Author logoReading for research

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Read the site introduction and information about the author.
Making notes
Choosing your subject
An example subject
Gathering information
Organizing your information
Presenting your information
Copying is not understanding
Structure and format
Layout and typography
More ideas for responding to research
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This study guide is written to help you carry out reading and research work in an area of your choice. It is only an outline, and you should ask your teacher about anything you do not understand. It is aimed at school students in the UK, particularly in Junior, Middle and Secondary schools. But it should be useful to anyone who wants to find things out. For research within GCE Advanced (AS and A2) level courses and at universities, there are much more strict methods and procedures which you should follow.

The National Curriculum requires you to read for a variety of purposes. One of these is research. In order for this to be worthwhile, you should select material from a range of sources, and present it in a suitable way. This may be as one or more texts, spoken or written.

National Curriculum attainment targets in both English (Writing) and Information Technology also require you to select and use appropriate computer software for presentational purposes. This guide gives advice about researching and responding to research.

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Making notes

Before you go any further, you should open the program you normally use for note-making or word-processing. In the Windows environment, you can do this by using the “Start” button and the “Programs” menu.

Alternatively, if you click on the link below, this should open a scratchpad. The Scratchpad is a simple text file which you can write into. When you have finished working with it, you can save it, under a new name, in your own work area, or cut, copy and paste into any other document. You can open as many copies as you like.

Choosing your subject

Your teacher may direct you to a particular subject, because it supports other work you are doing, or you may be allowed to choose your own subject for research. If you have a choice, make sure you do not pick a subject that is impossibly large, such as Animals of the World, The Complete History of the Universe or All There Is to Know about Science. In choosing your subject, you should also think about how you are going to present it: try to gather enough material for the kind of speaking and writing you will do when you have found your information.

Choose a subject which interests you, and about which you are sure you can find information. Once you begin to research, you can always change your subject if your choice is not helpful.

You may study a fairly specific subject in great depth, or may wish to cover a wider range of subjects less thoroughly. Whatever your subject, you may wish to organize it into different categories. You may be able to do this before you begin to research, if you have chosen a subject you already know and want to know better. If you don't know the subject so well, you may want to wait to do this when you have found out some information.

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An example subject - animals in society

This is a simple example of how to divide a subject into different categories for studying. You can use this as an example of how to do this for any subject. In this case the subject is Animals in Society. You can break this down into:

  • working animals (police dogs, customs sniffer dogs, sheep dogs, guide dogs)
  • animals in sport (racehorses, show-jumpers, greyhounds, racing pigeons)
  • animals in captivity (those in zoos, safari parks, game reserves)
  • performing animals (animals in film and television)
  • animal rights (cruelty in farming, hunting, vegetarianism)
  • how animals are represented in our culture (e.g., stories, films and cartoons featuring animal characters)
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Gathering information

In order to perform this task, you will collect information from a range of sources. These may include the following:

  • Electronic media: You may use text, database, picture or other data types. These may be held on a computer's disc drives, CD-ROM discs or in a remote location, such as a WorldWideWeb site or bulletin board. If you find information on a Web site, you may be able to save or download it, and work on it off-line. If you do not know how to do this, ask your teacher or someone who knows. Don't run up a massive telephone bill!
  • Broadcast media: Television or radio programmes relevant to your subject.
  • Printed media: These may include general (encyclopaedias) or specific reference books, magazines, and newspapers. (Your subject of research will determine which of these are appropriate).
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To get started, you should simply find sources of information and briefly record or list what these are.

  • Browse through books and note down page numbers which you may wish to use.
  • Use a search engine (the best is Google at and a range of portals. Bookmark useful sites and Web pages for future use - to add to Favorites in Internet Explorer, use the Favorites menu, or simply use CTRL + D (hold down the “Control” key and press the letter “D”).
  • Collect leaflets, record useful television broadcasts and find any useful information on CD-ROM or web pages on the Internet.

Once you feel that you have gathered these sources, you should begin to study them.

  • Read, then make notes; do not copy word for word - this is not research because you will not achieve understanding, and your teacher will know.
  • Always use your own words, unless you are quoting. If you do this, show it by using inverted commas.
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Organizing your information

When you have finished studying, you should organize your information. Decide what different sections your written work should have. This will depend in part on the kind of writing you intend to do. You may wish to write a basic reference guide, for a reader such as yourself, or a more academic and scholarly piece of writing, perhaps a feature for a magazine. Try to rid yourself of the primary school "Project" mentality. Think, rather, of writing something that might be worth publishing. You can get ideas from looking at the books and magazines in your home or a library.

