This is a very difficult question to answer and is totally dependent on the project that you’re working on. Many times, I find that students end up with too much research, though, rather than too little – a huge problem for me when I was completing my undergrad, as well. So knowing when to call it quits is a skill we all need to work on.
That said, there are some students who are not searching enough: consider the questions below as a guide for knowing what is an appropriate amount of searching (in my opinion).
I’ll answer this question with a few questions that you can ask yourself when you feel like you’re done enough research. Not all of these points will apply to every type of research assignment, of course, but they’re a good way to tell yourself “enough is enough”:
- Are you coming across the same information in multiple, credible sources (i.e. three)?
- Have you already found relevant information in different types of sources (i.e. books, journal articles, government publications, newspaper articles – whatever is appropriate for your subject area)?
- If you added a new angle or subtopic now, would it just complicate your argument rather than strengthening it?
- Are you starting to collect information that isn’t exactly on your topic?
- Are you running out of time to actually write/prepare your assignment?
- Do you have enough information to cover the main points of your topic well (or support your thesis, if applicable)?
If you find yourself answering “yes” to most of these questions (where applicable), it’s probably time to move on. I promise, you will never find all of the relevant information on your topic (unless you feel inspired to do your PhD on your current essay topic!). It’s extremely tempting to want to keep looking, to make sure you’ve done the “best” job. But giving into this temptation can result in having a huge pile of resources, little time to do anything with them, and a whole lot of stress. Efficient researching often comes down to trusting ourselves, which obviously takes practice. Hopefully the questions above will help a little in this process.
Make sure to look at the “Evaluation” section of this blog, as it further assists with the development of this skill. You can also consult Brescia’s Writing Instructor, who will help you with starting the writing process.