Putting the RESEARCH back into ‘Research Essay’
My favourite place in the whole world (apart from Sydney Harbour, the pool, East Coast beaches, AND anywhere with a swim up bar) is the library. Libraries are so warm! So inviting! A mecca of comfy chairs and rows upon rows of glorious books just waiting to teach you a million interesting things about a thousand different topics …. But not everyone loves libraries like I do.
This makes me sad. It especially makes me sad when I am marking research essays. Perhaps I should emphasise the key word here? RESEARCH essays. Believe it or not, but research essays require research. Unfortunately many students think that 4 secondary sources (usually: the textbook, two case notes written by solicitors, and one unrelated government report) is enough to help them win the research section of the marking criteria. But that isn’t research; that’s opening a book you already own and jumping on Google.
Now I’m not silly enough to think that every student prioritises research over having fun (like me!) However, you really do need to make more of an effort to at least pretend you’ve spent hours searching for relevant sources. And trust me – with research often allocated around 25% of the total marks for essays, finding some extra sources will pay off. Here’s three of my top time-friendly, fake it till you make it, research tips:
1) Go to the library
Libraries are fantastic places! Apart from the comfy chairs, free wifi, and nifty corridors between shelves that are perfect for sleeping, they also tend to have books! Books are one of my favourite ways to develop a base level of understanding of a topic. And – because students tend to avoid all non-internet sources except for the set textbook like the plague – referencing a book will make you stand out (and make you look learned and cool!) Putting in the minimum effort and simply finding a second, non-prescribed textbook still puts you in front.
2) Use your eyes
Another fascinating thing about the library is that books on similar topics are all grouped on the same shelf! So all you have to do is find one good source, shift your gaze to the left or the right, and BOOM! Relevant sources will magically jump out at you. This is the hard copy equivalent of data-mining a decent article’s footnotes. Which, just quietly, I also recommend (however, please actually read the other articles before you cite them…it avoids stupid mistakes, like misquoting your lecturer’s favourite author. Or, even more embarrassing, misquoting your lecturer!)
3) Annoy the librarians
Now as well as real life books, libraries these days have online catalogues and databases and very helpful people called librarians just itching to help you construct a database search! If you ask them nicely, they can help you transform an overly broad, hit-tastic, Boolean search into something targeted and more relevant. If you’re really lucky, they might even put you onto an awesome comparative law database (good comparative articles can be so hard to find!)
So there you have it! The next time you come to write a research essay, do not simply open your textbook and smash out a Google search. Go hang at one of the best places in the whole world – the library.
For help with your research skills please see: Law Tutoring