Before you can present your work, you should sort it out, and get rid of what you do not want. You should look at everything you have found. Keep anything you may need, but reject what is obviously irrelevant (not related to your inquiry).

The next stage is to put all your information into an appropriate format. This should be within a word-processing or desktop publishing program: your choice should be determined by software you have, or with which you are comfortable. You may keep information in a variety of formats, if you know how to combine these (e.g. pictures in a paint or photo-editing program, text in a word-processing program).

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Presenting your information

This should take about as long as the time spent on research. You should work from your notes and not the original books or sources of information (this helps you avoid copying). You may be allowed to copy illustrations, diagrams or photographs, if you are not a good artist. You will be advised by your teacher about presenting work in particular formats. In either case, you should present your work attractively, and try to follow the conventions (“rules”) used by publishers and writers. For a written or print presentation:

  • Give appropriate information (author, editor, publisher) on outside and inside covers (you can find out how to do this simply by studying real books or magazines).
  • Make sure your publication has an introduction, contents list, bibliography and index: your teacher will explain what these are and how to present them.
  • Aim to give information clearly, write in a style suitable to your subject and purpose, and present work attractively.
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Copying is not understanding

Don't just copy out another writer's text. To show understanding, you should both arrange your material, and re-present it in an appropriate form. This might be one of the following:

  • a brief general article for an encyclopaedia;
  • a short book or booklet for young readers;
  • a popular user-friendly account for a magazine or newspaper;
  • a script for a spoken presentation or talk using slides (these could be prepared using a presentation graphics application)
  • a VHS or audiotape recording of a documentary programme, suitable for broadcasting.

Whatever you choose, try to be aware of your target audience (the people for whom you are writing or speaking) and the context in which they will read or listen to your work.

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There are lots of other possibilities. You will have to write your own text in most cases. If you really have to use information in the words of the original writer, this must appear as a quotation. It goes in speech marks (and possibly a different format - indented or in a reduced type size) and you should write where it came from originally.

Try not to copy long passages from your sources. Do quote short phrases or single words, putting these in speech marks. Do not write the verb "quote" to introduce a quotation. Always explain, or comment on, what you quote, using your own words. Note also that you do not have to quote directly all the time - indirect quotation is perfectly acceptable. To see the difference look at these two examples:

Direct quotation
“No part of language is ever deformed or bad...”

     Jean Aitchison, The Language Web, Chapter 1: “A Web of Worries”
Indirect quotation
Professor Jean Aitchison writes in The Language Web, Chapter 1, that language is never deformed or bad.

If you have found printed information, you may make notes from which you can write material later. Or you may use a scanner to "grab" text or image files, as needed. If you do this, be sure to check spelling, as scanning is often not very accurate. You may even be able to use voice recognition software, and dictate some text!

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Structure and format

Think about the structure of your work. Decide on the order in which you want to present your information. Be ready to move chunks of text around in your article, as it takes shape. This is one job, for which computer software is very suitable.

If you are presenting your work in a long format (e.g. reference booklet), you may like to use chapter or section headings. Most word processing software has styles for body text and different levels of headings, as well as templates to help you organize your work attractively - be ready to use these or adapt them. Putting on page numbers should be done as your last task (or the numbers may turn out to be wrong).

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Layout and typography

Choose a font (typeface) for your work. All text should be in the same font. For extended passages of print text, use a Serif font like Times New Roman (which looks like this). For display on a computer monitor, a sans serif font like Arial (used for this Web page) is easier on the eye. You may use a different font for your title page, if you have one. Text should be justified (both ends aligned) unless you choose a format, like a newspaper article, that needs short columns. In this case, text should just be left aligned (justifying will stretch out letter spacing in short lines). Choose a sensible font size.

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Depending on the nature of your written response, you may also need a title page and an index. If your work is presented as a book, you may claim copyright, using the © symbol, and have a page on which other information is given (publisher - you - year of publication, a dummy ISBN, and so on: you can copy the details and style from a real book).

You may want to consult your teacher at various stages of this work. It can be challenging, but you should find it enjoyable. The computer applications you use can do some of the more boring work, while letting you remain in control. Have fun.

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More ideas for responding to research

For more ideas about respoding to research, you might like to use other guides on this site. Click on the link below to go to the guide of your choice.

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DfEE Standards Site
BBC Education
BBC Education's Bookcase site
BBC revision site
Public Broadcasting Service
Public Broadcasting Service Arts site
European Virtual School
Virtual Library
Homework High
Ask Jeeves
Raging Search
All the web

© Andrew Moore, 2001;

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