Last Minute Research

Last Minute Research

This time of year, with everything we have to do, a lot seems to get pushed to the last minute.  Last minute shopping, last minute decorating, last minute cooking, last minute cleaning… and last minute research.  We’ve all been there.  A big assignment, and it’s coming due… but we haven’t had time to do the research yet.

It isn’t an ideal situation.  And just like last minute shoppers have to deal with picked-over stores, your options will be a bit more limited.  But fear not – you can still do great research and turn in a great project.

Obviously, if your assignment is due tomorrow, using Interlibrary Loan won’t help.  So you’re limited to resources available right now.  But there’s still a wealth of information in our databases.  Here are some tips to take some of the stress out of last-minute research:

Limit to full text.  Databases like JSTOR are solely full text; ProQuest and EBSCO databases like Academic Search Premier have easy ways to limit to just full text things.   Skip databases that have little to no full text like Web of Knowledge and America: History and Life.  They’re great databases, but not at the last minute.  If you have for some reason not limited to full text only, click the IU Link button to see if it’s available in any other database.  If it isn’t, pick a different article.

Read the abstract.  You won’t have as much time to read through articles to find out if they’re what you want – you need to be pretty sure they are before you invest the time to read them.  If the abstract sounds on-point, the article will be, too.

Use e-books.  Try e-book vendors like eBrary and EBSCO eBooks rather than IUCAT or WorldCat.  Print books are nice, but if the library’s closed, electronic is the way to go.  And always use the index – there’s no sense reading the whole book if only five pages are relevant to your research.  If the book doesn’t have an index, consider choosing another.

Do you need a primary source?  Some assignments might require you to use primary sources.  Skim through to see if the articles have sections labeled Methods, Methodology, Results, or Analysis.  If they do, the writers performed their own original research – which means it’s a primary source.  If not, pick another article.

Get help with citations.  Use RefWorks or the automatic citation features in ProQuest, EBSCO, and WorldCat to quickly make your reference page.  You’ll want to proofread the citations, but that’s a lot faster than starting from scratch.  The Online Writing Lab from Purdue is a good source for proofreading.

But what if you haven’t started thinking about the assignment at all?

Pick a broad topic.  If it’s too broad, you can narrow it.  But start too small and you won’t find enough… and then you’ll need to start the whole process over. (For example: the Civil Rights Movement is a very broad topic.  Uses of nanotechnology in treating diseases is a moderately broad topic.  How Norse symbols influenced the development of the German language is a narrow topic.  Battlefield surgery methods used during the Korean War is an extremely narrow topic.)

Pick a topic a lot of people care about.  If you pick something really creative and original, there’s going to be less material about it.  If you pick something that was a major innovation or historical event, a lot of things will have been written about it.  Creative topics can make for better papers… but not at the last minute.

So don’t worry, even at the last minute, you can still get great sources for your class work.  And if you don’t find what you need, remember – ASK US!

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