A Step-by-Step Guide for Student Research

teacher working with students

As a student of library, archival, and information sciences at the UBC iSchool, I learn a lot about improving access to resources for people in need. Unfortunately, when I came to UBC in 2015 as a first-year international student, I learned how to do research mostly through a “the blind leading the blind” approach – but it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve put together some common issues and solutions for research that you might run into, and though I’m not an expert (yet), I hope this can help guide you to the tools and resources that are available to you!

1. Getting Started

It’s okay to feel lost and scared. Assignments can be tricky until you get used to it. But remember – we’ve all been there. It’s totally normal if you’re overwhelmed, and if you’re not – that’s great, too! You’ve got this. But, if you’re new to research and you don’t know where to start, I would recommend:

  • Talking to your instructor
    • It might seem scary, but it really isn’t. Profs want to help you out, and usually they’re all alone in their offices during their office hours, so if nothing else, they’ll be happy to have something to do. Knowing that you have difficulty with an assignment will allow them to reach out and provide you with support, such as brainstorming for topic ideas, or maybe going over your first draft with you so that you know what you need to work on.
  • Reach out to the Centre for Accessibility
    • If you have a medical condition or disability, you may be able to receive extra academic support from the Centre for Accessibility. You can check out their website here for drop-in hours and contact information.
  • Schedule your time
    • Work ahead! This might seem obvious, but the assignment will seem more overwhelming if you’re running low on time. It may not always be possible (sometimes all the assignments for all your classes are due the same week – it happens), but try to complete your work three or more days in advance of the deadline. That way, you can have your friends (or yourself with fresh eyes) review your work and give feedback. Or at the very least, you’ll stress less at 10PM when you realize it’s due at 11:59PM.
    • This assignment calculator projects how much work you should do by when, if you need help figuring out how much to do, by when! (No, it doesn’t tell you how much you need to score on your assignment to pass the class. Unfortunately.)

2. Getting Down to Work

  • How to find your source(s)
    • You can start your search by asking your instructor for resources that might be helpful, but here’s a list of some places you can find articles, books, databases, etc.
  • Remote access to the library
    • How to use the UBC Library Website:
      • If you’re new to UBC (or to university libraries in general) and need help figuring out where to find things, take a look at the tutorial on the Library website.
    • UBC library also has Research Guides for students of different disciplines to find relevant databases and resources for their research, created by librarians who specialize in that subject!
  • More help!
    • Ask Away: on the UBC Library website, you can chat online about general questions about research and what the library offers. They’re open Sunday to Thursday 10 a.m. – 9 p.m., and Friday & Saturday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
    • Write Away: another online chat that provides help with writing!
    • Visiting the library in person:
      • Don’t worry – if you don’t have time to look through the whole tutorial (or any of it), librarians will always be happy to help you if you stop by one of their locations!
      • UBC Library Hours and Locations: Here’s a quick guide of where the branches are, and when they’re open.
    • Contacting Librarians
      • If you have more questions, contact the UBC library staff in person, by phone, or email. They’re always happy to help! You can check here for how to contact them. If you specifically need research help, check out the section titled “Reference & Consultation” in the webpage I’ve linked.

3. Common Struggles in Research

  • Academic Integrity
    • Keep track of your sources (you’ll need them later!)
      • If you can’t show where you got the information from, or if you use someone else’s words without making it clear the words aren’t yours, you can get in a LOT of trouble. It’s okay to leave figuring out the formatting until you’re done writing, but be sure to keep track of what page, of what source things came from. You’ll thank yourself later.
    • Take a look at our guide to academic integrity for how to respect copyright, and give credit to the sources you use in your schoolwork.

4. Get Expert Feedback

Like I mentioned in the beginning, I’ve got a lot of experience with research but I’m by no means an expert. But that doesn’t mean you can’t talk to one! The Centre for Writing and Scholarly Communication (CWSC), located on the 3rd floor or Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, has a wealth of online and offline resources to help you with writing concerns. Check them out here.

5. Finishing Touches

  • Have Complete and Correct Citations
    • Remember how I said you’ll thank me later? Take all of those memos of where you got your information from and turn them into citations.
  • UBC Library Citation Guide
    • We also have our own citation guide! It’s a messy business until you get used to it, so it’s always good to have a few options up your sleeve. If you get lost, you can always ask our librarians or Ask Away/Write Away (as mentioned in section 1).
  • Citation Managers
    • There are also citation manager tools, which are basically software that helps you keep track of your sources. You can learn more about the tools, as well as when/where we hold workshops about them, on the webpage I’ve linked.
    • Purdue University’s Guide to Citations
      • If you haven’t discovered Purdue University’s Guide to Citations, I can’t recommend it enough. It might seem like a lot of information, but if you use the search function at the top right of the page, and have a bit of patience, it’s a lifesaver. Read it, learn it, revere it. It has all of the answers.

And of course, you can look at our guide to academic integrity, if you have any questions!

6. Always Use Spell Check

As amazing as Google Docs is in allowing for collaboration and cloud storage, their spell check leaves much to be desired. Take advantage of Microsoft Word (which is available for free on all UBC Library computers), and use it as a last check for spelling mistakes. Be careful, though, if they don’t recognize the word, even if it’s legitimate (like your non-English name, if you’re me) they’ll mark it with a red line. Always double check if what the program says is wrong is actually wrong.

7. The Big Picture

Good job on making it this far, you’re well on your way to finishing your assignment! Do something nice for yourself. Maybe go for a walk, or treat yourself to a nice, refreshing nap.

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that your grades don’t define your worth. It’s a hard lesson to learn because most of us have a long history of making those kinds of judgements, but it’s true. If you are having a difficult time emotionally with your life at UBC, check out Empower Me and the AMS Speakeasy for counseling services.

If you’re having a lot of difficulty for health or scheduling reasons, another thing you can look into is academic concession. There’s no guarantee with this, since it depends on your situation and instructor, but you might be able to have your due date moved, or make up for a missed assignment – for a valid reason. You might not get it, but it’s worth asking, right?

You can also see more guides for succeeding in a university setting, such as time management, talking to professors, taking notes, and more, here.

School can be overwhelming, but you’ve got this!

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