Starting your Research

Effective research begins with an understanding of search strategies, including thoughtfully selecting your research topic (if it hasn't been chosen for you), as well as strategies for finding information and for evaluating what you've found to determine if it's a good choice for your project. 

 Finding background sources
 Evaluating sources
 Citing sources
 Using background sources  Taking notes
 Respecting copyright

Getting Started - Think Ahead

Selecting a Topic - helpful pointers and skills from the University of Washington

If you’re in the process of selecting or narrowing your topic, consider the types of sources required for the assignment and assess the following:
•    Availability of those types of sources for your topic
•    Your ability to understand such sources if you find them

For instance, if a topic has emerged recently (e.g. Tea Party Movement) and the assignment requires you to consult scholarly studies, there may not be enough scholarship available about your topic in order to complete the assignment successfully. 

Similarly, if you’re considering a topic that is technical, scientific, legal, or financial in nature (e.g. Internet privacy) and the assignment requires you to consult scholarly studies, such studies may stretch beyond your ability to comprehend without investing significant time in learning the specialized vocabulary, concepts, or formulas involved.

Searching Smarter - Key Words, