In this presentation, we’re going to talk about the 5 key questions of research: What do I need to know?Is this a good source, or a bad source?How do I find the best sources for my topic?How do I put it all together? andWhy Cite?All will contain links, and some will include a video or two. By the time you complete this tutorial, you should have all the tools you need to do basic research in any personal or school topic that you would like to learn more about.
How you pick a topic will very by your major, and even by your professor. You may have to come up with something on your own, choose from a list, or even have it assigned to you. If you’re not sure about your topic, or feel like you need to know more about it to even get started, don’t worry! There are some great resources both on the web and in the library to help you out. First there’s the library’s reference sources. You can either drop by the library to take a look at one of our many encyclopedias and general reference works, or use one of our general purpose databases like Academic Search Complete. If you’d rather use the web, there’s nothing wrong with that! There are some great reliable sites out there that can get you started, and we’ll talk more about them when we get to question 2. Finally, the library’s Search Everything tool will allow you to get a basic understanding of your topic while at the same identifying which of our many databases, books, and other resources will best suit your needs. Take a few minutes to watch our Search Everything tutorial.
After you take your first look around the material that’s already been written on your subject, you should have a basic idea about the most important aspects of or arguments about your topic. An outline cam be the best way to organize the research you already have and to go find what you’re missing. When starting out, your outline can be as short as 5 sentences. The first sentence is your thesis statement, which essentially lays out the three key points of your paper. Then you write a sentence about each of your points, and end with a concluding sentence which will sum up everything you covered.There are two basic kinds of research papers you will be asked to write as an undergraduate. The first is a descriptive paper. These are pretty easy to write. A standard way to do it is to pick out the three most important or interesting aspects of your topic, and make each of them a point in your paper. In general, the best way to go about writing an argumentative paper about a controversy is to use your first two thesis points to describe the pro and con arguments, and the evidence provided for each. Our opposing viewpoints books are really helpful to get you started on these types of papers. In your third thesis point, you will defend your opinion and provide sources to back it up. If you’d like to learn more, ask your comp instructor or visit the link on the slide. Taking a little time to educate yourself with basic sources will help you write a stronger outline, which will help you write a better paper. However, there are a lot of biased or misleading sources out there that can trip you up. Let’s move on to question 2, where I will explain how to tell a good source from a bad one—and how to use the many sources that fall somewhere in between.
Even if you knew enough about your topic to successfully complete step 1, you’ll have to find reliable research to summarize and discuss in your paper. To figure out whether a source is giving you reliable information, first you need to understand the basic categories. Primary sources are either documents or data that directly describe an event or scientific phenomenon. For students in fields like literature or art, they can also include works of art, music, or novels. You may not use these as often in your research early on, but in some fields they can be very important. Think of primary sources as the evidence and exhibits presented in a court case. More commonly used for student research are secondary sources. These explore events or the primary sources that describe them, and attempt to analyze and draw conclusions from that evidence. Secondary sources are more like a lawyer’s opening or closing statement, where evidence from different witnesses (sources) is woven together to support her case. There are four basic types of secondary sources, and each has its strengths and weaknesses. This slide ranks them from most to least appropriate for use in papers. With the exception of reference sources, the more rigorous a type of source tends to be, the more appropriate it is for your research and writing. A rigorous source digs deeply into the issue it’s exploring, not only drawing the obvious conclusions, but drawing out the subtler shades of grey found in any topic. Using rigorous sources and demonstrating your understanding of them is often what makes the difference between a B or C paper and an A paper. First are scholarly or peer-reviewed books and journals. These are written by professors, approved for publication by other scholars, and used by other researchers in the field. They can be complicated to read, but are also often the highest-quality information available on a subject. Most library databases have a checkbox that you can click to only see scholarly articles. In addition, when looking for books, the most “scholarly” are usually published by a university press.Industry sources like trade journals and company or professional organization websites are the most important for business and technology, where technology moves faster than the peer-review process. However, many of these sources are trying to promote or sell their product or technology, and need to be carefully read for bias. We’ll get into that on the next slide.Popular books, journals and websites are just that—sources written by journalists and other educated amateurs. Unless they are written by an established authority or include features like a references or footnotes, they probably aren’t rigorous enough to be used in an assignment. If in doubt, ask a librarian or your professor.Finally, reference books (AKA encyclopedias) and reference websites generally don’t provide ANY analysis, they just describe a particular topic. They’re rarely used as sources, but can be a great place to start when exploring a new topic. Also, the best entries will have bibliographies of sources that do dig deeper, and which would be appropriate for your paper. Cite-Mining like this can be a big time saver when hunting for sources. We’ll talk more about finding and using websites for both reference and research when we get to question 3.
