Terry Catasús Jennings

 Tips on Research
I love research. I read six books (humongous books), 17 newspaper articles, and visited 23 websites when I wrote “Gopher to the Rescue,” a 771 word story. I can tell you that so precisely, because whenever I find a fact, I write it down AND I write down where I got it. In “Gopher to the Rescue” you don’t see a list of the books, my editor has it, and I still have it. I'm working on a book about my childhood in Cuba, I have read about forty books for that. It's a historical novel. It will have a list of the sources in the back. And a book about volcanoes for middle grade students will also have a list of the sources in the back—a BIBLIOGRAPHY. 

My best research friends are at the library. I use library books and encyclopedias, on-line library databases, and old magazine and newspaper articles. I also uses the internet as a place to find old magazine and newspaper articles, on-line encyclopedias, and scientific or historic websites. Whenever I can, I include an interview with an expert when I do my research. It is so much fun!.

  ■  Encyclopedias — Give you a really good general idea of your topic, the important facts. You can trust encyclopedias.

  ■  Books — I like to read a couple of books (front to back) to get the idea of what I'm writing about. I takes notes on interesting facts. Although I did, you don’t have to read six humongous books to write a five paragraph essay on volcanoes, but you could ask your librarian for a book on volcanoes, on geology, or on Mount St. Helens. Look in the index for the topic you’d like to read and get a more specific idea. Maybe you’ll find a special fact that will excite you. When I was doing research on Mount St. Helens, I found out about the cool role gophers played in the recovery—that’s why the gopher became the hero of my story.

  ■  On-line Databases — Ask your school librarian or the librarian at your public library how to use the on-line databases. You can trust these databases. They have been reviewed by experts.

  ■  Magazines and newspaper articles — Ask your school librarian or the librarian at your public library how to access archived (old, stored) magazine and newspaper articles for free. You can trust these articles as well, but be careful. If you are looking at a story of an event, the facts may be different from day to day. When I was reading about Mount St. Helens, the facts newspaper reporters knew on the first day were very different from the facts they knew a month after the eruption. 

  ■  Internet websites — Are a very good source for both general and specific facts. You can normally trust websites that finish on ".edu," and ".gov." Many websites that finish in ".org" can also be trusted. Be careful with anything else, the facts may not have been checked by experts before publishing. Wikipedia can give you general information, but always check the facts with other sources. Don’t use a Wikipedia statement or idea unless you’ve seen it in another source. They haven’t always been checked by experts for accuracy. 

Once you have a good general idea and lots of interesting facts, research any questions that you still have. You may use the internet or look in the index of a general book. For instance, when I wanted to know the first time Mount St. Helens exploded, I found that fact in a big book about volcanoes by looking in the index. You may want to consult, or e-mail and expert, someone that has written on your subject.

You need to tell your readers where you got your information. That tells the reader they can trust what you’re saying, and allows them to go to those books or websites for more information. A BIBLIOGRAPHY is a list of the books, articles, and on-line sources you read and used in your research. The citation—the way you write down the information about each type of source—is different for books, articles, websites, and interviews. 
  For books, citations include the author’s name, book title, publisher and date and city of publication. For websites, you need the URL and the date on which you read your information. For newspapers or magazine articles you need the name of the author (if known), the name of the article, the newspaper or magazine name, and the publishing information, like date, volume, etc. For interviews you should note the person’s name and the date.  
  Teachers, librarians, and schools each like different “STYLE” of writing citations. And the citations change over time. Make sure you consult your teacher, or librarian for the style you should use. 
  Even if you don’t have to turn in your bibliography, keep it. Your teacher may have questions later and you’ll be ready.


■ ATTRIBUTION is telling where the information came from like a book, a website, or even an interview—a conversation—with an expert on the subject.

■ PLAGIARISM is using someone else’s ideas and facts as your own. It’s just like stealing. And it's against the law. I am very careful about attributing my facts to the source where I found them. I work very hard at crafting a sentence in the most perfect way; I would be very, very, mad if someone used my words without giving me credit. 

If you use someone's ideas in your own work and you write them down exactly like you saw them in their book, article, or website, you have to use quotes around them. If your piece includes a bibliography, list the source there. If you don’t include a bibliography, you need to say, before or after the quotes, where you got the information. Here’s an example.

         According to the PBS program, Savage Planet, “Mount Saint Helens heads the volcano watch list
         in North America. It is the most active volcano in the Northwest...It's the volcano most likely
         to explode." 

Paraphrasing means to take someone’s words and change them to give the same meaning without writing them down exactly like you read them. You don't need to use quotations. For example:

          In the United States, Mount St. Helens is the most active volcano. It is very likely that
          Mount St. Helens will explode again. 

I uses the computer and shortcuts to make the research task even easier. Here’s how I do it, maybe you’d like to try this method. 

Set up a folder in the computer for your project.

Set up a document in your folder for BIBLIOGRAPHY and write the citation information for each source. Number each source. Don’t worry about alphabetizing, or making it pretty now, just make sure you write all the information. You want to be able to ATTRIBUTE each fact to the right source.

Set up a document called “Documentation.” That's the document where you will keep your notes. Develop a very general outline for your project.  The outline should cover broad topics. When you take your notes, place the notes for each topic under that topic's heading.

  Taking notes—Paper sources: 
   You can take notes on note cards, but most of the time, I take notes right on my computer. I write the information in quotes if I copied it word for word, and not in quotes if I paraphrased. I put each note where it belongs in the outline. I always add the number I assigned the source (from my bibliography) and the page.

  Taking notes—On-line Sources: 
   I often copy and paste the information from the website where it belongs on the outline. I am careful to add quotes to information I copy and paste.

Here is an example of my general outline, an outline with notes, and a finished paragraph for non-fiction book on Mount St. Helens that I am writing.


I.       Volcanoes!
​II.     What does it take to make a volcano?
III.   Mount St. Helens: The Smoking Mountain
IV.    A Volcano Wakes Up
        a.    Mount St. Helens before it blew
         b.   What Scientists did
         c.   And people?
        d.   Bears and Hares and Moles and...Gophers?


II.    What does it take to make a volcano?
              Heat and time. (15, p. 345)
              Volcano is made up of a vent, a crack on the earth’s crust (2, p. 15) 
              Magma is inside a volcano (12, p. 215)
             Magma is melted rock. High temps in mantle liquefy rock. (15, p. 345)
             Inside of the earth made up of elements (silica, iron, nickel, etc.) (15, p. 346)
            Mantle is between crust and core and is 1800 miles deep (12, p. 220)
             Core is hot and dense. (15, p. 345)
            Magma is lighter than rock and rises (12, p. 220)


            What Does It Take to Make a Volcano?

            It takes heat, time, and a crack in the earth’s crust. A volcano is an opening on the earth’s crust, a vent, through which the stuff inside the earth spills out. And what is the stuff inside the earth’s crust? It is the elements that make our world in the form of gasses, liquids, solid rock, and molten rock. We call the molten rock magma. It is turned liquid by the high temperatures inside the earth’s mantle, an area about 1800 miles deep, located between Earth’s hot, dense core and its crust. Because it is lighter than solid rock, magma rises up to explode or spill out of the volcano’s vent.

Do you get the idea?  I hope these tips help you in your writing.