WHS LLC Student Inquiry Guide
Research is a life skill. You will use it to choose a college, manage your finances, make purchases, or decide where to go on a vacation. Here at Wilton High School your research may result in various products, such as a thesis paper, digital presentation, video, lab report, speech, debate, spreadsheet, podcast, etc. There are many different ways of approaching inquiry. Here are some strategies to help you find your way. Our goal is to help you become critical and ethical users of information.
Wonder and Plan: Be sure that you understand the task assigned to you, including the type of product, its purpose, and the timeline involved.Select a topic and pose a clear, well-developed research question related to it. If given a choice, be sure to pick a topic that you are passionate about! Gather background information and begin your investigation by reading in order to formulate a research question. What do you know, and what do you need to know, about the topic? What keywords or phrases will connect you with helpful information? Are there alternative words, acronyms, abbreviations or related ideas for your topic? Where can you quickly and easily find background information in order to develop your inquiry? You may start here:
- Your textbook
- WHS Library Databases: Topic overview sections
- Get more out of Google (learn great Google®search strategies here)
- Wikipedia ®*– yes, often, this is a good place to start! Be sure to look over Wikipedia’s “Content” and “See also” sections on your topic to find related keywords. Utilize Ms. Whiting's Mining Wikipedia document to assist you in gathering important keywords. Wikipedia's “Further Reading” and “External Links” sections may be helpful later on. Click on "View History" in the upper right of each page to see the revision history and any discussions related to controversy in its writing/editing. *NOTE: DO NOT cite Wikipedia as a source in your citations! It may be useful in gathering keywords, but it is NOT a valid research source. If you have any doubts about this, check out:
Reliability of Wikipedia
You will need to spend a considerable amount of time on your preliminary reading in order to develop an essential question. As you read, it will help to ask questions such as: Are there common themes related to this topic? What have researchers pursued in relation to this topic? Is there is anything controversial about this topic? Can the answer to my question spark debate? Do you have strong reactions, for or against, the positions taken by researchers? The answer to your question should not be obvious or necessarily true. The question you pose should provoke the reader to want to find out more.
Find and Curate: Locate information from multiple and differentiated quality sources to help you investigate your research question. Select a variety of sources and media (images, video, infographics, etc.) and identify whether they are valid, and will support your work. Your teacher may have specific requirements in terms of the amount and diversity of sources (books, periodical - newspaper and magazine- articles, scholarly journal articles, expert testimony, primary sources, secondary sources, etc.)
Where to start searching:
- WHS Library Databases – our subscription databases cover all subject areas (access this page with the password given out at the LLC)
- WHS Library Destiny Catalog – our book, ebooks, video collection and vetted websites
- ResearchIT CT: CT’s Digital Library – more databases
- Wilton Library
- Do you need scholarly print materials beyond our local libraries? Utilize these Interlibrary loan directions.
- Consider organizations that might be authorities on your topic (ie: Civil Liberties: American Civil Liberties Union)
- Other helpful sources: interviews, other libraries, museums, historical societies, local experts. Check out Mr. Wilock’s Guidelines for Contacting Experts.
Analyze and Take Notes: as you interpret your sources, it will be important to assess quality, accuracy and validity by using critical thinking. Inquiry is a journey, and you will probably need to change directions as you go. “Tweak” your search terms as needed, and gather your sources:
- Are your search results relevant to your information needs? Boolean search terms (AND, OR, NOT) will help you limit or broaden your search.
- Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate! Just as in a recipe, the product is only as good as the ingredients used! Sources must be analyzed for accuracy, credibility, validity, currency, point of view and bias. (See annotated bibliography section below). Compare and contrast so that you are sure that you have a balanced collection of sources. See Purdue’s OWL: Evaluating Sources.
- General Web: it has been said that searching web is like trying to drink from a fire hose: it is overwhelming, and therefore important to search the web critically. Asking the “Who, What, Where, When, Why” questions about the sites that you find is important as well. It is NOT ENOUGH to read the “About us” section of a website! Professional fact-checkers LEAVE a source in order to find information about the author or organization that is presenting the information. See our Website Evaluation links for more directions on how to evaluate websites by currency, relevance, authority, accuracy and purpose.
- Whether you use Noodletools , google docs or index cards for note-taking, it is important to develop a system to classify and organize the information. Try tagging, color-coding, and bulleting to help you stay organized and efficient.
Putting it all together: Use the information you have gathered in order to synthesize what you have learned. Depending on the product you are creating, you may use a variety of tools in order to organize yourself: graphic organizers such as Inspiration®, outlines, etc. Don’t forget, our Noodletools® app is always available to you, and you may use it to create and sort digital note-cards and outlines whether or not it is required by your teacher. Whatever works for you, as long as your teacher approves, is fine.
- Be sure to keep track of every source used for each note-card! Noodletools® helps you do this by “attaching” each source to a card.
