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Top 7 Research Skills You Should Know to Survive College Term Papers

Research skills are more than just something you need in college. They set you up for success in life.

Getting the right research skills in place is about more than simply looking stuff up on the Internet. There is a wealth of information available online and off, but some of it is better than others. How do you know how to separate the bad from the good, the useful from the useless?

In the following article, we’re going to take a deep dive into the research skills that you need for success, particularly as it relates to the college paper. But first, it always helps to be mindful of the pitfalls that can trick you into thinking you’re making progress when you’re really not. Let’s begin!

6 Research Pitfalls to Be Mindful Of

As you start out writing a term paper, you have to acknowledge what you’re doing and realize that there is a difference between being busy and productive. You can spend hours going down rabbit holes, but that won’t necessarily mean you’re getting anywhere. Avoiding this predicament starts with being mindful of the top “tricks” out there that can set you off down the wrong path. Here are six of the most annoying.

Social Media Hoaxes

You’ve seen the headlines blasted on your Facebook news feed or in tweets on Twitter. Headlines from borderline reputable websites that advertise celebrity deaths that weren’t or news stories written around “unnamed sources” and other unsubstantiated information. Some of the most recognizable news publishers out there have been duped time and again.

You have to go into every piece of information that you read online automatically assuming that it will be false or slanted in some way. This healthy skepticism will keep you alert, and it’ll help you know when there is a verifiable fact and when the writer is just shaping his story to fit a narrative.

Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracies do exist from time to time, but more often than not, they’re the obvious rantings and ravings of a dipstick like Alex Jones. You know, people who try to convince the world that real-life tragedies such as the Sandy Hook shootings didn’t happen even as grieving parents pack funeral homes to bury their young?

Conspiracy theories are among the most dubious info you’ll find online, but they are also easy to sniff out if you have even half a brain. Unfortunately, many do not. Don’t be one of those people.

Biased Fact Checkers

One of the greatest threats to our electoral process over the last four years has been misinformation. This can start with a “professional” sounding reporter interpreting facts to fit a narrative rather than just reporting on what happens. Unfortunately, that now describes virtually every news agency.

To “help” tamp down this matter, sites like Facebook have implemented “independent fact checkers” to help you know what you can believe and what you shouldn’t. Unfortunately, many of these fact-checkers have their own agendas and will get a little creative with how they label things based on what their own political biases are. The really bad ones are obvious, but some of the more talented ones will try to obscure their final prognosis with a hazy “partially true” or “not quite” type of answer that downplays or up-plays the reality that suits them.

Outdated Information

Sometimes information you encounter online might seem perfectly useful in a college term paper until you find out that a study conducted a few years later completely refutes it. Pay close attention to dates when it comes to scientific evidence. Some findings will be timeless, while others will change with further experimentation.

Picking a Topic With No Meat on the Bones

Some topics just aren’t fleshed-out enough to have research readily available. Make sure you decide before picking a topic to see what else has been written on the subject. If you are having trouble finding anything, it might not be the best choice for a term paper. However, it might be something you want to come back to later in your educational career when you’re tasked with developing a thesis or experiment of your own.


Plagiarism can be both intentional or unintentional. In either scenario, it’s a bad thing and can get you into a lot of trouble. Always make sure you’re reading back over your work to make sure that it sounds like you. And stay away from idea plagiarism as well. Never share a point or thought that you can’t expand upon with some of your own, and always, always, always, attribute to the source for ideas that aren’t yours.

Now that you know the pitfalls, it’s time to get to the research skills themselves. Here are the seven you absolutely must master if you’re going to write a quality research paper.

1. How to Find Reputable Online Sources

Finding reputable sources isn’t as easy today as it used to be. Back when there were fewer publishers, there was more qualified vetting and fact-checking. These days, everyone is in a rush to be first and publish 24/7. That opens the door for reporting on “developing stories” where each version of events lives in the ether waiting to be found.

As a result, it’s easy to find false information on websites from CNN to OANN. Of course, some publications do their work more accurately on others on a more consistent basis, but the reality is that no one is impervious to messing up.

That means it is up to you to draw from a number of sources, check them against each other, and infer what is really going on for yourself. Anything less than that is letting others think for you, and it can lead to some pretty embarrassing mistakes on a college term paper when you end up building an entire thesis on the basis of a false report.

2. Fact-Checking

Great fact-checking starts and stops with one person: you. You’re not going to get it from many of the fact-checker sites on the web as they all have a political angle, and they use that angle in determining what is true and false. No, the only way to accomplish that with any degree of accuracy is through your own best judgment.

Evaluate what is being said in everything you read. Demarcate “fact” statements from “opinion” statements. For any facts you discover, look them up and study the foundations on which they were built. Pay attention to the sources that those publications use, and always be willing to question what you read.

3. Skimming for Content

Great research papers are one-parts writing and two-parts reading. You have to read twice as much as you end up writing to ensure you have enough facts and materials to support your arguments or theories. That can be a lot of reading, and being on a time crunch won’t make it easy.

You have to learn the art of skimming for content. This involves studying tables of contents, reading subheadings and topic sentences with greater clarity, and then honing in on the details that offer support for your arguments or arguments to the contrary.

One important note here: don’t make the mistake of reading only the arguments that support yours. Contrary arguments will either help you change your point of view or strengthen your theses. Keep them as part of your game plan.

4. How to Use a Card Catalog

A card catalog is another important research skill for you to have when it comes to writing term papers. That’s because research papers will be constructed from a number of sources, both online and print. Print resources are archived and catalogued in different ways when you’re at a library as they would be a bookstore.

Card catalogs make it easy for you to track what a book is about by offering the title, name, subject, and ISBN for easy access and understanding. This can keep you from going down many rabbit holes and make it easier for you to identify the sources most useful in your efforts.

5. How to Use the Dewey Decimal System

The library — both on-campus and city — are great resources for finding books to help with your research paper. The system groups books by divisions of knowledge and then alphabetically by authors within that field. It was sort of a precursor to the movie codes that Netflix uses to give viewers so many genres from which to choose movies and television series.

The DDS is universally accepted by all libraries. It means you can go anywhere and get any book from the interlibrary loan system. For more on how the system works, check out this in-depth guide from Encyclopedia Britannica.

6. Using Wikipedia to Your Advantage

Wikipedia should never be used as a source in your college term papers. However, it can be used to identify great primary sources for follow-up and to fill out those bibliographies that your professor requires. Wikipedia makes it very easy to see where certain facts come from through the clickable footnotes and the bibliographies at the end.

7. Digging Into Bibliographies

Bibliographies in books, on websites, and in magazines will all be useful in your efforts to locate strong sources. Whenever these are provided at the end of books or magazine articles or blog posts, take some time to note the compelling ones for follow-up or click through if it’s linked to a web article.

Bibliographies provide a never-ending stream of building blocks for the perfect research paper. Just remember that no article or study was built from scratch. It stands on the foundations of other work, and bibliographies are key to finding out what those foundations are.

These Research Skills Will Definitely Get You Through the Finish Line

If you haven’t taken the time to hone these research skills, do so now before you run out of time before your deadline. Now it’s your turn. What are some of the biggest research tips and techniques that have helped you so far? Sound off in the comments section below.

[Featured Image by Pixabay]

Written by

's work appears regularly here at 4tests.com and across the web for sites, such as The Inquisitr and Life'd. A former high school teacher, his passion for education has only intensified since leaving the classroom. At 4tests, he hopes to continue passing along words of encouragement and study tips to ensure you leave school ready to face an ever-changing world.

Website: http://aricmitchell.blogspot.com/

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