How to Write an Undergraduate Essay Like a Master’s Student: Part 2

Do Your Research:

Before you can write the paper you must first do the research. In some cases you may also want to have an idea of/for the thesis. For more information on how to write a thesis please see part four (coming soon). Every teacher and professor will likely have their own requirements for the types of articles or literature you can use. There are three main resource types primary, secondary, and tertiary. Many professors will require that you utilize journal articles, which are considered primary resources. However some will require the use of books, which are for the most part considered a secondary resource.

What falls under the criteria of a primary resource?

> original written works i.e poems, diaries, court records, interviews, surveys, and scholastic journals/articles.

What falls under the criteria of a secondary resource?

> reference materials including dictionaries, encyclopedias and textbooks.

> Newspapers and magazines are often considered secondary resources, but in some case may be considered a primary resource.

What is a tertiary resource?

A tertiary resource is a resource with the primary usage of  organizing and locating primary and secondary resources. One way you may use a tertiary resource is if you are analyzing the google results or database search results of a particular topic. For instance you might note in a research paper that there are 81 million results for Justin Bieber.

With the understanding of the different types of resources it is now important to know how to go about finding the right resources for your paper. Key words are an important part of locating articles or literature. Before beginning your research it is important to have at least 3 different keywords or phrases. It’s also important to write down every key phrase or word you use when completing your cursory research as you will want to note it in your essay as you describe the research you have done. This is especially important when completing a qualitative research study.


You are writing an essay on “How Dog Ownership Leads to Better Health.”

You go over to your database and type in that long phrase and you are likely going to receive errors for too many words or articles whose only relevance to your statement is they use the words How to in the title or article. A good first search would instead be dog ownership health.

Now when I typed this search into Google Scholar I received 127,000 results that is a lot, but few enough that you could probably go through them and find some relevant articles. However, it may be that you receive a result number that is on the large side. It is important to keep all research as relevant to today as possible especially if you are completing research that relates to today. If you are doing a historical analysis then the time at which the article was published likely doesn’t matter. However, to make sure the science and statistics are relevant to today especially with a topic such as health it might be wise to provide parameters for the publication date.

For this topic try and make sure articles are no more than 5 years old. If research is too thin with that number then as long as you don’t extend it past ten years you should be fine. When I apply the yearly range for my key phrase dog ownership health it lowered the number of results from 127,000 to a smaller 19,800 results. Google scholar also includes citations and patents in its results, but for the case of this research I just want journal articles so I remove those options and lower the result number to 18,400. Google scholar has a means of doing a more detailed search where you can look for your keywords in the title only or within the article. You can also do a search for articles that do not include a certain phrase or that include exact phrasing. You can also search a specific journal by typing in the journal name. When I searched titles only with my key phrase I received a mere 9 results.

Other key phrases for this topic might be:

Healthy dog owners

Dog owners improved health

After you pull up a result page with different articles it is important to read through the results. Do not read each article in full instead read the abstract if available. If there is no abstract available read the introduction, both will let you know if it is a good article for your project. In addition, many teachers will recommend you have a certain number of articles that you use in your research always pull 2-4 extra articles just in case one or more of them do not have anything to do with your article. You will come to find that some articles are more useful than others. Make sure you are choosing articles that will aid your research, but that will also not provide the same information. You want to be able to utilize all of your articles within your paper and if you pull five articles and only one actually pertains to what your research topic is about or three of the topics pertain, but all essentially say the same thing you may want to diversify the information. You want a group of articles that will take the subject from the different main points. Now you won’t know if you need more articles till you read the initial ones you have. If your professor states you need 8 articles for your paper print off 5 you feel really comfortable with. Make sure you record the citation information as you do. This will save you a step when creating your work cited page and when you are having to cite the articles within your paper.

If the paper is due within a week or even a month you will not have time to read each article the recommended three times. Here is the rule of reading and taking notes from journal articles.

Super Speed:

As you read the article highlight the main ideas and pieces of information that you may want to quote in your paper later. Use 3 different highlighters to represent the different points. Statistics are best marked with green, yellow is best for good ideas, and a third color orange is preferable works well with the passages you may want to quote. Do not read an entire article if you get through the first 3-5 pages and absolutely know it will be of no use to you. If it turns out to be a dud put it away. Read longer articles first. Also if a section is droning on with statistics and you are not needing statistics for your position within your research feel free to skip over it and move onto the parts that actually pertain to what you are writing your article on. Once you’ve read the five articles you picked out then continue your search of the online database and find the remaining articles you need. Be sure to focus your search on any areas of the research where you are missing information or have questions.

I can afford to take some time:

So you have some time before your paper is due and can afford to spend a little extra time researching. Aim for two read throughs. The first read through do not use any highlighters take notes on any questions you have after reading the article or while reading the article and let that be it. Later after you have found all of the articles you need go back through and complete the highlighting read through.

I have a lifetime to write this research paper:

If you have the whole semester before the paper is due and your the early bird who likes to get a head start then aim to read your articles three times. First without highlighting and just writing down your questions and thoughts. The second time go through it with the highlighters. Finally, as you make your third read through notate how the article actually helps your essay/research. What questions have been answered or ideas have been created within your head.

You may have noticed that the previous information focused on journal articles and may be wondering okay, but my teacher said I need at least one secondary resource. I need a book for my research. Your library is your friend. The library database works similar to a scholarly database. Use the same keywords. Once you have found a few possible titles go check out those sections of the library to know whether a book is a good fit for your research check the following locations.

Read the back/inside cover, this will give you a synopsis of the book.

Then read the table of contents. The table of contents will aid you in knowing which chapters will be most useful.

If the whole book appears useful read the introduction or the first page of chapter one.

Now no one wants to read an entire book for a research paper especially if they only have a short period of time in which to write it. Don’t think you have to read the whole book in order to use it within your essay. Pick one-three chapters that will be useful to your research and focus your attention there. Use sticky notes to keep track of different sections you may want to quote or that inspire ideas and questions. Make copies of the pages you will be reading for your article so that you don’t have to carry around an extra book. When making copies be sure to make a copy of the copyright page as you will need it for citation purposes.


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