While you may have been able to get by with a good Google search when it came to writing papers during your undergraduate program, this will simply not be the case for a graduate level writing. You can still use Google; however, you’ll just need to use it in a different way (more about that later).
Writing a graduate level paper is based on academic research. You will use (extensively, almost exclusively) peer-reviewed research and scholarly journals. Despite what you may think, Wikipedia is not a scholarly resource, in fact, it’s just the opposite since the content is open, meaning it can be edited by virtually anyone.
1.) Begin with University Library
Before you even begin your courses, familiarize yourself with the resources of the library at Purdue. If you happen to live near West Lafayette, great, you can stop in anytime. For most of us, we must take the virtual route. I can say that this is almost as good as being there, with the addition that you can access the library on your time, not the hours of the brick and mortar facility. You have at your disposal (with a Purdue login) access to hundreds of databases, archival materials, academic journals and scholarly articles. Additionally, you can borrow from other research libraries. While these resources are essential for writing papers, I often used them when considering ideas for papers. After all, why begin to write a paper that has source material that is sparse at best. The last thing you want to do is get your topic approved, only to find out a week before it is due (and you begin writing because you procrastinated) that there is not enough source material to meet the requirements of the course.
2.) Use Google Scholar as a Resource
Now, back to Google. Back before I started the program, Dr. Bart Collins and I were discussing the use of academic material sourcing. He mentioned a great tool that is available through Google which links any collegiate library you select with your Google Scholar search. Remember when searching that a broader search may be better until you see what is out there, but when you do find it, you will see on the right hand side of the screen, adjacent to the article, text that reads “Full Text at Purdue.” Click on this link, sign in, and you are off. It produces the same information as a library search, but I’ll be honest, it is a bit easier to sort through. Google Scholar also has a handy citation generator to give you that baseline citation in the appropriate style (which for the MSC program is APA).
3.) Save Time By Reading the Abstact
When you are looking for materials, the abstract can often tell you if you have the right material or not. Read the abstract, look at the key terms then decide if you want to go ahead and download the article. It will save time, and trust me, you’ll have enough articles from general classwork so you don’t need any unnecessary ones clogging up your files!
4.) Name Your Files so They Are Easy to Refer Back to
Also, when you save an article, I found it best to use a couple words to make it easy to remember what the article is. As an example, I saved an article as Social Media Influence Presidential Elections. If you don’t do this, that’s ok, but when you go back, you will see you have a whole bunch of articles that are identified by about 20 characters. It’s a lot easier to name them in advance rather than sorting through dozens of unknown files when you need an article for your work.
5.) Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help
A final tip (and probably the most important one) – if you have questions, ask the library staff! Just because you are not on campus doesn’t mean you are on your own. The staff is available to help you with research questions (no, they won’t write your paper but they can help guide you down the right path for source material). If you’re having a problem with material access such as broken links or invalid subscriptions, you can submit a support ticket.
Use the library. Your tuition and fees help pay for it and honestly, without it, I’m not sure how one could succeed in this program. Plan ahead, use the staff and resources, and you will succeed!
Kevin Jenkins is an alumni of Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.
*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.