This quick video will walk you through the essential process of thinking through your topic before starting your paper. This will save you time in the long run because it will set you up for success when searching for your resources, as well preparing you to get the most out of consulting with a librarian. Not all students understand why it’s important to go see a librarian early on in the writing process. We love librarians because they’re research wizards, and they often coordinate with your professors so they have the inside scoop on your assignment. This all equates to saving you valuable time in the long run
********* Should we really keep this slide? (Probably not)What about people watching on YouTube? Our recommendation is that after you finish watching this video, fill out the questions below. They will help guide the process of critically thinking about your topic, to save you time in the long run
Now, a common misconception that many students have is that the first step in research is heading to the library and trying to find books or articles or searching for resources on google.
But in actuality, your first step in approaching a research paper should be should be thinking critically about your topic and the best way to approach it. By carefully planning your paper in advance, you will save yourself time and grief in the long run.
We think it’s super valuable to see a librarian early on in your research process, because they are good at what they do. They are essentially professional research finders. More often than not, all the sources you require will not all be neatly packaged in one place. You’ll have to use a variety of media and they will likely be scattered. Librarians are aware of this and can help troubleshoot. Also, some of what you are wanting to find may not even be published. Librarians will know if the information exists or not and they can save you countless hours trying to find non-existent resources. Also, databases don’t think like us and often require specific phrasing when searching. Reference librarians are experts at this so ask for help from them!This video will help you collect all the info you need before going to speak to a reference librarian
There are 5 easy but important steps that we will walk you through in this video to get you on your way to research excellence, but we’ll introduce them here.First off you need to make sure you truly understand the requirements of your assignmentSecondly, you need to be able to develop your topic if you weren’t given one by your professor. Then, most importantly, is focusing your topic. This includes outlining the scope of your paperAfter that, identifying appropriate key words that will yield the most useful search results from the UBC Library database.And last but not least, talking to a librarian generally before you even start writing your paper – it’s much easier to get pointed in the right direction before you’ve already done a ton of work and then have to backtrack
Some students jump into research before they fully understand what the instructor is looking for with the assignment. The most important thing about this step is being 100% sure on what your instructor is asking of you. If you don’t know how to answer the next few questions being posed, check your syllabus or ask your professor to clarify.
Some important things to know when going to see a librarian is what class the paper is for, and who the instructor is. Librarians often work in close contact with profs so they might even be familiar with your assignment
Knowing the specific word or page count is also helpful as it may help guide how many resources and what type of resources you are choosing
The last thing to think about in terms of assignment requirements is the kind of sources your instructor requires. Do you need books, articles, primary sources, data, current material, peer-reviewed or scholarly sources?
This is Sarah. She is a first year student taking a History course. She has to write her first research paper and it needs to be 4 pages, and she must consult at least 3 peer-reviewed sources, one of which needs to be a primary source such as a newspaper or a letter.
Step 2 will vary a bit, depending on your course. For some classes you will be given a topic, but for others you will have to develop your own topic first. If you have to develop your own topic, it can sometimes be tricky to come up with an idea for your topic. We have some suggestions though! Read through your course syllabus, and try to identify important themes that you could explore further. You can also review notes to see if you flagged something during the year that was interesting to you or if you had any unresolved questions. Once you’ve found something of interest, discuss this with your prof and get their input.After you’ve developed your topic, or been given your topic by your professor, you should describe your topic as if you were explaining it to your friend. Imagine that you are having a conversation with your grandma who knows nothing about the topic. Without using the phrasing from your assignment sheet, explain what you are researching in your own words. By using your own words it will ensure that you truly understand what the topic is about which is a pretty essential piece.
Sarah’s prof has given the class a topic. He wants them to research the battle of britian and how Germany used air warfare to try to capture the United Kingdom. Sarah found the unit on Germany’s tactics particularly interesting during the term so she will look at why their tactics failed and how it affected the war effort for both the Axis and Allied Powers
Step 3 can be the trickiest step, but we’ll walk you through it so that you’re clear on what to do.The reason focusing your topic is important is because that way we can ensure that the scope is not too broad or too narrow. If it’s too broad, you may get too many search results, and have too much information to reasonably fit within your page limits. But if it’s too narrow, you likely won’t be able to find enough!It’s important to do some preliminary research to help pick your parameters and focus your topic
Setting parameters for your research is difficult if you know nothing about the general idea or controversies of a discipline. To help set parameters, it is good to get a broad overeview of the topic. You can do this by reading an encyclopedia article, or reading the abstracts from a handful of articles on your topic.
Here is a visual example of some parameters that you might use to focus your topic. Ask yourself…does my research need to be contained within a certain geographical area, like Canada for example.Or should I only use sources published after 2000. Or what about the population you are examining, for example, only student athletes.
Sarah has to focus her topic and set some parameters. She has decided to focus on Germany’s perspective in the battle, as well as only examining the effects up to autumn of 1940, when the battle ended.Since her paper is relatively short and she doesn’t have much space to get too in depth, she has decided to narrow her scope and only focus on how the loss of the battle affected the Axis powers.
