing about, and Wikipedia is far better for that than most print sources, because of its hyperlink ed nature. By the time you get ready to write, though, you should have much better sources at your command than Wikipedia, so avoid citing it in your paper.
  3. Mine bibliographies. Once you’ve found a good, solid academic book or essay on your topic, you’re golden — at the end there will be a list of dozens or hundreds of sources for you to look up. You can usually skim through the bibliography and note down anything whose title sounds relevant to your research. Academic authors aren’t very creative with their titles, so it is usually pretty easy to tell what their work is about from just the title or subtitle. Go back through and see if you recognize any of the authors’ names — these too might be worth following up. once you start finding the work the first book referenced, do the same thing with their bibliographies — soon you’ll have a list of far more sources than you need (but you need them, because your library may not have all the books and journals referred to, and inter-library loan is so slow as to be useless for students who need to finish by the end of the semester).
  4. Have a research question in mind. Technically, your thesis should emerge from your research, when you have data in front of you. But you need a kind of “working thesis” while doing your research — a question you want to answer. As you come across new material, ask yourself if it looks like it will help you answer your question. Anything that looks relevant but doesn’t help answer your question you can put back. It’s tempting to gather a lot of background material, and some is necessary, but too much will waste your time without contributing to your research. Get one or two good sources for background (your initial Wikipedia searching should be adequate in most cases) and then keep focused by working towards an answer to your research question.
  5. Deal with one piece at a time. Don’t try to tackle your subject all at once. Get enough of a sense of the topic that you can create an outline of the things you need to understand, and then deal with each piece on its own. You’ll find the connections between the pieces when you write your first draft.
  6. Use a system. Start your research with an idea of how you plan to collect and organize your notes and data. Although I’ve written papers using index cards before, my favorite system is to use a one-subject notebook. At the top of a fresh page, I write the full bibliographic reference for a book or paper, then copy quotes and write notes — both tagged with the page numbers they came from — interspersed with thoughts and ideas that occur to me as I’m reading. I’d love to use a computer more efficiently when doing research, and have built databases and tried wikis and outliners and other kinds of software, but I’ve never found a system that worked well — I spent more time fiddling with the software than getting work done. Whatever system you decide on, make sure that every quote, fact, and thought is tied in some way to its source so that you can easily insert references while you’re writing.
  7. Know your resources. Spend some time getting to know what resources, both online and offline, your library to offer. Most libraries offer tours to students, or talk to a research librarian — or at the least, walk through the library to get a feel for what is where, paying special attention to the microfilm repository and periodicals, which you’ll use a lot in the course of most research projects. Most university libraries also subscribe to a number of academic databases, and most are now accessible online — get to know the research material you can access from home. J-Stor, for instance, holds full-text photographic copies of hundreds of journals, all easily searchable. There’s nothing quite like thinking of something in the middle of the night, logging on, and printing out two or three relevant journal articles to review in the morning.
  8. Ask for help. Use the human resources available to you as well as the material resources. Most professors spend their office hours waiting in disappointment for a student to drop in and give them something to justify the time they’re required to keep an open hour — be that student! Ask for help in finding and evaluating sources, or for help in figuring out what to do with the material you’ve collected so far. Another often-overlooked resource is your friendly neighborhood librarian. Librarians are, in my estimation, the best people on Earth — they know the material in their charge forwards and backwards, they are deeply concerned with seeing it used, and they have committed their lives to making information more available. Most librarians will be happy to help you find relevant material for your project, and some will even locate specific pieces of hard-to-find information for you. Don’t forget to ask your fellow student for help, too — some of the might have come across work directly relevant to your topic.
  9. Carry an idea book. As you start really getting into your project, your mind will start churning through what you’re reading, even when you’re not consciously working on it. If you’re like me, you’ll be struck by sudden revelations at the least convenient times — in the bathroom, in the shower, at the supermarket. or while getting ready for bed. Keep a small notebook and a pen with you everywhere (well, maybe not in the shower — although I do keep dry erase markers by the sink so I can write down quick thoughts on the bathroom mirror when I get out of the shower); jot down notes whenever an idea crosses your mind, and transfer these notes into your research log (or software, or whatever) as soon as you can.
  10. Bring it up to date. Pay attention to the publication date of your material — while it’s ok to use older material, ideally you’d like the bulk of your references to come from the last 10 years or so. If research in your topic seems to dry up a decade or so back, it might be because the field moved on, but it also might be because funding opportunities disappeared, a major researcher died, or any number of accidental reasons. One trick is to Google the major researchers whose work you’ve found and see if you can find their homepages — most will list recent publications and their current research activities — it could be that someone has a book about to come out, or reports published in obscure or foreign journals. If so, you might try inter-library loan, or in some cases, try contacting the researcher herself and ask if they can send you a draft or reprint. Be courteous, explain what you’re working on and what you’re trying to find out, where your research has taken you so far, and what light you hope their work can shed on your topic. Do not ask for a list of references or what your thesis should be — nobody wants to do a student’s work for them.

