Research Methods for Paper Topics

When given a topic and asked to write a research paper, you probably turn to the tried and true methods of secondary research. Secondary research includes searching the Internet or looking through books and journals. However, there are more research methods available. These are known as primary research methods. They include hands-on research such as conducting an interview or composing a questionnaire. Expanding your research methods makes for a stronger paper, no matter the essay's topic.


Interviews can add depth to a paper by showing how topics affect individuals. Think about how much more interesting the evening news is when people are interviewed, rather than simply having an anchorperson report the facts of the story. If you plan to add an interview to your paper, plan ahead. Write down a list of questions. Ask the person if you can tape the interview so you can review it later and get the quotes correct. Be on time when you schedule an interview, and thank the person for taking the time to speak with you.


For observation research, you need to study a specific occurrence over a period of time. An example would be documenting how many sugary cereal commercials are aired during programming geared to young children. Observation research lets you make your own discoveries about a subject and come to your own conclusions.

Surveys or Questionnaires

Creating surveys or questionnaires for research purposes can be time consuming, but it lets you ask specific questions to a large number of people. To create an effective survey or questionnaire you must write a set of questions that can be answered briefly. Also, you must decide the type or types of people to whom you want to administer the research. For example, if you are writing about college tuition hikes, you could choose to speak with the people most affected — college students.

Print Sources

Print sources are the most traditional form of research and are still valuable. Books, journals, magazines, textbooks, and newspapers are sources of in-depth research that done by experts. In addition to the information offered by the author, a print resource often has an extensive bibliography that can lead you to other helpful resources.

Online Sources

Searching the Internet is the easiest research method, but it can also be the trickiest. Whenever you use a Web-based source, it is important to ensure its credibility. Look for Web addresses that end in “edu” or “gov.” Check the credentials of the information’s author. Is he an expert who works or researches in the field? Is the material recent or has the information become outdated? If you are ever in double regarding an Internet source, consult your instructor.

About the Author

Shelia Odak has over 10 years writing and editing experience for consumer and trade publications including "Radio/TV Interview Report." She has worked for over nine years in education and holds a Ph.D. from Georgia State University. Odak writes on a range of topics including education, literature and frugal living.

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