The best way to narrow your topic is to apply a few of the old familiar question words, like who, what, where, when, why, and how.
Research Strategies Getting Started
About this TutorialStudents:This tutorial will help you:• Choose a research topic• Identify key terms• Determine information needs and what resources to use• Understand the publication cycle of information sourcesIt should take you about 15 minutes to complete.Faculty:• This tutorial was made using Microsoft PowerPoint 2007.• This tutorial will help students – broaden or narrow their search terms for research topics. – determine information needs – select the best resources for finding information This tutorial meets the following ACRL standards: 1.1a 2.1d 1.1d 2.2b 1.2a 2.2c 1.2c 2.4c 1.4a 3.2c 2.1a 3.7a
What to watch for…Notes – These are to let you know there is important information you need to know about what is being covered.
Research doesn’t have to be difficult. It is simply a matter of finding the right tools for the job. This tutorial will introduce you to some of the tools you will use and what steps you need to take to start a research project.http://www.flickr.com/photos/ebarney/3348964025
Choosing a TopicMost research projects are assignments given by a professor. The project will be easier if your topic: Is applicable to the assignment guidelines and Is something that YOU are interested in.
Key Words One of the first steps to finding good research materials is determining the key words or phrases to use in a search. First you need to decide what question you want your research to answer. For example: If the topic your professor gave you was drug use in your community, your question might be • Does drug use influence the drop-out rate among high school students? • How does drug abuse affect the local economy? In the questions above the key words or phrases are highlighted to show what terms you might use when searching information resources.http://www.legis.state.wi.us/senate/sen11/news/images/questions.jpg
Things that you should consider when forming aquestion you want to answer in your research are: Time, Place, Population & Viewpoint Consider if your history professor asked you to write a paper on the Civil War. That is a lot of history to cover in a few pages. You need to narrow your topic. By using the limiters above you can refine your topic to a more specific topic, which will be easier to manage within the time frame of the assignment.
Once again, if your topic is the Civil War, here are some ideas that might help to narrow the topic:Time – • Instead of looking at the whole war, you could pick aWhen? What has happened since specific year or event that took place.then? Between what years?Place –Consider customs or traditions and • How did the location affect the outcome? What culturallanguage as well as geographicconsiderations. influences were there?Population – • How did the war affect children? What contributions didThink about women make to the war? Who were the Africangender, age, occupation, ethnicity, nationality, education, etc. American heroes of the Civil War?Viewpoint – • You could look at the political parties, or the legal orWhat economic effects of the war. There are a lot ofsocial, legal, medical, ethical, biologi possibilities!cal, psychological, economic, political, philosophical concerns arose fromthe Civil War?
If your search doesn’t provide enough information, then you might want to be less specific or add different keywords to b r o a d e n your search. Topic Broad Related NarrowCivil War Civil War Battles •The Battle of Antietem •General George B. McClellan •Maryland Campaign of 1862. •Preliminary drafts of the Emancipation Proclamation To b r o a d e n a topic you may need to find synonyms to the words you are already using. Some writers may use different terms to describe an event or place. This will give you more results as you search for information resources. Term Synonym military soldiers, armed forces battle campaign, siege
Remember:Asking questions can help youdetermine how much informationis available on your topic andwhether you need to narrow orb r o a d e n your search terms.
There are countless resources forWhere do I begin? doing research – books, magazines, newspapers, journals, websites and more.When looking for and refining a topic, here are a few great places to start –reference materials, books indexes, and article bibliographies.
Reference Materials Encyclopedias – These provide a quick reference to a topic and give you a brief outline of events, key people and places that might help you chose a topic.Almanacs – These books are great forquick references of statistics and keycurrent events (for the yearpublished). Thesaurus – A helpful guide to synonyms that might be used as keywords for searching information resources.
Indexes andBibliographies Indexes and chapter headings can give you ideas for breaking down topics into more specific terms. Bibliographies are a great place to find additional resources. If you have a great article and need more information, look in the bibliography to see sources the author used.
Publication CycleIt is important to know how current the information is regardingyour topic. Also you need to know how thorough the information isthat each source provides.If you are researching the U.S. Civil War, then you have countlessresources that could be current or published in years past, but if youwere going to research the present civil war in Chad, you needinformation that is days, weeks or months old rather than years.
