Think Goldilocks and the Three Bears – not too broad, not too narrow, but just right! Share and discuss your topic ideas with your Senior Project advisor or another professor who can advise you. He/She will provide invaluable insight and advice that may save you considerable time and energy.
9. Make sure you like and are interested in your topic.
You and your topic will be spending a lot of time together, so make sure you are interested in it and like it enough to get involved on a long-term basis. Nothing is worse than researching something you don’t like and don’t care about.
8. Use the Senior Project Research Guide for your major.
There is a Senior Project Research Guide for each department in the College. Using it will save you so much time and effort! Each Senior Project Research Guide points you to the best information resources for your research in that discipline. Find yours at http://guides.lib.calpoly.edu/CAFES/seniorproject. Use it early and often!
7. Make sure you understand the purpose of a literature review.
Writing a literature review is hard work, even for professors and seasoned researchers! The following is the best description of a literature review I have seen yet:
“The literature review needs to introduce the topic or concept, identify notable and relevant existing scholarship, and most importantly frame the research. This does not equate to merely defining key terms and summarizing previous scholarship. It should include providing the reader with discerning insights that highlight patterns, conflicts, or voids in the scholarship. It is within the literature review that the author constructs the context for the research question. It is the author’s job to evaluate and explain research that is objective and valuable to the position or argument. If this is lacking, weak, or incomplete, the connection made from your research to what is known about the issue or topic will be inadequate or unpersuasive. When a literature review is strong, it is easy to see how your study or investigation, extends, argues with, or refutes what others have found.”[*]
6. Know when to get help.
Everyone gets stuck from time to time. Don’t spend hours researching and getting nowhere. You will spend quite a bit of time researching and searching for articles and such, but those hours should be productive (and dare say, fun), not frustrating. If you feel you are going nowhere fast, consult with Kennedy Library's Research Help Desk, and they will point you in the right direction. The more you use the library and its resources, the easier it gets (think riding a bicycle), so you may only need to ask for help once or twice while you figure it out.
5. Know whereto get help.
If you have a question about using the library or need help troubleshooting a resource, please stop by the Research Help Desk in Kennedy Library (2nd Floor) or call them at 805-756-2649. Kennedy Library also has an online help desk available 24 hours a day, 7days a week at http://lib.calpoly.edu/ask/.
4. Know how to read and use the literature.
Many research articles, especially scientific research articles, are not meant to be read “cover-to-cover” like a book. There is a strategy for gleaning the information you need from the article that often starts by going directly to the conclusion. Take a look at the How to Read a Scientific Article document that is linked on the Senior Project Research Guide. It is equally important to know how to use the literature. When using and citing a specific article, use and cite the “heart of the work,” meaning the conclusions drawn from the specific study or review. If the information you want to use is from a cited source, always go back to the original source (avoid “secondary citing”).
3. Know how to avoid plagiarism.
Plagiarism is plagiarism, whether it’s unintentional or intentional. Not only is it a very serious academic offense that has consequences well beyond your academic career, it’s unethical and just plain bad practice. Plagiarism is often confusing, fuzzy and rarely black and white. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – that is why we are here. Always cite anything that is not your own, paraphrase appropriately, and never, evercut and paste (it’s just too risky).
2. Use an appropriate citation style.
You must cite all your sources completely and in proper format. Most departments have a specific citation style (relevant to the discipline) that they want you to use, so ask your advisor or another professor in the department before you begin formatting all your sources. The Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) is a great resource for learning how to cite in APA or MLA format. Consult the Senior Project Research Guide for your major to find additional information about citing your sources.
1. Start Early!
We cannot emphasize this enough! Developing your topic, searching the literature, reading the literature, and synthesizing the information all take time. Your brain needs time to process and understand all this information, so make sure you give it ample time to do this important work. And, plan your time wisely! Inevitably, something will happen that will throw you off track. Whatever it is, it will be easier to recover if you have a well-thought-out plan in place.