Finding Examples and Evidence
Once you have a topic, begin thinking of what you'll say. Write a thesis statement that clearly states your main idea. A thesis statement will help organize your thinking and direct your research.
Before you start writing, take notes on the topic. For personal essays, write down your thoughts, observations, memories, and experiences. When analyzing a text, take notes or underline significant sections. For most other essays, read materials to find details, examples, and illustrations to support your main idea. If you want to use quotations, write them down accurately. Remember that you'll need to cite the source of facts, ideas, or quotations, so be sure to write down bibliographical information in your notes.
Some of the information you write down will probably never appear in your essay. Your notes might include questions that occur to you as you read, related areas to explore, or reminders to check further on certain points. This preparation stage will not only help ensure that you have examples and evidence, but it will also help you think in more detail about your topic and thesis.
Brainstorming, taking notes, and outlining
Begin the process by free writing on the computer. Think about your topic, and for about 10 minutes, write down whatever comes to mind. Later, you can import parts of this file into your first draft. Take notes on the computer, too, being sure to include the information you'll need to cite references. The writer is responsible for accurately noting information sources—whether using parenthetical documentation (citations within the text of the paper), footnotes or endnotes, a references page, or a bibliography. There are many styles of documentation, but you'll save time if you start a list of sources early in the writing process. You can add to and rearrange the list later.
Consider creating a formal outline on the computer, using Roman numerals for headings, alpha characters for first‐level subheadings, and so on. If you go back into your outline to add a heading or subheading, the program will automatically update your outline designations. Outlining on the computer will let you experiment with different organizational plans.
Using the Internet for research
With a computer, you can access thousands of documents and databases. You can call up current and historical newspaper articles and photos, interviews and blogs, journal articles and abstracts, encyclopedias and dictionaries, and much more. Through the Internet, you can view library archival materials and instantly call up information posted by educational institutions, businesses, professional organizations, civic and religious groups, museums, media outlets, government agencies, international organizations, and individuals from around the world. In fact, so much information is available online that you may feel overwhelmed.
Before you use the Internet to do serious research, it's a good idea to get some training. Librarians can guide you to reliable, credible sources of information on your topic. How‐to books and classes can also steer you in the right direction. Search engines and Internet directories can help you navigate, but you must critically evaluate the validity of each source. Just because a person or group publishes information on a Web site doesn't mean the information is accurate, truthful, or current.
When you use information from electronic sources in a paper, consult a current style guide (such as the
MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers) for the correct way to cite it in parenthetical documentation, footnotes, a references page, or a bibliography.