These tips will help put a decent bibliography and a body of notes and data at your fingertips when you sit down to write up your paper. Although evaluating sources is also a necessary part of doing good research, it will have to wait for its own post, as it’s too big a topic to reduce to a bullet point here. A librarian or your professor can help, especially if you restrict yourself to books and journals available in your university library. Internet sources are trickier, as it takes no effort at all these days to put up a professional-looking website saying whatever you want; until you’re comfortable with the material in your chosen field, it’s best to stick to known sources like Wikipedia and sites endorsed by your library or department, if you use the Internet at all. Remember, though, that until a few years ago, most of us managed to do research with no Internet at all! With typewriters! Walking uphill! In the snow! Barefoot!

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Last Updated on January 16, 2020

12 Simple Ways to Boost Your Confidence Right Now

12 Simple Ways to Boost Your Confidence Right Now

The way you feel about yourself greatly influences how you live and interact with others. If you are confident about yourself, you tend to see yourself positively and actually enjoy spending time with and around people. You don’t feel self-conscious or awkward around others, and that allows you to live your fullest and happiest life.

However, if you’re drowning in a sea of self-doubt, hesitancy and shyness, you often withdraw and isolate yourself from others and avoid interacting and connecting with people. That anxiety you feel in the pit of your stomach when you are around people is holding you back greatly and it is not good for your emotional health and overall well-being. You need to do something about it if you are low in self-confidence or have friends or family members who are not confident.

“Confidence isn’t walking into a room thinking you’re better than everyone, it’s walking in not having to compare yourself to anyone” – Anonymous

Here are simple, practical tips to boost your confidence right now and make you feel and act your best.

1. Stop labeling yourself as awkward, timid or shy.

When you label yourself as awkward, timid or shy, you sub-consciously tell your mind to act accordingly and psychologically feel inclined to live up to those expectations. Instead of labeling and entertaining negative self-talk, visualize and affirm yourself as confident and strong. Close your eyes for a minute and visualize yourself in different situation as you would like to be.

Be your own cheerleader. Experts believe that positive affirmation and good mental practices like picturing yourself winning or achieving a goal can lead to greater feelings of self-assurance and prepare your brain for success.[1] As the saying goes, “seeing is believing.” Picture yourself as confident and soon enough you will begin to manifest behavior that gives evidence to this new ‘fact.’

2. Recognize that the world is not focused on you (unless, of course, you are Kanye West).

That means you don’t have to be excessively sensitive about who you are or what you are doing (or not doing). You are not on the center stage; there is no need for preoccupation with self and perfectionism. As rap music star Rocko sings, “You just do you and I will do me, aight?”

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Forget about trying to please everyone or being perfect. Trying to be perfect and being a people-pleaser puts too much pressure on you and creates unnecessary anxiety. Besides, people are too preoccupied with their own issues to pay much attention to your every move unless, of course, you are a mega famous, super celebrity like Beyonce or Kanye West.

3. Focus on other people as opposed to yourself.

If you are low on confidence, self-conscious, nervous and shy in social situations, focus your attention on other people and what they are saying or doing instead of focusing on your own awkwardness.

For example, think about what it is that is interesting about the person who’s the centre of the party or the guy or girl you are talking with. Prompt them to talk more about themselves and be genuinely curious and interested in what they say. You will instantly come across as confident and warmhearted.

People generally want to talk about themselves, be heard and understood. They will love it when you’re eager and willing to listen to them and really hear what they have to say.

This habit of focusing more on what you love in others as opposed to what you dislike in yourself will not only help you become more assertive and comfortable in virtually all social situations, but also instantly make you feel great about yourself.

4. Know (and accept) yourself for who you are.

Chinese military general, strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu, author of the internationally acclaimed book The Art of War, said, “Know yourself and you will win all battles.” Even in the battle with lack of confidence, you will need to know yourself to win.

Knowing yourself starts with understanding that people are not all the same, neither are all social situation suitable for everyone. You might not be confident in large gatherings, but you could be bold and confident in one-on-one and small group interactions. We all have our own unique gifts and unique ways of expressing ourselves. Embrace yours!