So, now that you know what types of sources you want to use and where to find them, how do you tell whether they’re any good? The CARS method is a handy acronym you can use to evaluate sources’ strengths and weaknesses, and can be particularly useful when looking at websites. First, you want Credible sources on your topic—learn what you can about the author or organization behind the article or website, and ask yourself: what kind of agenda or interests might this person have? Do they have experience in the topic? What issues should I take into account when using their information or opinions in my paper? A source should be Accurate. The newest sources tend to be the most accurate, so your sources should be as recent as possible, and almost always less than 5 years old. While an accurate source may include its own unique opinions, the factual statements it make should match up with the understanding of the topic that you’ve gained from other sources, or should have links to primary sources that back up its statistics. Third, a source’s opinions or arguments should be Reasonable. The argument should follow logically from the starting premises or description, and should be relatively free of bias or prejudices not based in logic or facts. Whether or not you agree with the source, it should make sense. Finally, any quality source will Support its information and the conclusions it draws from it with outside sources. This can be as fancy as a bibliography, or as simple as a link to the resources used. If you’re just not sure about a source or simply want to go the extra mile, you should also take a look at those sources it cites to see how they stack up with the CARS method. Evaluating sources and their arguments could be a class in itself, so if you want to learn more, click on the link in the slide or explore the sources provided in the reference list for this presentation.
As a rule, you cite about one source per page of finished paper. If you follow the steps described in step 3, you’ll find many more interesting sources than that, and may find yourself overwhelmed. However, by selecting the sources that did the best with the CARS test and organizing them to fit into your outline, you will find that your paper is already starting to write itself. You can even start adding detail by noting the strengths, weaknesses and biases of each source, which you can discuss in your paper where appropriate. Finally, there is no such thing as a perfect source. If a flawed source is important to use for your paper, either because you want to discuss its flaws or because it still provides useful insights, do it! However, explain in your paper that you saw those problems, and that it was still necessary and useful in building your argument. If in doubt, talk to your professor or a librarian.
Now that you know enough about your topic and reliable sources to be able to recognize the best sources when you see them, it’s time to start digging into the library’s collection! As I mentioned way back in step 1, search everything can be a good tool to identify the best databases for your topic, and if you didn’t watch that presentation earlier, now would be a good time to pause this audio and pull it up. Just click on the speaker in the corner of the slide. You can only find sources if you use the right search terms, so experiment with different keywords that you brainstorm or find in other useful sources, and use special operators like quotes to search for an exact phrase, or an asterisk to search for multiple words with different endings—like librar* for library, libraries, and librarian. Don’t forget to use checkboxes and date ranges to narrow to recent full text sources, as well as limiting your self to peer-reviewed articles if it’s appropriate. Finally, many departments at RSU have a website called a Libguide that contains links to the best library databases and resources for your field, and more are being added all the time. Appropriate Libguides are often linked from your class’s eCampus page, and can also be found at the library website.Now it’s time to search the library resources! Click the links in the slide to watch some videos on searching the databases, the library catalog, and our ebook collection. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.
If you want to go above and beyond what’s in the library, there are some tricks of the trade to finding reliable websites. First, government agencies have thorough websites on almost any topic you can name, and often include lots of primary sources like financial reports, federally funded research data, and patents. Companies and trade organizations post useful information like white papers and investor information on their websites, and subject matter experts like think tanks or advocacy groups may also have solid research, but remember the CARS test and keep in mind any agendas they may color their documents. Finally, google scholar is a pretty good tool to search for scholarly sources that we may not own at RSU. However, if you click on something and are asked to pay to view it—STOP! RSU is a member of a worldwide network called worldcat that allows us to check out books or articles from other libraries for FREE. Jot down all the source information that you would use for a bibliography, and contact the library. There are 3 sites or types of sites I want to talk about specifically, because how you use them can make a world of difference in your final grade. Most professors ban the use of Wikipedia in assignments, and it’s definitely discouraged. While some articles are more rigorously written than others, they are best thought of as entries in an encyclopedia. In other words, they can be useful to get a basic understanding of a topic, and to find sources you can use. Always click on the discussion page of an entry, as it can tell you a lot about the controversies in a topic as well as provide useful info for CARS testing.The second group of sites I want to discuss are content farms. These are little more than spam sites with just enough content added to make them appear on search results. They can range from a page full of ads lightly garnished with a few paragraphs copied from wikipedia or a news article, or they can be original articles written by poorly-paid freelancers who have little to no expertise as researchers or in the subject they’re writing about, and with no quality control. At best they are the equivalent of an average-quality wikipedia article, but most often they’re unusable even for reference. Associated Content, eHow, and examiner.com are the most notorious examples. Click the link above for a current list of the content farms you may want to avoid, and to learn how search engines are changing to prevent low-quality information from appearing in your results.Finally, a GOOD place to find reliable information is the Internet Public Llibrary. The IPL is run by librarians, and maintains an up-to-date list of the highest-quality websites on almost any topic under the sun. If you’re not happy with your web search results, click on over. They might have some useful links.
