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Research and Writing with Questia

Back in the old days of education, before the Internet and word processing programs, we kept track of our references with individual index cards or some other paper-based filing system. I remember the pain of this process and the endless sorting to find what I needed and ensure that everything I used was documented in my final paper as a complete reference list.

Those days are thankfully over as new applications emerge, improving the research and writing experience exponentially. Questia is just one of these tools aimed at helping you make the process more efficient in terms of time spent searching for relevant materials, organizing what you find, and making sure everything is cited properly to avoid plagiarism.

Sean O’Connell from Questia reached out to tell me about a contest for students – Citation Showdown, “a nationwide search for the best and most correct use of citations in a research paper.” The contest sounded fun (more about that coming up), but I quickly realized that this resource could be really useful as an online research tool that does more than just organize citations.

Take a Test Drive

There is a lot you can do with Questia without an account (i.e., read the blog, sign up for a newsletter, conduct a basic search of abstracts), and there are more advanced options available with membership. Sign up for a full access free trial to see if it meets your needs. Here’s what I found:

  • Online library: This collection includes books, scholarly journals, newspapers, and magazines. Browse the library searching by keyword, title, author, subject, and publisher. The results offer options for both refining (through added filters) and expanding (through linked keywords, etc. and a short list of related items) your search. “On-staff librarians” make the decisions about what will be included in the collections available to you through this system.
  • Citations and bibliographies: Once you’ve identified a document that is useful for your research, you can quickly generate both an in-text citation and an entry for your reference list using MLA, Chicago, and APA style guides.
  • Note-taking: In addition to creating citations, you can add your own notes and highlight within individual articles, just as you might with a printed version of a document.
  • Project organization: If you are working on more than one paper or project at a time, which is often the case when enrolled in multiple courses, the system allows you to create project space for each assignment, with separate collections of resources, notes, etc.
  • Skill building: A series of self-paced tutorials is available, which include brief video presentations, examples and practice activities, and quizzes designed to help you improve your research and writing skills. “Evaluating Resources” is one example with good instruction for assessing credibility, potential bias, and whether or not an item is considered “scholarly” (often listed as a requirement from your instructors). Four tutorials are currently available, with six more in development.

If you are looking for ways to augment the resources available online through your school (don’t forget about your institution’s library and librarians!) add this list of Questia features to your search and compare the options available to you.

Are You Ready for a Citation Showdown?

O’Connell’s original message led me to Questia’s Citation Showdown. This contest offers cash prizes to students who submit their best bibliographies. Questia is looking for correct use of MLA, Chicago, or APA style, and winners will be chosen by a panel of expert judges. Take a look at the official rules for more information and note that the deadline for entry is December 31, 2012.

As you complete those end-of-term research papers, assess your research and writing skills. What are your go-to resources for assistance? In what areas do you need more support?

December 3rd, 2012 written by Staff Writers

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