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Table of contents

The following post explains how you research for relevant information for a paper or a GFS. "Relevant" means "important and useful to the topic"; "research" means a focused and planned search for information on a particular topic.

The article is quite long. Do not let it deter you. It is divided into sections that you can read individually. The table of contents helps you to find your way. It will also probably not be necessary to read the entire article at once. First get an overview and then work on the individual sections if you want to carry out a concrete research.

Preparation of the search

One of the first steps in your research is to consider, according to You are looking for. Of course you know the topic of your paper, but that doesn’t mean that you really know it, what this topic is about. However, the success of your research will depend very much on whether you know, what You want to find.

Here, at first, an apparent problem arises:

– How to move forward? The answer is: You have to work your way into the topic in small steps, using the information you found in the previous steps for each step. With it extend you increase your knowledge at each step and penetrate "deeper" into the topic. You work your way forward by following the same procedure (search – evaluation – search – evaluation) several times in a row.

The following graphic should clarify this procedure.

It’s important to check the information you’ve found so far at every step consciously to use in order to better understand the topic. Because the more you understand, the more targeted you will be able to search.


Where can you start if you know almost nothing about the topic?? Some good starting points are ..

The right search terms

After you have gained an overview, you should take your time, Ideas and terms to collect. You should write down all thoughts and terms that come to your mind about your topic. These notes are at first completely unordered and should be put on paper as directly and "unfiltered" as possible – sorting and ordering follow only in the next step.

After the unorganized collection, it is time to organize the ideas sort and to sort. You should think about which aspects of the topic should appear in your presentation (you can never present a topic completely – there is too much to say about each topic). So you always have to do a Make a selection and arrange the selected points of view in a meaningful context. This is also called Structure, because one gives a structure, i.e. a meaningful order, to the previously disordered ideas. For this step it may be useful to create a mind map. By putting terms into a mind map, you are automatically forced to sort, to find generic terms and to think about which terms belong together. Of course you can also use another method. It is only important that you give the terms and ideas a first structure in this step.

By structuring your terms and ideas, you have already created a good basis for further research. Now you can use the sorted terms to start to find more information about the different points of view.

Research in the library

The books in a library are recorded in a so-called "catalog". With the help of the catalog you can find out whether a certain book is available in a library or not. Many libraries offer this catalog electronically, which makes the search for books much easier. It is best if you can even access the catalog via the Internet: then you can search for books from home and only really have to go to the library if there are actually interesting books on a topic. Ask your local library how the research works there.

Web research

There are many different ways to search on the Internet. We will limit ourselves here to two important areas: search engines and web directories.

Search engines

The best known way to search for information on the Internet is to use a search engine

For a meaningful and successful research you should not rely on Google alone. It is a good idea to use the following three search engines:

With all search engines, there is one thing to keep in mind: The results are only as good as the terms you search for.

We already mentioned this point above: if you don’t know in which "direction" your research should go, even the best search engines won’t be able to provide you with meaningful results. Because the most important thing in your research is not as many search hits as possible, but a meaningful selection from the huge amount of hits. You can only make this sensible choice if you have thought about your research and structured your ideas beforehand.

As with any tool, it depends on how well you know how to use a search engine. Here are some tips for Google:

If you want to exclude individual terms, you can write a "-" (a minus sign) directly in front of them; if you want to exclude z.B. enter the following:

beetle -VW -feinkost

Google only shows pages in which the word "beetle" appears and in which the words "VW" and "feinkost" appear not occur. So you can exclude pages about the car "VW Beetle" or about the company "Feinkost Beetle" from a presentation about beetles (the insects).

More tips can be found here: Google search tips.

Save results

During the whole research it is important to save found pages, so that you can find them later again. For this it is best to lie down bookmarks (bookmarks) from the pages you would like to refer to later on.

If you are working on a large paper, bookmarks probably won’t be enough to keep track of your work. You need a sensible filing system on your computer. The article Organizing your research describes how this can look like.

It is also important to note your sources from the beginning and to indicate them correctly in the handout.

Complete research

Now you have learned the most important steps of a research. Some of them you have to do several times until you get the desired results. (Remember the graphic you learned about above):

If you have found enough books for your topic, collected websites and saved them as bookmarks, it’s time to actually complete the research. This is an important step because, especially on the Internet, the flood of information never stops – you could go on searching for months. But at some point you have to "check off" the research and get to work with the information you’ve found.

Because through your search results and books you have nor learns anything. You have so far simply only collected. Information alone is useless. They only become useful when you put them into a Context if you can read about it on your computer think about and try to understand, if you combine them with other information compare and ask yourself how the new fits in with what you already know.

Therefore, complete the research in a timely manner and get down to the exciting work of compiling your findings into a meaningful paper.

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