- Direct quotations should be used sparingly, and only if the author has said something in a unique or remarkable way.
- Your notes should reflect your understanding and interpretation of what you have read, and summarize the important thoughts and ideas in your own words. Good note-taking takes time!
- The Noodletools®note-card template has sections for “Summary or Paraphrase”; “Direct Quotations”; and “My Ideas”: this is a good place to remind yourself of the next steps needed.
- Utilize a thesis generator for help in forming your thesis.
- Be sure to edit, and collaborate with others in peer-editing if your teacher allows for this.
Share your final product
As we mentioned in the introduction, your final product may take many forms, depending on the requirements provided by your teacher. Whether you create a thesis paper, digital presentation, video, lab report, speech, debate, spreadsheet, podcast, etc., you will want to consider your audience: who will you share your product with? What is your message or purpose? Can you demonstrate confidence and a willingness to take risks? Can you provide innovative solutions to authentic problems? Have you cited your sources properly? (see “Citing Sources” below) Are you collaborating on the final product? If so, how will the talents of your team combine to create a successful product or presentation?
Assess the process and the product
Critical thinkers continually reflect on both their process and the product it generates. As we mentioned above, inquiry is a journey, and requires flexibility and adaptability, the willingness to attend to feedback, ask new questions and change direction when necessary.
Citing Sources – Now that you have become a critical user of information, you must also be sure to be an ethical user of information, practicing good citizenship in a digital world.
Avoiding Plagiarism :
The WHS Student Handbook defines plagiarism as “the unauthorized use of the language or thoughts of another and the representation of them as one’s own”.
The WHS Academic Integrity Policy reads:
“All students are expected to…cite ideas and writing of others properly. Examples of plagiarism include but are not limited to:
- Word-for-word copying without proper citation.
- Copying and pasting text or information for the Internet or databases without proper citation.
- Knowingly taking others’ ideas and presenting them in your own words without proper citation
- Falsely citing source information.”
- Turnitin Plagiarism Prevention tool: your teacher may ask you to create a student account here and upload your work to their class.
In your post-high school life, you may come across several citations styles, depending on your area of study. Here at Wilton High School we use MLA-8 format. Here are some tools which will help you cite your sources:
- WHS Library Learning Commons Citation Help
- Noodletools® – create WHS student account in order to save citations, notecards, outline. See our WHS Library database page for student directions to create an account. Your teacher may require the use of Noodletools®, as your work may be “shared” in a teacher dropbox. Please note that many students use Noodletools® whether their teacher requires it or not- it is a great way to save and organize your research digitally!
- Owl: Purdue’s Online Writing Lab’s MLA Citation page – thorough explanations of MLA style.
- Other web-based citation generators:
- Parenthetical vs. footnotes – MLA-8 format calls for in-text, or parenthetical citations. This includes a brief citation within the body of the text that indicates the source of the information being used, and clearly refers to the full citation in a Works Cited list. i.e.: (Smith 81). See a simple explanation with examples on Purdue’s OWL Writing Lab site.
If your teacher requires footnotes, you may find an explanation with examples on the Purdue’s OWL Writing Lab site.
Your teacher may require an annotated bibliography as a part of your research. An annotated bibliography is a bibliography that also includes a brief analysis of the content, quality, and usefulness of each source. The OWL Writing Lab at Purdue University has helpful examples. As you look critically at each of your sources, think about the author’s purpose, the intended audience, and the usefulness and timeliness of the content. Is the source credible? What is the nature of the source (ie: periodical; reference work; scholarly journal article; accessed in print or digitally, etc.) Does this source confirm or contradict any of your other sources? Does it support or refute your thesis? Does it lead you to other sources? Please note that the Noodletools® citation format provides you with a template for adding annotations.
Still confused? See Mrs. Lyons or Ms. Whiting in the library learning commons. We are here to help!
Here is some terminology that might also help:
Glossary: Research terms defined
About Historical Primary Sources:
- Historical primary sources can be found in print or in many of our databases. Primary sources may include documents, speeches, interviews, historical newspaper articles, eyewitness accounts, letters, personal journal or diary entries, etc. Primary sources may also be visual in nature, such as political cartoons, photographs, paintings, etc.
About Historical Secondary Sources:
- Historical secondary sources provide information about a topic or event that is based on an analysis of primary or other secondary sources. Your textbook is an example of a secondary source. The best secondary sources are written by scholars or experts in the field.
About Scientific Sources:
- Scientific primary sources are reports of original research that are intended for use by the scientific community. These reports are found in scholarly, peer-reviewed journals. Secondary sources are intended for use by non scientific readers. These are generally found in periodicals such as newspapers and magazines, and they sometimes simplify the process of finding and evaluating the primary literature. They tend to be works which repackage, reorganize, reinterpret, summarize, index or otherwise "add value" to the new information reported in the primary literature. Learn more at SUNY Albany.