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Gathering Relevant & Essential Information in Research

Instructor: Matt Lamb

Matt has tutored for six years now, in a variety of subjects including reading, essay writing, chemistry, and theology. He is finishing his M.A. in Political Science this August.

In this lesson we will discuss how to distinguish relevant and essential information from irrelevant and incidental information when doing research. This will help when you are researching a topic or writing a paper.

Pick A Topic

The first step is to narrow down your topic. While you may not have a thesis yet, you can still narrow down a topic. For this example, let's assume you are writing about major foreign policy decisions by President Obama during his term in office. While we might not know which decisions we will ultimately talk about, this gives us a topic with which to start. Already we have eliminated information about his years as a state and U.S. Senator, as well as domestic policy decisions (taxes, healthcare, immigration) and social policy decisions (abortion, gay marriage, transgender bathrooms). We can then evaluate all information on whether or not it relates to foreign policy decisions.

Relevant Versus Irrelevant

Now that we have our topic, we can begin sorting through decisions made by President Obama while in office. In order to sort relevant vs. irrelevant details, we want to define our terms. So in this case, we might define foreign policy decisions as any issue relating to trade with other countries, military action in other countries in which U.S. troops are committed, or support or opposition for resolutions at the United Nations. This provides us with a broad framework to start whittling down information. In doing our research, we can eliminate any articles or papers that deal with non-international issues. We can then keep relevant information, which relates to our work, such as articles about trade partnerships with other countries or papers about our spending on the State Department. Irrelevant information will cover topics such as President Obama's tax policy or his meetings with American business leaders about labor laws.

We can always test whether information is relevant or irrelevant by asking whether or not it directly relates to the topic. Articles about the favorite sports of Americans or the history of movies in America would obviously fail this test, to use extreme examples. Next, we want to determine how to sort through essential information and incidental information. You will generally want to do this after you determine if an article is relevant. Then you can begin sorting through the information in further detail.

A library is a great place to start doing research
Library for research

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