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How to Research: Beginning Research

Research Tips

  • Beginning Research 
          Choosing a topic 
          Identifying keywords
  • Resource Types 
          Selecting the best type of resource for your research
  • Search Strategies 
          Basic and advanced searching in the library catalog and databases
          Using Library of Congress call numbers to find library materials
  • Analyzing Information Resources 
          Identifying quality sources 
          Scholarly vs. non-scholarly publications
  • Citing Sources 
          When to cite 
          How to cite 
          Online citation tools  

START EARLY:
Give yourself time to make mistakes and/or locate material that may not be immediately available.


WORK FROM THE GENERAL TO THE SPECIFIC:
Find background information first, then use more specific and recent sources.


WRITE DOWN WHAT YOU FIND AND WHERE YOU FOUND IT:
Write out a complete citation for each source.


HAVING TROUBLE?
Ask for help at the Reference Desk, or contact a librarian with Ask a Librarian.

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Defining your Topic and Forming Keywords

These six steps outline a simple and effective strategy for finding information for a research paper and documenting the sources you find.

IDENTIFY YOUR TOPIC

State your topic as a question. For example, if you are interested in finding out about the use of alcoholic beverages by college students, you might pose the question, "What effect does the use of alcoholic beverages have on the health of college students?" Identify the main concepts or keywords in your question. Bubbl.us can help you brainstorm by creating a mindmap.

 

 

2. FIND BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Look up your keywords in encyclopedias and dictionaries (Credo Reference, Oxford Reference Premium). Read articles in subject and general encyclopedias (Encyclopedia Britannica, Credo ReferenceOxford Digital Reference Shelf) to set the context for your research. Note any relevant items in the bibliographies at the end of the articles. Additional background information may be found in your lecture notes, textbooks, and reserve readings.

 

3. FIND BOOKS IN THE PELLISSIPPI ONLINE CATALOG or in EBSCO ebook and ebrary ebook collections

The Pellissippi Online Catalog searches both print books and E-books (electronic books that are available online from any computer). If you are only interested in E-books you may search  EBSCO eBooks (formerly NetLibrary) and or  ebrary  directly. Use keyword searching for a narrow or complex search topic. Use subject searching for a broad subject. Print or write down the citation (author, title, etc.) and the location information (call number and location code). If the book is located at another campus, make arrangements to go to that campus or talk to the librarian to arrange an intercampus loan. Note if the book is a print book or an e-book. For print books note the items the circulation status.

When you pull the book from the shelf, scan the bibliography for additional sources, and watch for book-length bibliographies and annual reviews on your subject; they list citations to hundreds of books and articles in one subject area. Scan the books near the one you selected; these may also be relevant to your topic.

 

4. USE Databases TO FIND PERIODICALS INFORMATION

Use periodical databases to find citations to articles. Choose the periodical database best suited to your topic. Use the Library's federated search engine  PSLibSearch  to search many library databases at once. Use Academic OneFile database for general searches. It indexes more than 2000 periodicals with full-text coverage of over 1000 publications. Choose “more search options” if you want to limit you search to full-text publications which may be printed from your computer.

Use Subject Guides or Databases by Subject to locate indexes and abstracts for information in specific research areas. Print out, save to disk or write citations. If the article is not full text, use the citation information to locate the periodical you want by looking up the title of the periodical in the Pellissippi Library Online Catalog for holdings information.

 

5. EVALUATE WHAT YOU HAVE FOUND

See "How to Critically Analyze Information Sources," and "Distinguishing Scholarly from Non-Scholarly Periodicals" for suggestions on evaluating the authority and quality of the information you located. If you found too many or too few sources, you may need to narrow or broaden your topic. Check with a reference librarian or your instructor.

 

6. USE A STANDARD FORMAT FOR YOUR BIBLIOGRAPHY

Consult the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (REF LB 2369 .G53 2009), or the
Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (REF BF 76.7 P83 2010). These guides show how to format citations.

Or use NoodleTools, an online application that guides the user through the citation format process for MLA, APA and Chicago citations. Click on the "Create Works Cited" link and NoodleTools will create a works cited page in MS Word of citations entered. It also assists in the writing process with its note card application.

Choose a topic, then narrow or broaden the topic as needed

Your topic should be broad enough to allow you to find sufficient information, but narrow enough to answer a specific question.

A broad topic is likely to be unmanageable. If you are finding too much information about a topic, you may need to consider making the topic more specific.

         Tips for Narrowing a Broad Topic:

  •    Consider a specific type, aspect, or sub-topic of the larger topic (Business --> Marketing)
  •    Consider narrowing the topic by location (Marketing in the United States)
  •    Consider narrowing the topic by a targeted population or age group (Marketing to teenagers in the United States)

A narrow topic may be too specific to return useful research results. Perhaps sufficient research has not been done on a particular aspect of the topic.

If you can state your topic as a specific question, your topic is probably just right.

 

State your topic as a question

This helps keep your research focused on the specific topic at hand.

For example, if you are interested in finding out about the use of alcoholic beverages by college students, you might pose the question, "What effect does the use of alcoholic beverages have on the health of college students?"

Examples:

Broad Topic: Alcohol Use
Narrower Topic: Alcohol use by college students
Research Question: What effect does the use of alchololic beverages have on the health of college students?

Broad Topic: William Shakespeare
Narrower Topic: Film adaptations of Shakespeare plays
Research Question: How has Shakespearean drama been adapted for the 20th century film medium?

Broad Topic: Endangered Species
Narrower Topic: Giant Panda conservation efforts
Research Question: What is currently being done to help conserve the endangered Giant Panda population?

 

Identify keywords in research question

Before you begin searching, you will need to idenify the most important words in your research question.

  • Nouns, especially proper nouns, usually make the best keywords
  • Consider all alternate forms of each keyword, alternate spellings, and any related words or phrases that may help in your search. (singular/plural, synonyms, etc.)

Examples:

Research question: What effect does the use of alcoholic beverages have on the health of college students?

Keywords: alcoholic beverages, health, college students

Related words: Alcoholic beverages - alcohol, beer, liquor, adult beverage 
                      Health - well-being, welfare, condition
                      College students: college student, university student

   

Research question: How has Shakespearean drama been adapted for the 20th century film medium?

Keywords: Shakespearean, adapted, film

Related words: Shakespearean - Shakespeare, William Shakespeare 
                      20th century - 1900's, modern, contemporary, current
                      Film - movie, motion picture, cinema

 

Research question: What is currently being done to help conserve the endangered Giant Panda population?

Keywords: conserve, Giant Panda

Related words: Conserve - conservation, preservation, protection 
                      Giant Panda - panda, Ailuropoda melanoleuca

Ask a Librarian Research Worksheet

Get an Overview of a Topic

Credo Topic Pages are a great place to begin your research.  Topic Pages include reference resources for a broad overview of a topic, as well as links to relevant articles from library databases for more specific research.

Video on Understanding the Research Process

running time: 3:10

Video: Background Checks

This video, by EasyBib, explains the first state in the inquiry-based learning process: connect. Viewers will learn how to use things they have already learned and experienced to think of new research questions.

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