The second to last step is identifying the keywords that you are going to use to search for your resources. Since library databases don’t work like google, and they don’t return related search results, you have to be very conscientious of the words you choose to searchSingle words or short phrases are the best things to use when searching. Long sentences aren’t a great idea because the database will search for EXACTLY what you type…To help prevent a lack of search results, if there are multiple words that can be used to describe your topic, write them all down because you don’t know which words the database will recognize.Our tip is to brainstorm your topic and write down the 5 most relevant words – once you have those, try to come up with a common synonym that is used in your field of study for each wordRemember that the more keywords you input into a database, the fewer results you will get because your search is getting more specific.
Sarah looked through her notes and course syllabus and found that these words came up often. They seem to be the best choice of keywords to search. Sarah also knows that she shouldn’t type all the words in as one sentence because the database won’t be able to find any results
The last step in this process should be the easiest part – going and talking to the library research experts!Reference librarians are wizards at finding information which means they can get you started in the right direction to save you time. To make connecting with a librarian easier, we’ve provided a place for you to answer the 4 steps at the bottom of this page, and then you can email them to yourself!
There are many way to connect with a librarian. You can visit a reference desk, you can e-mail your subject librarian, you can use Askaway to live chat with a librarian, or you can visit a reference desk at one of the branchesTo find their specific contact info, check out library.ubc.ca for phone numbers, hours, and e-mail addressesIf you are visiting a librarian in person, make sure you choose the correct subject library, as the 9 libraries on campus all have difference subject specialties. Save yourself time by determining which library is suitable for your research topic before visiting. Check out hours.library.ubc.ca to determine which library to visit.
Sarah connected with her specific information ninja (or reference librarian) and was able to get pointed in the right direction for finding resources!We hope you found this video useful, and please feel free to leave a comment below or check out our other student toolkits
Getting StartedAs you go through this toolkit, answer thequestions below to get you headed in theright direction with your research topic
Let’s be honestMost studentsthink the firststep forresearch isdiving intobooks
However…Your first step should bethinking through your topic Careful planning at thebeginning will save you time! Flickr Status Frustration
Why you should talk to a librarian They will help you find sources you didn’t even know existed They are research wizards and will help you navigate databases like a pro They often have the inside scoop from your professor about your assignment
Plan ahead and save timeBefore starting your research:1. Describe the assignment requirements2. Develop your topic3. Focus your topic4. Identify keywords5. Talk to a librarian
Step 1: Assignment requirementsUnderstanding yourassignment from the startwill save you time byensuring you start in theright direction
Step 1: Assignment requirements What class is this paper for? Who is your professor or instructor?
Step 1: Assignment requirements What is the specific word/page count? Briarpress.org
Step 1: Assignment requirementsDo you need: Historical or current material? Books Primary sources? Articles Newspapers Technical data or statistics? Data Photographs Primary Sources
Step 1: ExampleThis is SarahSarah has to write a 4 page paperfor her History 101 class. Herprofessor is Dr. Smith, and shehas asked the students to use atleast 3 peer-reviewed sourcesand 1 primary source
Step 2: Develop your topicCheck your syllabus andcourse notes to find a majortheme or area of interest foryouImagine you are describingyour topic to a friend. In yourown words, explain what youare researching
Step 2: ExampleSarah’s prof has asked the classto explore the Battle of Britain,and Germany’s use of air warfareto try to capture the UKSarah is specifically interested inwhy Germany’s tactics failed andhow it affected their war effortfor both sides
STEP 3: Focus your topicIt is important to set the parametersof your research topic to ensure it’snot too broadToo broad = too many resultsToo narrow = not enough results
Step 3: Focus your topicWays to help focus your topic: Read the abstracts from a handful of articles Read encyclopedia entries on your topic
STEP 3: Focus your TopicSome examples of parameters to focus your topic are: Geographic Period of Particular Areas Time Demographics Ex. Canada, Ex. pre-1970’s, Ex. students, North America current, post- specific culture, 2005 athletes
Step 3: ExampleSarah will examine Germany’sexperience in the Battle of Britain, aswell as only examining sources up toautumn of 1940Since the paper is only 4 pages,Sarah will only focus on how thebattle affected the Axis Powers
STEP 4: Identify keywordsMost library databases do not work like Google– they search exactly what you typeThat’s why it’s best to search using singlewords or short phrases – not long sentences
Step 4: ExampleSarah will search through the databases using thesewords & phrases: Battle of Britain Luftwaffe Germany Axis 1940
STEP 5: Talk to a librarianReference librarians are specialists in findinginformation which means they can save youtime in your research processGo through the four steps for your paper andbring it in to a reference librarian
Step 5: Talk to a librarianVisit library.ubc.ca:
Step 5: ExampleSarah went to library.ubc.caand found her subject librarian,Alex WongShe went to talk to Alex andbrought her answers to theprevious 4 steps so that shecould make the best use ofAlex’s knowledge