Scientific writing: A helpful guide for researching a topic, pt. 1

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Regardless of whether you are an incoming high school freshmen or a seasoned grad student, crafting credible research papers/reports are germane to your success in the sciences, and beyond. This all starts by collecting and compiling the appropriate references to be incorporated within your paper(s).  So how do you accomplish this? Glad you asked.

First, after you are given a topic by your teacher or professor, find information relating to it in your science book. Next, you can attain more background information in the form of database banks such as Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia.


Ode to Wikipedia

 You have probably heard the negativity relating Wikipedia on how individuals can manipulate posts at will (although many are corrected within hours) and thus why you should avoid Wikipedia altogether. The truth is that you can still rely on Wikipedia for researching your topic. The key is to check the citations for lines of information you intend to use. Here is an example:

Let’s say you are given the topic of “the evolution of polar bears”. You go to Wikipedia ad search “polar bears”. The screen will show you this:



You scroll down the page and see the following statement you want to use in your report: The oldest known polar bear fossil is a 130,000 to 110,000-year-old jaw bone, found on Prince Charles Foreland in 2004.[15]



However, you’re unsure on whether this statement is factual or fiction. To settle this dilemma, click the [15] at the end of the sentence. This will automatically scroll your page to the list of all citations.



There, you will see the 15th citation (where the statement comes from) as well as the link to the original text. Click on the first link and you will be redirected to this page.



You are now viewing the actual scientific article the statement arose from. Scientific articles like this are scrutinized for months (even years) for reliability and validity before they are published. While not perfect, the information in these papers is as accurate as one can expect.

Scrolling down, you will see several sentences on the bottom half of the left side of the page that supports the entry from the polar bear Wikipedia.


The main takeaway from here is that you can use information collected on Wikipedia for your paper/report  provided that you check their original citations. Finally, always make sure to cite the actual article(s) in your paper, and NOT Wikipedia itself.

In the next part, I will expand more about scientific articles/research papers and where you can access them for free.