Doing Research


(In Bruges, living with water is a daily reality. Photo by John Vanveen, with permission)

Introduction

Research is an important part of writing an essay. The reader is not going to be satisfied with generalities, so we need specific and accurate information. On this page you will find a variety of activities and resources to make your research into natural disasters as effective as possible.

Finding Sources

For your essay you will need a minimum of three sources, of which at least one has to be a book and one a webpage.

To help you get started, here is a list of the kinds of books on natural disasters that you may find in your local library (click to open):


If you are doing your topic on a Canadian natural disaster, here are some possible resources for you (click to open):


Note that we haven’t provided full bibliographic information, or else you wouldn’t have anything to do!

Next, you will also need to find some reliable online sources. Don’t rely on Wikipedia for your topic. Watch out also for sources that are mostly pictures (such as this photo essay). Find a quality web page with detailed and scientific information.

Here are some further resources to help you do online research:

What is Research?

Plagiarism

Reading Sources Effectively

Tips for Doing Research With Google

Evaluating Online Sources

Activities


(Photo by John Vanveen, with permission)

Finding Sources

For this assignment, you should find at least one book and one web page on your chosen natural disaster. Then you should cite them following the MLA guidelines. Use our handout (Finding Sources Assignment) to help with citation, and check our guide to MLA citation (especially the page on citing books). Your teacher may also provide you with a general lesson on citation first.

Evaluating Online Sources

Use our handout (Evaluating Online Sources) to determine the merits of one or more online sources! To understand the criteria used in evaluating web pages, see our page on evaluating online sources.

Annotated Bibliography

Before you take detailed notes, your teacher may want you to create an annotated bibliography. This is a list of some or all of your sources, with a short summary of what each one is about. Annotated bibliographies help you understand the overall layout and content of a source, so that you don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.

For each source, start by providing a proper citation (using your teacher’s favourite style guide). Here’s an example:

Friedman, Lisa, and John Schwartz. “How Hurricane Harvey Became So Destructive.” New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/28/climate/how-hurricane-harvey-became-so-destructive.html.

Next, you may want to list some key words (topics and subjects covered), though this is optional. Doing so can help you focus on what’s important:

Hurricane Harvey
Houston
Impact
Causes
Climate Change

Finally, you’ll have to provide a short summary. You can use some short quotations, but most of the summary should be in your own words:

Friedman and Schwartz argue that Hurricane Harvey was so catastrophic because a number of weather events happened at the same time. First, the water in the Gulf of Mexico was warmer than normal, leading to more evaporation and rain fall. Once the rain fell, there was little wind to steer the system away from the Houston area. Finally, the flood waters could not recede easily because “the storm surge elevated Galveston Bay, blocking drainage of the rain.” The authors suggest that although some of these factors could be blamed on climate change, the immediate causes are not fully understood, and that Houston will remain prone to flooding in the future.

Notice that the summary is not just a list of topics. It ties together all the ideas so that we get a clear picture of the main argument.

Use our handout (Annotated Bibliography) to start creating your own annotated bibliography.

Further Reading: Annotated Bibliographies.

Conducting an Interview

When you’re writing an essay about a natural disaster, it’s great if you can quote someone who has either experienced a disaster or knows a lot about it.

If you’re interviewing a stranger, you’ll have to contact them first. Not sure how to email a stranger? Here’s a template you can use:

Dear ________,

I am a grade _____ student at _________ school. My class is doing a project on natural disasters, and for one of our sources we get to interview someone. I am hoping you could help me out and answer a few questions about __________. I would love to learn more about your experiences.

If you’re willing to be interviewed, please let me know.

Sincerely,

___________

Once you fill in the blanks and add a few more details, your email will look something like this:

Dear Timothy Allen,

I am a grade 7 student at Mountain View High School. My class is doing a project on natural disasters, and for one of our sources we get to interview someone. I right away thought of you. I watched a documentary you were in. I am hoping you could help me out and answer a few questions about what it’s like to survive a wildfire. I would love to learn more about your experience.

If you’re willing to be interviewed, please let me know.

Sincerely,

Tabitha Jones.

You might be surprised. People are often very willing to share their stories.

More Interview Tips:

  • Plan a few questions beforehand
  • Avoid questions that can be answered with just a “yes” or a “no”
  • First record the interview and then write out the answers
  • Ask follow-up questions if you don’t understand something or would like more detail
  • Ask questions that address both the head (what you know) and the heart (how you feel)

Taking Notes

There are two main ways to take notes. You can either take comprehensive notes of everything you read, or you can be selective and just write down things you want to use for your essay. Either way, it’s good to take detailed notes. Doing so will help you master the material and will make it easier to write your own essay.

As you take notes, keep track of where the information came from. Write down the title or author, and note down page numbers (or web pages) for anything important. If you’re copying anything word for word, use quotation marks to avoid plagiarism.

Here’s an example from a set of notes that uses a mixture of quotations, listing, paraphrasing, and illustrations:

So here’s your assignment. Make a detailed set of notes for each of your sources, and hand it in to your teacher. Your notes don’t have to cover everything. Don’t take notes for information you’re not at all likely to use in your essay.

Here are some other things your teacher will be looking for:

  • Information about your source (author, title, etc.)
  • Some organization of the information (headings, topics, etc.)
  • Mixture of quotes and summary
  • Some sense of where in the source the information was found (e.g., page numbers)

Integrating Quotations

When you add quotations to your writing, it’s important to introduce them properly. Normally every quotation is introduced by a signal phrase (your words that signal a quotation is coming). That way the reader can easily make sense of what follows.

For this Integrating Quotations Assignment you will be practicing integrating your quotations properly. Use our Integrating Quotations page to help you understand the main types of signal phrases (scroll to the bottom of the  page if you want a printable version).

Paraphrasing

Skillful writers are able to put other people’s ideas in their own words without slavishly copying or plagiarizing. Print out our Paraphrasing Assignment and practice rewording some passages about natural disasters.

For more information about paraphrasing, check out the rules here.

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