Publication Cycle TimelineRadio / Television –Pros: Current information, discussion, opinions and commentary.Timely updates.Cons: Can be biased. Information comes in pieces and is not alwaysa complete picture of a situation.
Publication Cycle TimelineNewspapers –Pros: Information current to the day or weekof publication, quick resource for names, factsand immediate reactions to what is happening.Cons: Can be biased so check several sources beforeusing the information for a more complete view of atopic. Not as in-depth .
Websites –Pros: Usually very current , but can Publicationcontain historical information also.Cons: Sometimes can be difficult to Cycledetermine the reliability of the Timelinesource. Not always significant depthto the information. May be moreopinion or bias than facts.
Gov Docs –These can be federal, state or local publications.Pros: Official government documents, goodsource of statistics and reports, current andhistorical.Cons: Lacking in personal narratives if that iswhat your topic needs. Can be timeconsuming to comb through all theinformation. Publication Cycle Timeline
Popular Magazines –Anything from Time, Life and Newsweek to Good Housekeeping and Sports Illustrated.Pros: Written for the general population, they make good quick references for current events.Cons: Information is a broad overview of topics, may not give the specific details required forgood research. Publication Cycle Timeline
Scholarly Journals – Usually has the word “journal” in the title, like the Journal of Comparative Social Welfare or the Journal of Microbiology. Very subject- specific. Pros: In-depth research from peer- reviewed sources. Serious research done by experts in the field. Cons: It might be too specific and jargon-filled to understand withoutPublication basic, preliminary research. Cycle Timeline
Publication Books – Cycle Pros: Lots of ready information, strong contextual explanations, and Timeline can also provide quick reference by using chapter headings and indexes. Cons: Takes time to get published so they are not always as current as the issue you may be researching.
Publication Cycle Timeline Reference Materials – Dictionaries, Almanacs, Encyclopedias Pros: Quick facts, statistics, and synonyms. Great for getting started. Cons: Takes longer to publish so information is not as current. No in-depth material.
Popular Magazines – Anything from Time, Life and Newsweek to Oprah, Good Housekeeping and Sports Illustrated. Pros: Written for the general population, they make good quick references for current events Cons: Information is a broad overview of topics, may not give the specific details required for good research.Gov Docs – Scholarly Journals –These can be federal, state or local publications. Usually has the word Journal in the title, like thePros: Official government documents, good Journal of Comparative Social Welfare or thesource of statistics and reports, current and Journal of Microbiology. Very subject specific.historical. Pros: In-depth research from peer- reviewedCons: Lacking in personal narratives if that is sources. Serious research done bywhat your topic needs. Can be timeconsuming to comb through all the experts in the field. Cons: It might be too specific andinformation. jargon-filled to understand withoutWebsites – basic, preliminary research.Pros: Usually very current , but can Take a Publication Books –contain historical information also.Cons: Sometimes can be difficult to moment to Cycle Pros: Lots of ready information, in- depth in context and also providesdetermine the reliability of the Timeline review. quick reference by using chaptersource. Not always much depth to headings and indexes.the information. May be more Cons: Takes time to get published soopinion or bias than facts. they are not always as current as theNewspapers – issue you may be researching.Pros: Information current to the day or week Reference Materials –of publication, quick resource for names, facts Dictionaries, Almanacs, Encyclopediasand immediate reactions to what is happening. Pros: Quick facts, statistics, and synonyms.Cons: Can be biased so check several sources before Great for getting started.using the information for a more complete view of a Cons: Takes longer to publish so informationtopic. Not as in-depth . is not as current. Not in-depth material. Radio / Television – Pros: Current information, discussion, opinions and commentary. Timely updates. Cons: Can be biased. Information comes in pieces and is not always a complete picture of a situation.
Remember…When starting research: • Choose a topic that interests you and fits the assignment guidelines. • Develop a question that you want your research to answer. • Determine the keywords or phrases that you will use to search. • Choose the best information resources based on how current and detailed you need the information to be.
Remember this is just how to start your research.The next few modules will be more specific onhow to use the information resources outlined inthis tutorial.You’re off to a good start, but you can review thisor any of the modules anytime you need by goingto the Tutorials page on the Library’s website.