"Copy from one, it's plagiarism; copy from two, it's research." Wilson Mizner

Research is probably something that uni students can't escape from - especially if they're doing honours and have to write up a thesis. Well, recently for one of our subjects which is a bit like preparation for thesis, we needed to write a research proposal. While searching through the Internet for credible sources, I discovered (or got told) a few tips and felt it would be a good idea to share them. So here are my 10 tips to hopefully make research a less stressful task!

1. Use EndNote

If you're going to have more than 10 or so sources, then I strongly suggest you use EndNote. It might take some time to learn and set up properly for the referencing style you need, but it's definitely well worth it! You should be able to find a free download link in your uni website.

2. Use Google Scholar

It is quick, easy and will save you heaps of time compared to using to your uni's online e-library catalogue. Google Scholar will pretty much search all scholarly databases at once. While chances are you will need to search multiple times using the uni catalogue because each service will only search within a select set of databases.

3. Tweak Google Scholar

A bit of tweaking will make Google Scholar even more user friendly.

  1. Go to 'Scholar Preferences'

  2. In the Library Links section, search for your uni

  3. Hopefully your uni will be listed, if so tick the check box (If not, maybe ask a librarian and see if the uni can get listed)

  4. In the Bibliography Manager section, select EndNote

  5. Click on 'Save Preferences'

Now when you search, for the papers you usually need to login to download you'll see a link similar to "Find it@UNSW" next to it. When you click on the link, it'll take you to your uni's login page and once you login you'll be taken directly to the article. Nice isn't it? Also, with EndNote, all articles should now have an "Import to EndNote" link, click on it to import into your EndNote library - no need manually enter the details (though be careful there are times when Google doesn't reference properly, but it's rare, and usually an easy fix)

4. Work at uni

Do your research at uni. The Internet will likely be faster, you won't need to login to download the articles, and hopefully they'll be less distractions...

5. Google the Author

Sometimes you'll find that your uni doesn't subscribe to a particular journal, or for whatever reason you just can't find the article. There is still one more option! Chances are the author of the article is from an university. I've found that if you Google them, and if you can find their staff page, 99% of the time they'll have their publication list...all free to download :)

6. Take notes while you're reading

I still need to work on this, but I suggest while you are reading take notes! Don't just highlight important bits, summarise what you've read - otherwise after reading so many articles you'll surely forget where you've read what. Haven't tried this, but Google Notebooks have recently added "labels" function - so putting your summaries/highlights in there and tagging them will probably become useful later on, since you can easily search for what you need/want.

7. Organise your PDFs

My suggestion is to name you PDFs in this fashion "LastnameFyear.pdf" (eg. SmithA2007.pdf). If you've named your PDF, it makes it heaps easier to find! (a bit of time spent early on, saves heaps of time later). Though I've heard that EndNote links the PDFs nicely as well - will need to give this a try.

8. Reference List/Cited By

This is something I was told and is very very useful! Any decent paper you have will have a reference list (if it doesn't maybe it's not all that credible). Guess what? A lot of those references will also be useful to you. Also, Google has a "Cited By" link - other papers that have used the paper you're reading; again, a lot of those references will be useful. Start with one or two papers and you'll end up with too many to read!

9. Pick a topic you like

Probably not always possible, but if you can try to pick a topic you are interested in. It's very likely you'll have to read a whole pile of articles, and if you're not interested in the topic, it will be a very boring and painful process.

10. Start early!

Sleep deprivation and stress is no fun :(

The last two are probably the most obvious, but also the hardest ones - though they will make a huge difference! If you have your own tips for researching please share them :)