Best Practices in Research

Build In Enough Time

Start early to complete the many components of researching and writing a paper. Not only will you need to search, read, and synthesize information, but you should also allow time for things unplanned. Even with the help of a librarian, some topics are tricker than others to track down. Not all resources are immediately available, and it takes time to do such things as request articles and books through Interlibrary Loan and recall items from our collection.  An assignment calculator is a great tool to make sure that you don't fall behind schedule. Here are two that you may want to try:
University of Minnesota
Tufts University

Find a Topic

Be sure to use our many different research guides to help you find information on your particular topic. If you're stuck and unable to come up with some good ideas of your own, our guide devoted to finding a topic should trigger all sorts of possible topics to research. Finally, remember that you can always ask your professor or librarians for help. You can contact the librarians at the Research Help Desk or by email, phone (274-3890), or chat (iclibref).

Create a Working Thesis

Coming up with a topic can be challenging. This is even true when a topic has been assigned to you, since there are so many ways you can develop it. To start, create a working thesis -- a brief overview of what you intend to accomplish and how you will do it. This information can usually be summarized in one or two sentences. Expect that your working thesis will be very different from your final thesis statement. After you have completed some preliminary research will you have gained enough information and become better informed about the topic. That knowledge may lead you to new insights or conclusions you did not anticipate. Keep revising this working thesis statement until it evolves into a definitive thesis statement, and that final statement may not come until you are ready to write an opening paragraph or statement, which often comes at the very end of the process.

Note Taking

Taking accurate notes on the materials you consult saves time and frustration when it comes to writing your paper. What you will eventually cite is not always clear during the research process, so it’s easier to record full citation information as you go along than to track down sources a second time. And in your notes be sure to clearly distinguish a source’s ideas and language from your own added comments, since a mash-up of the two may obscure what you need to cite. Even when you sample or paraphrase a source, you still need to document it.

Online tools for note taking: Evernote, Zotero, Springnote, Microsoft OneNote

Plagiarism Overview

Plagiarism Tutorial: Test your understanding of plagiarism.

Presenting someone else’s words or ideas as your own is stealing, and in student work it also defrauds the instructor who grades it and the classmates who are judged on their own merits.

Plagiarism covers a wide range of theft. It is not limited to books and articles, but includes music, lectures, websites, and materials in all media and formats. Whether you are working on a paper or a homework assignment, developing a presentation or a Website, it is important to credit your sources. Most cases of plagiarism are intentional, but even if you don’t deliberately steal from someone else’s work, you are answerable for careless thefts. When in doubt—cite!

Ithaca College defines plagiarism as part of the Standards of Academic Conduct, found in the Ithaca College Policy Manual. 

Common knowledge
Not all information requires requires citation. Factual information that is “common knowledge”—what your audience can be assumed to know—need not be cited. One simple test of common knowledge is to consult reference works to see if the information is widely reported and undisputed. Keep in mind, however, that common knowledge can change with context. Whereas a principle of physics would need to be cited in an undergraduate paper, the citation might be omitted from a paper presented at a scientific conference.

The easiest way to avoid plagiarism is to quote a source word-for-word and set it off in quotation marks. Most citation styles follow a direct quotation with a brief, in-text citation pointing to the full citation in your end notes. Others follow a quotation with a superscript number corresponding to a numbered citation at the bottom of the page or in your end notes.

While direct quotations are a safe way to avoid plagiarism, they should not be too long or pepper your paper. Use them only if they provide a memorable phrase or well-formulated idea.

Paraphrasing is the act, perhaps the art, of rewriting a piece of text in your own words. But it is unacceptable simply to reword, rearrange or abbreviate a text and claim that this makes you the sole author. Plagiarism applies not only to words but also ideas, so paraphrasing a source does not make it your intellectual property. You must still provide in-text citations and full end notes for sources from which you have lifted observations or lines of argument—even in the absence of direct quotation.

There are dozens of citation styles, some of which are specific to a discipline or even a publisher. At Ithaca College, there is no one style used by all schools or even within departments. The most widely used are MLA (Humanities), APA (Social Sciences), and Chicago (including a variation known as Turabian). Always check with your instructor to see which citation style is required.

Citing is important not only because it avoids the act of plagiarism, but also because it acknowledges those who have contributed to your work, showcases the breadth and depth of your research, and serves as a road-map to readers who wish to consult your sources for themselves. Citing demonstrates that you are participating in and contributing to an ongoing dialogue on your topic. It is more than just a safeguard of intellectual property; it is an affirmation of civility, openness, and honesty.

Plagiarism Tutorial: Test your understanding of plagiarism.

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