Conducting Research for College Assignments

One of the biggest differences between high school work and college work is the sheer amount of research that goes into college-level work. Many (if not most) classes require research papers, so it behooves you to get very good at researching. Knowing where to go to find scholarly sources is paramount; if you don’t know where to look for the information you need, you may find yourself spending a prodigious amount of time researching and not enough time writing.


Scholarly journals are the gold standard of university-level research. So how does one go about finding these scholarly journals? You certainly can’t find them at your local Barnes & Noble.

Fortunately, your university library probably has access to several online databases (such as Academic Search Premier and JSTOR) that store the articles from these journals. By searching these databases, you can find many articles that contain the information you’re looking for. Even so, you’ll have to do a large amount of searching—because of the vast amount of data that exists in these databases, you’ll want to be very specific in your search terms. You can also use advanced search options to limit your results to specific journals or time periods.

If you don’t have access to these databases, or would like another search option, you can use Google Scholar. This free service allows you to search scholarly journals without a subscription fee. However, you may not be able to get full-text articles as often as you do in a subscription database.

If you really want to impress a professor (or if you’re required to), you can try to find primary source material. According to Wikipedia (which you should never use as a source for academic work), a “a primary source (also called original source) is a document, recording or other source of information (paper, picture,….etc) that was created at the time being studied, by an authoritative source, usually one with direct personal knowledge of the events being described.”

One of the best places to find primary sources are historical libraries—these libraries house documents that may be over a hundred years old. Consulting primary source documents is a good way to get a feeling for the time that you’re studying as well as show dedication to the research.

Every assignment (and every professor) has different research requirements. Using the above sources, however, is a good start for any project. Get used to researching at the university level quickly and you’ll have few problems by the time you need to conduct a very large research study, such as for a term paper or senior project.