Getting Started on ResearchWhat's In This Module:
- Choosing a research topic
- Learning more about a topic
- Narrowing your topic
- Tip sheet: A Topic Analysis Form
- Choosing the Right Tools
- General Tips
As you know, research can sometimes be a little stressful. It can be difficult to figure out where to start and how to best get to the information that you need. Making a plan can often help cut down on this stress, and help you get an idea of how to tackle your research. In this module, you will learn how to set up just such a plan, plus learn some tips and tricks on how to ease your "research jitters."
Choosing a Research Topic:
How do you choose a topic? There are so many possible topics out there, it can often be difficult to choose among them! No matter which you choose, be sure it's one that interests you! You will be doing a lot of work on this research project, and it will be more interesting and enjoyable if you do. If it is an assigned topic, look at it carefully. Does any part of it spark your interest or imagination more than the rest? So where do people find ideas for research topics? By looking around them for inspiration. Here are some ideas:
- Talk with your friends or classmates, or your professor
- Keep an eye out for interesting articles in magazines, the newspaper or journals
- Watch television or listen to the radio for ideas
- Browse encyclopedias, periodical indexes, and other sources, including sets such as CQ Researcher, Opposing Viewpoints, and Current Controversies. Ask a reference librarian if your library owns these resources
- Look at the back-of-the-book index of the texts you're using for your classes
- Look at some of the following online web sources
- Documents in the News--primary texts for significant events form 1995 to the present.
- Ethics: Applied Ethics--updated information on ethical issues from "Abortion" to "World Hunger."
- FRONTLINE Online--examines a variety of worldwide controversial issues.
- Hot Paper Topics--links to various locations where information on popular research paper topics can be found.
- Idea Generator--ideas for term papers and speeches
Learning More About a Topic:
Before you begin to search for resources, it can be helpful to have at least some knowledge of your topic. One way is to consult a general encyclopedia such as WorldBook, Encarta, or check out an online reference desk for an online encyclopedia such as Refdesk.com. Encyclopedias can benefit you in several ways. They give:
- A broad overview of your topic
- Ideas for narrowing your topic, if necessary
- Definitions of terms used in the field
- A bibliography for further reading and research
- Ideas for keywords and synonyms
Narrowing Your Topic:
Narrowing your topic can help to make your research project more manageable. There are many ways in which your can narrow a topic. For example, you can use any of the following standards limiters: Broad Topic: American Politics
- Person (Abraham Lincoln, Jesse Jackson, Margaret Chase Smith)
- Geographic Area (Chicago political machine,Florida and presidential elections, New Hampshire primary)
- Area of Study (presidential elections, electoral college, congressional politics, grass roots movements)
- Time Period (Pre-Revolutionary War, Vietnam War, 1870's)
Also, check with your professor. He or she probably has extensive experience with the subject area you are interested in, and will be able to help you decide upon your final topic.
Choosing the Right Tools for the Right Job:
Libraries have many different types of resources available, each with a distinct purpose. As you use the library more and more, you will learn which resource can provide the information you need. As you look at a new resource, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does this resource cover the time period I am dealing with?
- Does this resource cover the discipline(s) under which my topic falls (psychology, education, business)?
- Does this resource index the types of materials I am looking for (books, newspapers, magazines, scholarly journals, statistics, biographical information)
The need to do research can cause anxity. However, there are ways to reduce that anxiety. Librarians will do their share to help cut down on the stress by providing access to quality library resources and by consulting with library users. How can you as a user make research time less stressful and more productive? Easy!
- Start early! Keep in mind that research is very time-consuming. Plan on a minimum of four hours just for researching, printing and tracking down books and articles, and seven to ten days to to get books or photocopies of articles which you need to request from other libraries. If you give yourself more time to complete your research, unexpected delays won't cause as much of a problem. If you wait until the last minute, those unexpected delays could derail your whole project!
- Plan ahead! When is your project due? Will you need Interlibrary Loan? How does the due date fit in with the due dates of projects for other classes?
- Have a clear understanding of the assignment! What exactly are you supposed to do? When is it due? Clear up any questions with your professor prior to beginning your research.
- Know what types of materials you are looking for! Do you need books or articles? Are popular resources such as magazines acceptable or are you to use only scholarly resources? Are there chronological limits on the resources (ex. "must be written in the last five years")? Are web pages found via a search engine acceptable?
- Remember that research requires patience and flexibility! Even though computers can speed up the process, they do not have your knowledge, intuition, and experience. It takes time to get the results you want.
- Ask for help when you need it! Reference librarians are very familiar with the research process and with library resources. They will be glad to help you at any stage of the process!
Next Module: Finding Books (URSUS)