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Tips for Teen Researchers from a High School Researcher

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This is a guest post by Aaron Zhang, a high school student in California. You can read more about the research guide in this blog post. This post originally appeared in the Minerva’s Kaleidoscope blog.

Using the Library of Congress Online: A Guide for Middle and High School Students has numerous great resources, spanning a multitude of topics. I am a junior in high school, and I was given the opportunity to review the Guide in its drafting. In doing so, I discovered how it could be used for every step of the process in researching any topic. Its organization and design make it helpful in any research, and it was easily applicable to my own work.

A screen shot of the homepage of the research guide for students

The section titled “Search Strategies” had a lot of great tips. Skills like using key words and better evaluating the sources you find are all integral aspects of the ability to adequately research a topic. I know that in my own research, one of the hardest parts of starting was finding the right sources that pertained to my ideas. The “Search Strategies” section also provides links to several places to find commentaries, e-books, and even biographical literature, which I can see being useful for almost any research topic.

I thought that the three sections on “Sources” were all very educational regarding the meaning of the different source types. Being able to properly distinguish between primary and secondary sources is important because it allows you to properly understand how to use evidence to make a claim or an argument. Because research into a topic always requires large amounts of evidence, specifically understanding how sources work is vital to finding good information.

The next section I thought was great was the “Citations” section(s). Although people seem to overlook this, I noticed in my own research (and the research of others my age) that there are many difficulties involved in avoiding plagiarism. Being able to easily create citations and credit the referenced sources at the end of one’s research is immensely helpful, especially to people still in middle or high school. As students must navigate MLA, Chicago, etc. throughout their different classes, the ability to find all the information centralized and contained in one website could make the process a lot less stressful.

High school students working on laptops in the Library's Science, Technology and Business Division reading room
Students from Sussex Academy in Delaware conduct research in the Science, Technology and Business Division Reading Room. February 8, 2019. Photo by Shawn Miller, Library of Congress Office of Communications.

I have used this research guide to conduct research on issues regarding identity, culture, history, politics, and even global issues. For example, I recently wrote a paper about artificial intelligence and was able to use the “Search Strategies” tab to find a lot of good books and articles regarding the topic. Because the guide taught me how to use specific keywords to find more relevant literature, I found quality evidence at a higher volume and a faster rate than what I would have without it.

In the future, I can see myself using this guide as an outline for almost every research project I do, whether it is a long-term, large scale project or just everyday research. Because it teaches the fundamentals of how research should be done efficiently and effectively, I can take the information in it to improve any research I do at all levels.

Because the guide is written clearly and concisely, I believe that others can also use it to do much more credible and accurate research. It allowed me to utilize the large database that is the Library of Congress to its fullest potential, which is obviously far superior to simply looking things up on Google. By having so many different types of literature and resources in one place, research can be done at a much faster pace, and adhering to the tips in this research guide will guarantee that all of the sources and evidence found are of great quality so that they can be useful in your research.

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