Materials and Methods for Research

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When conducting research for your assignments, you need to know how to research and what resources to look at to find relevant information. This is true of all fields, including English.

The first thing you may do when starting your research of a subject is ask yourself, "Where do I go to find outside sources for my essay?" Your first instinct might be to search the Internet, but you need to know a few things about it and its suitability for research:

  1. The internet is full of low-quality information. The internet features websites put up by anyone, on any subject. Some websites, such as college and university libraries' websites, feature high-quality information that can be accessed in their databases and catalogs or elsewhere on them. Many websites, however, are full of low-quality information; for example, they may not feature a date the information was given or put up on them, the website may not be updated frequently or has not been updated in a while, it may feature information that cannot be or is hard to verify, or is conjecture or misinformation, and it may just be a personal site featuring (and only featuring) the website creator's personal views on a subject. It may not even give the website creator's name, making it impossible to cite him or her in your paper. All of this makes the internet a place of poor quality information, and therefore a minefield when it comes to depending on it for your research.
  2. Information on the internet has often not been fact-checked or screened for accuracy before being posted. A good deal of information featured on the Internet has simply been posted, with no regard to checking it to see if it is truthful and/or accurate. This results in problems for students who use the internet for research, with difficulty in finding and using honest, factual information for their sources. They often coming across lies, misinformation, one-sided information, material that is not objective, or is otherwise unusable for research. In comparison, libraries fact-check and screen materials (other than magazines) for accuracy before they put them in their collections. This makes the library an ideal place to conduct research for your assignments, because you can be assured that any information you find at the library is truthful and accurate, and can be used as an outside source. Librarians can also direct you towards valuable sources if you ask, and you can be sure you are getting helpful information if you use the library, as compared to using the internet.
  3. The internet is good for generalized searches, but not for specialized ones. When you search on Google or another internet search engine, you will notice that many results come up on your initial search. Using the internet for research means you will be wading and sifting through a great many results, many of them not related to your topic or only incidentally related to it. For example, a Google search for "joy" will come up not only with dictionary definitions relating to the meaning of joy, but women who have it as a first name, businesses with it in their names, people who have it as their last names, and many other results with joy in them, not all of them relating to the feeling it describes. This does not bode well for your research, since you will have to sift through the long list of search results that Google or other internet search engines came up with for anything relevant. When you are researching a subject for your assignments, the internet is not the best place to start.

Many students make the mistake of using Wikipedia, but this is a very poor choice to go to for research or to find outside sources to use in your essays. Anyone can post on Wikipedia and the information is not screened for accuracy or fact-checked. Anyone can edit existing articles, and add to them after they have been posted, which of course can lead to numerous inaccuracies. Finally, Wikipedia is a "wannabe" encyclopedia, and encyclopedias are not used in research because they are secondary sources, and not primary sources for information. In research, primary sources are used because they are either by a person directly involved in an event, who created a literary work, or who was otherwise directly involved in the subject. Secondary sources have only an indirect involvement with your subject, or no involvement at all, and merely relate an account of the subject. When doing research, avoid using the internet, especially Wikipedia, to find sources. 

When performing research for English assignments, you will want to look for the literary work you are discussing, and literary criticism discussing it. Your college or university library will provide the sources you need, and its website features article databases and a catalog that will help you find more sources to help you with your assignments. Some examples of article databases your library may have are:

Academic Search Premier

Academic Search Complete

MLA International Bibliography


Project Muse

If you are also looking for a thesis or dissertation on your subject to use in your research, ProQuest carries theses and dissertations in English and other subjects, along with articles. Some colleges and universities also make their theses and dissertations available through open access; one example of this is Marshall University's Marshall Digital Scholar.

You can always find print sources through the library catalog Write down their call numbers, authors, and titles so that you can track them down and obtain them for your use. Your college or university library's website may also use Summon, a search engine that is similar to Google but is used by libraries instead of just being on the internet. When a person searches a library catalog using Summon, it comes up with all the resources the library has on a subject, including journal, magazine, and newspaper articles from its databases, theses and dissertations published by its students, and ebooks published by scholars on different subjects. He or she can select the needed materials from this list. Fairmont State University Library is among many that use Summon. Next time you are at the library, ask a librarian if its website has it. If it does, take advantage of it. Your assignments will benefit greatly.

If you find materials for your research that are unavailable at your library, use Interlibrary Loan (ILL) to obtain them. College and university libraries often have an Interlibrary Loan Librarian who arranges for library items to be borrowed from other libraries so that their users can use them. Visit the Interlibrary Loan Librarian, or the circulation desk, to obtain your materials if your library does not carry them.

If you are looking for information on methods of research, the Purdue OWL's Conducting Research section provides guides on how to conduct it, and a special section on archival research if you need to carry out research at an archive. If you are an English graduate student, your program may require you to take a course in the methods and materials of research. Even if it is optional, take it. You will learn how to conduct research in English, and about the different materials and methods available to help you perform it successfully.

Finally, as you engage in research in English, remember that conducting good research and following ethical practices as you complete it, are important in laying down the foundations of good scholarship. Possessing good research skills and knowing where to look and what resources are available to you as you conduct it, will help you to succeed in college and beyond.  

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