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Teach A Man To Fish: How You Research

Stalked an ex, friend or enemy on IG? Trolled on Twitter? Screen recorded or shared someone’s Snap? Or even went to view someone’s “spam” page to get the tea? Well, guess what? You’re a researcher and I want you to keep that same energy when it comes to your future.

Research, at its core, is one of the easiest and personable ways to grow. It is used to establish or confirm facts, reaffirm the results of previous work, create and/or solve new or existing problems, support theories, or even develop new ones. Basically, it makes you smarter. In fact, the one purpose of research is to inform action. And as you’re now realizing, it’s much easier than you thought. You have literally been doing it your whole life. However, where to start and how to research can prove challenging at times. So, you know the deal.

Let’s take it back, way back for some of us 👴🏾. Think back to when you were younger (some of y'all don't have to think for that long) If you wanted to know something what did you do first? And if you say ask someone, you’re lying. When you were younger, and someone of y’all now 😒, you just did it. You explored. And that was the basis of a great researcher.

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Self-Guided Exploration

You are the best and strongest part of research. So, use that. The first step to research is exploration. Before you can make any decisions, form any opinions or increase your intelligence, you will need time to establish your direct point, form a plan and get an overview of what resources are available to help you make it. This next part you may not like, but this usually involves reading, taking notes, familiarizing yourself with new ideas, people and things.

What’s your point? Literally, what’s the point of why you’re researching? You should have an explorative starting point in mind. Technically, your point or the answer to it should come from your research after you have found the information and used the resources in front of you. But you need a kind of “working point” while doing exploring — a question you want to answer, an opinion you are trying to refute or prove or an idea you want to create. Remember though, as you come across new material, ask yourself if it looks like it will help you do either of those. If it doesn’t, you should put it back, avoid it or save (the wise man’s choice) it for later. It’s tempting to gather a lot of background material, and some is necessary, but too much is just that, too much. It’s a waste your time. Get one or two good sources for background (✋🏿Wikipedia can help you get there but shouldn’t be that there. It should not be the strongest of these sources👈🏿) and then keep focused by working towards the goal.

Start, don’t stop, with Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a great place to START your research — spend some time searching for keywords related to your topic or idea, 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 researching. Alone, Wikipedia cannot prove or validate any point. Wikipedia is far better for that than most print sources, because of its connectivity to other sites and pages. However, alone, it can never prove or validate any point.

Tap into and Use Your Resources

Know your resources, all of them! You, your mama and your cousin too are all resources. However, we are in 2019. With Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter (shout out to #BlackTwitter) Instagram, the Googles,Youtube and LinkedIn, resources are literally in the palm of your hand. (emojis phone and hand) Spend some time getting to know all of your options, both online and offline, contrary to popular belief, your public library also still has a lot offer.

The Internet. Use your phone 📲. It’s smarter than you. And what's our motto again? #WorkSmarterNotHarder The intended purpose of a cell phone is to keep you connected. More and more people are turning to the Internet when doing research. However, readers beware. It is very different from traditional library research, and the differences can cause problems. The internet is a tremendous resource, but it must be used carefully and critically. Anything goes on here. Anyone can put anything they want on a website. There is no review or screening process, and there are no agreed-upon standard ways of identifying subjects and creating cross-references.

Know your subject directories and search engines. There are several high-quality peer-reviewed subject directories containing links selected by subject experts. Many end in .edu,.org (yes, WILD Success is a .org), or sometimes .gov. The Googles, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines differ considerably in how they work individually, how much of the internet they search, and the kind of results you can expect to get from them.

Keep a detailed record of sites you visit and the sites you use for proof #Papertrail. Doing research and utilizing resources on the internet inevitably means visiting some sites that are useful, but many more that are not. Keeping track is necessary so that you can revisit the useful ones later, and also use the required references to validate your research and efforts. Don’t just rely on your memory or the browser’s History function.

A cool one I found was J-Stor. It 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 having access to two or three relevant journal articles to review then or in the morning. These are resources. You cannot copy this information. Why? Because it’s illegal #plagiarism.

My Peeps. While not everyone has been where you’re going, 98% of time, someone has been where you are. Ask for help. Use the human resources available to you as well as the material resources. Most mentors, bosses (shout out W.I.L.D. Program), colleagues, peers and team members do not mind lending support and learning as well. Ask for help in finding and evaluating other resources, 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 good people. 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 students for help, too — some of them might have come across work directly relevant to your topic but not theirs and still saved it. Again, #WorkSmarterNotHarder

Notes App. Back in my day 👴🏾, we used a stone and chisel. These days, you have something even better, the Notes App 📝. As you start really getting into your research, your mind will start churning through what you’re reading or finding, even when you’re not consciously working on it. That was a nice way of putting it. Basically, you start to go down rabbit holes. You know like when you go on YouTube to see how to add emojis to your document, but 6 hours later find yourself watching someone make tamales in a tiny kitchen. Or sometimes, if you like me, you find yourself having great ideas or thoughts at the least convenient times — in the bathroom 💩, in the shower, at the supermarket, at the gym🏋🏾‍♀️, during an animal presentation 🦉, in the garden or while getting ready for bed. This is when you pull out your handy dandy notebook…or click in the notes app. 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. I also keep a living document or just good things I’ve said and didn’t or couldn’t use in a essay or research paper. I have it saved in a Word document called Good Stuff. Sometimes, good ideas today, can become even better tomorrow.

Restart, Rinse, and Repeat

Hit a dead end? Start over. Get lost? Start over. Come up with a better idea? Start over. Don’t be afraid to explore or discover a dead end. Come out, hit the reset button and restart. Ultimately, the key to a successful research lies in repetition or the process of returning again and again to the research questions, methods, and data, which leads to new ideas, revisions and improvements. It is easy to think of research as a step-by-step “1, 2, 3” process, but it is important to be flexible and open to change. Oftentimes, by discussing the research project with mentors and peers, you will find that new research questions need to be added, variables need to be omitted or included, and other changes need to be made. Don't be afraid to step away and come back to you to your work.

Check out your Research Roadmap below.

Now, if you found this helpful, like this post and most importantly, leave a comment! I want to know how you felt about this. Did you understand it? Did it make researching easier? Did you learn something new? Did you learn how to find something new? What would you like to see next in the next post? Either way, don't forget to subscribe for updates on the latest posts, opportunities and scholarships!


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