We’ve mentioned before that, as a student, you’re like an explorer on a quest – a quest for knowledge. Without a map or some other form of guidance, you’ll be lost. You must follow a clear path to discovery, or you’ll wander a sea of fog.
Fortunately, Scott Community College is full of resources to help you, from your instructors to your friendly library staff to great electronic resources such as ProQuest Research Companion.
If you have little experience writing a college-level academic paper, ProQuest Research Companion is like a course on how to write research papers.
There are several modules organized in a step-by-step process that explains exactly how to write a paper – from finding a topic to evaluating information to revising your final drafts.
The modules even give you an idea of how long it will take you to get through each one. Some modules come with special tools, such as the Topic Aid. Similar to Academic OneFile’s Topic Finder, the Topic Aid is helpful for both finding your topic and narrowing your thesis.
When we type in “politics”, it comes up with 100 examples of related topics.
Perhaps we decide to narrow our focus to Political Action Committees or PACs. We click on the link among the listed topics and the first thing we see is a warning: “Articles available via the Topic Aid come from ProQuest’s eLibrary. They are not scholarly and, in general, should not be cited in a formal research paper.”
That means we can’t cite what we find in ProQuest. We can, however, mine their eLibrary for data that will lead us to resources we can cite.
Rachel Louise Ensign wrote this article about PACs. She’s likely written others on the same subject. This article also gives us the names of people interviewed and the institutes for which they work. We can look up those names in other electronic resources, such as EBSCO, Opposing Viewpoints, or the aforementioned Academic OneFile. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, try using ProQuest Researcher’s Search Aid – it gives you alternative terms to search that will bring you related results.
One thing many students struggle with is determining whether or not a source is acceptable to use in a research paper. Most of our electronic databases have the option to limit searches to only academic or peer-reviewed material. If you’re using Google or a database that includes popular publications, however, you’ll have to carefully evaluate these sources to decide if you can cite them.
We recommend using the 5 W’s – Why, Who, What, Where, and When – to evaluate resources for suitability. Why did the author write this? Who is the author? What is their motive? Where did they get their information? When did they write it/is it current?
After you’ve evaluated a resource on your own, double check your findings with ProQuest’s Source Evaluation Aid.
This tool is not foolproof – all it can do it collect the same information that is readily available in the source you’re evaluating. It’s really only good for double checking to make sure you didn’t miss anything obvious.
For example, we used the Evaluation Aid to check this article about California’s floundering Velcro crop, and this was the return:
The final section of modules, titled “Use Information,” will help you make sure every element of a good research paper is present in your final draft.
While ProQuest’s citation builder is pretty reliable, we always recommend cross-checking with your text book and/or Purdue University’s very well-curated Online Writing Lab (OWL).
One of the best aspects of ProQuest’s Research Companion is that it left a special place for reflection following the completion of your paper: How Can I Do Better Next Time? It reminds us of a favorite Samuel Beckett quote: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Aside from being a golden example of parallel sentence structure, Beckett’s notion is one that all students – in fact, all people – should recall when questing. Whether you’re on a quest for knowledge, for glory, or just for some mad money, always be on the lookout for a better way to accomplish your goals. Just as the experienced explorer outperforms the novice, so does the writer only improve through practice.
Get your practice in. Check out ProQuest Research Companion. Or stop into the library! In addition to our friendly staff, we also offer a writing tutor four days a week and now, citation workshops!