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Research Shortcuts

There are proper ways to research a paper...and there are the ways most students do it: laboriously, tediously, and inefficiently. Here are the techniques and shortcuts that the pros use. They will enable students to find their way to the best resources for their own projects.

From preparing the preliminary outline, work file, and bibiliography, Research Shortcuts proceeds to using the appropriate resource guides, as well as modern aids to research. It also discusses shortcuts that reach the experts: writing letters that get questions answered, and making face-to-face (or telephone) interviews pay off.

What the reviewers said:

"Many of the suggestions...should be learned at a young age and students would do well to peruse these books....The discussion of resources, a brief overview of a library's organization, interviewing, use of the telephoneall these and more might suggest ways for students to go about research for their assignments."  —Kliatt

"Thirty-eight research shortcuts are presented in a concise manner and with ample examples.  The process of securing a notebook, taking notes on one side of the paper, and physically organizing the material is discussed.  Excellent suggestions for source materials an methods for utilizing them are presented. The art of deciding exactly what needs to be researched is explained. Instruction on interviewing skills and using surveys is also given. Finally, methods for developing the rough and first drafts are offered. Designed for use by college students, this work is useful for anyone doing research. Recommended."  —Library Journal

"This book provides excellent practical advice on mapping out the research project, gathering information, and writing up the paper. It would be highly useful to the novice writer who wants to write nonfiction for profit."
—Dissemination Network for Adult Educators

"The authors of Research Shortcuts effectively guide the reader from preliminary research to final draft in 108 pages of clear and concise tips. Although intended for a student audience, this quick and easy read will appeal to all writers, new or experienced. Prolific authors themselves, Kesselman-Turkel and Peterson promise to deliver "techniques and shortcuts that years of research time have taught us, so that you can find your way like a pro to the best and fastest resources for your own projects.' They succeed indeed.   

"The 38 shortcuts contained in this book are divided into five sections that serve as an outline for completing a research and writing project. The authors emphasize the importance of organizing research to maximize efforts and provide a formula for estimating the reasonable number of hours necessary to research and write. They stress the time saving quality of careful note taking and furnish illustrations of the detailed bibliography forms they use in their own research. Note: these forms would be more useful if they were camera ready so they could be copied directly from the book. Additionally, the authors introduce interview techniques that novice researchers may overlook and provide detailed tips for successful face-to-face and telephone interviews. A warning to the reader is needed here. The authors assert that it is acceptable to tape record a phone interview with the consent of one party to the conversation. However, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Website informs readers that Federal law allowing for "one-party consent" recordings has been strengthened by some states. Thus, prudent researchers should always ask permission before taping a telephone interview.  


"Research Shortcuts is a book advisors can easily recommend to all students, and especially to those who are inexperienced writers still developing a voice and writing style. This is not a daunting read and it offers sound advice: follow an outline, stay organized, research with a clear purpose, and, finally, write. Affordably priced at $6.95, this is a resource students can use repeatedly for all types of research."

                            ---Sharon Baffa Keeling, Academic Advisor,
Dept. of Political Science and Sociology/Anthropology,
Western Illinois University, Macomb,

writing in National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) Journal, issue 25.  Reprinted with permission of the author.

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An excerpt from Research Shortcuts:

Shortcut 21
Make Wise Use of Modern Aids to Research

There’s no need to remind you about photocopy machines. They’re a standard component of all but the smallest libraries. If anything, students tend to overuse them. It’s tempting—and seemingly timesaving—to throw a nickel or dime into the box and have the machine copy the page that contains the quote you may find useful. But then you end up with reams of photocopied pages to sort through. You haven’t escaped having to decide whether the material really fits in, whether you need it all, and whether it belongs as a quote or a paraphrase. You’ve just put off deciding. In many cases, that makes you read and evaluate all the material twice. In addition to wasting money, you really do waste time.

Instead, do your culling right in the library. With your list of annotated questions as a guide, you should be able to decide on the spot whether you need a direct quote, a paraphrase, or merely notes that sum up the information. You should even be able to tell, from the other citations you’ve collected, whether you need a long quote or a short one.
The same is true of printing out what you find on the Internet. Unless you think you won’t find another computer that’s connected to a printer later on when you’re writing your first draft, just quote, paraphrase or sum up the reference and its importance and write down its URL (Internet address) so you can find it again.

We don’t photocopy or print out a page unless we’re planning to quote directly more than four or five lines from it. When we do photocopy or make a printout, we circle the applicable part immediately so we don’t have to read the entire page again. Remember to key the page to your bibliography sheet by writing the author’s last name and reference number on it, and make sure to add the number of the question it answers.

The Internet is filled with up-to-date and historic information about everything under the sun, much of it free for the taking. But to find them, you have to choose a good search engine for your needs, learn how to use its search rules and shortcuts and get very good at choosing the right key words.

Search engines keep complete, up-to-date information about nearly everything on the Web. Some are more family oriented than others and favorites keep getting replaced by newer, better favorites. We used AltaVista until Google came along. Some services are useful for special searches even when they’re not best for everything. For instance, Lycos, unlike Google, lets you specify whether to find what you’re looking for in text on the site or in the site’s name (URL).

Most search engines provide their own list of search rules and shortcuts, though some make you search their site hard to find them. Since not all services mean the same thing by word strings, the symbol +, - and quotes around words, it pays to read your favorite site’s tips before starting your first serious search. It also pays to click on and use Advanced Search when available.

Most important, however, is choosing the right key words to search. (Google!’s internal list of synonyms makes the job a bit easier.) When we looked up search +”key word” in Google!, it found 753,000 hits (website pages where the two appeared together). When we changed it to "search engine" +"key words" +"Web search" +tips and used Advanced Search to request pages updated in the last three months, it narrowed the results to about 650 hits, a number we could reasonably scan in a few minutes. (It helps if you opt to see 50 results on a page, not 10.) If the engine is good, you’ll usually find what you need within the first 50 or 100 results.

Guard against narrowing your choices so much, you block out half of what you're looking for. This is particularly true if you’re using a website’s own search engine. When we searched eBay for auctions of the Braun Oral-B Excel Model D17535 electric toothbrush, we missed seeing half the auctions until we just searched on Oral-B Excel.

If you need more help learning how to use key words and search rules, you can find it by typing "search engine" +"key words" +"Web search" +tips as key words in your favorite search engine.

When you’re researching in a library, don’t overlook the excellent online research services, like Dialog and Nexus/Lexus, to which many libraries subscribe. You can usually search them from the library for free or for a very low cost. Also learn to use interlibrary loan. If your library doesn’t have a book, periodical, CD or other reference tool that you need, it can often be borrowed from another library in the United States or Canada through a reciprocal lending network. In addition, the Center for Research Libraries lends its book and periodical collection to academic libraries and sells reprints of articles at nominal cost. The U.S. Library of Congress, too, circulates part of its collection to serious researchers through interlibrary loan, but you may have to hunt to find a librarian who knows how to use the service.

You can’t depend on interlibrary loan for last-minute research, since requests often take three or four weeks to fill. But it pays to become familiar with the interlibrary loan apparatus at your library and to make interlibrary loan one of your first research priorities whenever you’ve got a long-term project that may call for borrowed materials. If you have a hunch that some vital source or citation is unavailable locally, spend your first few research hours checking on that material and filling out interlibrary loan request slips.

This excerpt is copyrighted. Readers may print one copy for their own use. If you want to print more than one copy of any excerpt, or would like an article on another topic written for publication,

 email the authors by clicking here.



Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 Judi K-Turkel, Franklynn Peterson, P/K Associates, Inc. 
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