Posts Tagged ‘effective research’

Tips for Effective Graduate & Post Doctoral Writing: How to Create Your Research System (transcript)

Video: Tips for Effective Graduate & Post Doctoral Writing: How to Create Your Research System

Hello and welcome back!  My name is Dr. Cheryl Lentz, owner of The Refractive Thinker® Press.  Today our focus is on Tips for Effective Graduate & Post Doctoral Writing: How to Create Your Research System.  We begin first with the simple steps.

Creating your own research system should be simple and include only a few short steps.  Once you have designed these steps, you need to conduct your research the same way every time. 

I offer the following 5-step process as one system to consider.

Step 1: Prepare

Effective research requires careful planning.  Let’s avoid the ‘throw spaghetti against the wall to see what will sticks approach’ or to ‘go trolling to see what’s out there.’  Instead, let’s work smarter, not harder.  Let’s first answer a few questions before we begin:

  1. What is your topic in broad terms? Work from the general to the specific.
  2. What do you hope to accomplish by this search?  Know your purpose.
  3. What is the amount of time you have for this search.  Organize and plan your time.  Spend no more than 1-2 hours or you may drive yourself nuts.  Shorts bursts of research are more effective.
  4. How will you track and organize each of your research sessions?  Keep careful notes on what you do every time you do it, to avoid having to retrace your steps or to begin again from scratch.

Step 2: File System

Before you begin, be sure to know where you are going to put the information once you find it.  Let’s once again answer a few questions.

In what format will you retain what you find? 

  1. Will you print out the articles in full? Perhaps keep in a 3-ring notebook?
  2. Will you save the file electronically either via a .pdf or html file to your computer in a special folder?  Will this folder be organized on your computer by class, by topic, by date, or by project?  Hint: Begin with the end in mind and then work backwards.  How do you plan on finding this information once you have it?
  3. How will you retain the citation information?  Hint: Create a Word Document to capture at least the citation (in your particular format: APA, MLA, Chicago Style, Turabian etc) with a few notes about this source for easier retrieval later.

*Careful planning at this step will potentially avoid having to reinvent the wheel i.e. redo the research session because you neglected to organize an effective strategy beforehand.

Step 3: Database Search

Now that you have you file system in place, where will you begin your search?

Here are a few suggestions to consider:

  1. Visit your university library.  These databases will more than likely include EBSCOHost, ProQuest, perhaps Gale Search, and a variety of specialty business databases such as Dunn and Bradstreet and others.
  2. Google Scholar
  3. Bing
  4. Be sure to remember your local public or city libraries as many have online databases to search as well as the brick and mortar location.  Be sure to ask.
  5. Some traditional universities may offer reciprocity to any college students—please ask.

Step 4: Key Word Search

Now that you have found these databases, often my students share with me their challenge in retrieving information from an online computer portal or search engine.  The secret is to think like a computer.  Computers retrieve information using key words.  Think of the difference between using the old fashioned Yellow Pages or the White Pages.  One would use the actual name (if you knew) to find a listing in the White Pages, while you would search by categories like Pizza or Automobiles within the Yellow Pages.

With me so far?  When searching an online database, be sure to take advantage of quote marks.  If for example you were looking for information about Refractive Thinking and you typed in both words, the computer would look up each word separately.  If however you typed: “Refractive Thinking” within quotes, the computer would ONLY offer your search results using this two-word phrase combination—together as one unit.  I don’t recommend using any more than 2 or 3 word phrases or units.  Any more than these combinations seem to not yield positive results.

HINT: Also be sure to track what words you use for each search –and when.  Create a Word Document as a Search Journal so that you know what words you have already used—what worked and what didn’t.  Databases change all the time; what words you used before may not yield the same findings today as they did before.  If you found “THEE” perfect source today; this source may or may not be there tomorrow or in the future.  Take the time to simply track your efforts.  This simple trick could save you hours of research time so as not to revisit what you have already used in previous research sessions.

Step 5: How to Use the Sources You’ve Found

Let’s be sure to again work smarter not harder.  With each source that you find, be sure to first review the Abstract.  This is 150-230 word summary of the entire article.  This will tell you whether or not to invest your time in reading the article in its entirety.  Better to find out early whether the source will work or not. 

Be sure to review the references as well as the key words suggested by your article.  Often, students will overlook valuable information already available from the sources you’ve already found.   Hint: Pay close attention to the key words you used to find your successful sources.  Use these words in other databases. 

This 5-step process should save you valuable time when researching.  Happy hunting!

For more tips on effective academic writing, please visit my blog at  Thank you againfor joining me today.  My name is Dr. Cheryl Lentz and I hope you find these suggestions within this video helpful. Good luck to you in your academic writing pursuits.  Cheers!

With respect,


Dr. Cheryl Lentz
Chief Refractive Thinker®

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August 23rd, 2011 by admin