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Introverts, for example, have a quiet confidence that is, unfortunately, often confused for shyness. They are naturally low key and prefer to spend time alone. However, this natural disposition affords them certain unique gifts, such as an ability to listen better than most people and notice things that others don’t.

Your uniqueness is where your strength and advantage lies. You won’t be comfortable and confident in all situations all the time. Albert Einstein said,

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

5. Crack a smile.

If there is one sure way to instantly boost your confidence, it’s cracking a smile. Christine Clapp, a public speaking expert at The George Washington University, says that flashing those pretty, pearly white teeth will immediately make you appear both confident and composed. But, the effect of smiling is not just external. Studies show that smiling can also help nix feelings of stress and pave the way for a happier and more relaxed you.[2]

Not a bad return for something seemingly so trite, wouldn’t you agree?

6. Break a sweat—with exercise.

Working out is another great way to make yourself feel amazing and confident. Science has shown that exercising increases your endorphins, helps reduce stress, tones your muscles and makes you feel happy and confident.[3]

And hey, all you have to do is take a walk a few times a week and you’ll see the benefits. What seems to matter—as far as your confidence goes—is whether you break a sweat, not how strenuous your session is, which is pretty cool. Start working out now.

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7. Groom yourself.

This might seem mundane, but it’s amazing how much of a difference a shower and shave can have on your confidence and self-image. And when you spritz on a scent, the boost on confidence and self-esteem is incredible. As it turns out, your favorite fragrance does more than make you smell oh-so-nice.

A study found that a fragrance can inspire confidence in men. Interestingly, the study also found that the more a man likes the fragrance, the more confident he might feel. Another study found that 90% of women feel more confident while wearing a scent than those who go fragrance-free.

8. Dress nicely.

Another one that might seem trite, but it works. If you dress nicely, you’ll instantly feel good about yourself and give your confidence a real boost. That is largely because you’ll feel attractive, presentable and sometimes even successful in nice clothes.

While dressing nicely means something different for everyone, it does not necessarily mean wearing $500 designer outfits. It means wearing clothes that are clean, that you are comfortable in and that are nice-looking and presentable, including casual clothes.

9. Do activities you enjoy.

Whether it is reading a book, playing a musical instrument, riding your bicycle or going fishing, do what you really enjoy and what makes you truly happy often. It will boost your self-esteem, soothe your ego and allow you to identify with your gifts and talents. That will in turn bolster your self-belief and grow your confidence exponentially.

You might not become popular for doing what you love, but you might not even want to be popular at all. Being popular doesn’t make you happy; doing what you love does.

10. Prepare for the possibility of rejection / setback.

Late World No. 1 professional tennis player Arthur Ashe said, “One important key to success is self-confidence. A key to self-confidence is preparation.” You need to prepare for the possibility of rejection and setback.

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Why?

Everybody suffers rejection and setback at one point or another. You are not exempted. The question on your mind, therefore, should not be if you will be rejected, but how you will handle rejection when it comes.

Prepare yourself adequately in every situation to minimize the risk and effect of rejection and so that your confidence is not broken. For example, learn public speaking and rehearse what you are going to say beforehand if you have landed a public speaking engagement. That way, you are sure of yourself and confident you have what it takes to hack it. If you are rejected, don’t take it personally.

Rejection and setbacks happen to the best of us. Take it as a learning experience. Learn from your mistakes and move on.

11. Face uncomfortable situations square in the face.

Don’t run away from uncomfortable situations. Running away from people or situations because you feel scared, shy or timid only confirms and reinforces your shyness. Instead, face the situation that makes you uneasy square in the face. For example, go ahead and talk to that person you are afraid to approach, or go straight to the front of your yoga class! What’s the worst that can happen?

Prepare and be ready for any eventuality. The more you face your fears, the more you realize you are stronger than you thought and the more confident you get. This simple, yet admittedly courageous, act makes you unstoppable. You get comfortable being uncomfortable and begin to feel like you can take on the world. And that is the hallmark of someone destined for great things.

12. Sit up straight and walk tall—you are awesome!

Yes, sit up straight and believe you are awesome. Don’t slump in your chair or slouch your shoulders. Experts say the right stance can not only keep your self-esteem and mood lifted, but also lead to more confidence in your own thoughts.[4]

The way to sit is to open up your chest and keep your head level so that you look and feel poised and assured. And when you get up, stand tall and walk like you’re on a mission. People who sit up straight and walk tall are more attractive and instantly feel more confident. Try it now: you’ll feel fierce and confident just by sitting up straight and walking tall.

Featured photo credit: Freshh Connection via unsplash.com

Reference

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