While you’ll learn much more about organizing and writing your papers from your professors, we’d like to share a few helpful tips. First, keep your sources and their citations organized, either in a file folder, word document, or a citation manager like refworks. Second, most papers require more than one round of research. As you start writing your detailed outline and even the first draft of your paper, you may find holes in your argument, and need more sources to fill them in. this is fine, and to be expected. Your detailed outline will include each source as a bullet point in the place(s) in the paper where you will cite it, along with any quotes you want to pull. It can be handy to jot down a few sentences describing the source, its strengths and weaknesses, and any particular points you want to make about it. The more detailed your outline, the better it will be as a guide to writing your paper.
Now that your paper’s written, it’s time to cite! While each style has its own quirks, the share the same 2 goals: to credit other authors for the ideas and data that you used in your paper, and to allow your readers to easily find the sources you used. Bibliographies and reference lists may seem a bit hard to write or understand, but the library has manuals for all of the major citation styles available to check out. In addition, we strongly suggest you check out Purdue’s “OWL”, or Online Writing Lab. It provides an in-depth overview of citation rules, as well as how to apply them in an assignment. If you’re confused about why plagiarism is important, or even just about how to avoid accidentally plagiarizing, the library has prepared a video tutorial on avoiding plagiarism that is linked above. Finally, we have an excellent resource called refworks that you can use to organize your sources, annotate them, and even create a finished bibliography in the style format of your choice. Click to view the refworks tutorial.
Stratton Taylor Library Instruction<br />The Research Roadmap<br />
Stratton Taylor Library 101<br />Distance Student Services<br />Access Services & Distance Learning Librarian<br />Virtual Reference via email/phone<br />Free document/book delivery<br />Instruction sessions available at all RSU campuses on request<br />Embedded Librarian<br />
The 5 questions of research<br />What do I need to know?<br />Is this a good source, or a bad source?<br />How do I find the best sources for my topic?<br />How do I put it all together?<br />Why Cite?<br />
1. What do I need to know?<br />Picking a topic<br />Learning the basics about your topic<br />Library Reference sources<br />Web References<br />Stratton Taylor Library: Search Everything<br />
1. What do I need to know?<br />Round 1 Outline<br />Thesis statement<br />Point 1<br />Point 2<br />Point 3<br />Conclusion<br />Descriptive vs. argumentative papers<br />
2. Is this a good source, or a bad source?<br />Understanding types of sources<br />Primary Sources<br />Government documents<br />news articles, personal communications, etc.<br />Creative works<br />Data sets, maps, etc.<br />Secondary Sources<br />Scholarly/Peer-reviewed Books and Journals<br />Industry Books, Journals, and websites<br />Popular books, magazines, and websites<br />Reference books and websites<br />
2. Is this a good source, or a bad source?<br />Use the CARS test to rate your source<br />Credibility<br />Accuracy<br />Reasonableness<br />Support<br />
2. Is this a good source, or a bad source?<br />Select the strongest sources<br />Organize sources into match your basic outline<br />Note the strong and weak aspects of each source<br />How to use an imperfect source<br />
3. How do I find good research?<br />Tips for library searching<br />Narrow with Search Everything<br />Refine with keywords and operators<br />Checkboxes, date ranges<br />Libguides: The best for your subject<br />Databases: Journals, magazines, newspapers, and some primary sources<br />Library Catalog: Books, eBooks, movies, audiobooks, and government documents<br />Netlibrary: Just searches ebooks<br />
3. How do I find good research?<br />Excellent research web sites<br />Government agencies<br />Companies and Trade organizations<br />Subject Matter Experts<br />Google Scholar/Interlibrary Loan<br />Other Websites to use…and to avoid<br />How to use—and not use--Wikipedia<br />Content farms and how to avoid them<br />Internet Public Library<br />
4. How do I put it all together?<br />Organizing data<br />Filling in the blanks<br />Writing the detailed outline<br />From outline to paper<br />
5. Why Cite?<br />APA, MLA, Chicago,???<br />Why Plagiarism Matters and how to avoid it<br />Refworks: your Automatic Bibliography!<br />
Final thoughts<br />Use the right tools for the job<br />If at first you don’t succeed, try another search term<br />Controlled Vocabulary is your friend<br />Consider the source<br />Proper Citation: It’s not just a good idea: It’s the (University) Law.<br />
Helpful books (all owned by the RSU Library!)<br />Finding and evaluating sources<br />The Craft of Research, Wayne C. Booth<br />Organizing a paper and its arguments<br />Guide to College Writing, Emily Dial-Driver (RSU Professor)<br />Writing and reading across the Curriculum, Laurence Behrens & Leonard J. Rosen<br />Citing responsibly<br />MLA Handbook for Writers of research papers<br />Publication manual of the American Psychological Association <br />A manual for writers of research papers, theses, and dissertations : Chicago style for students and researchers, Kate L. Turabian<br />The Complete Guide to Referencing and Avoiding Plagiarism, Colin Neville<br />
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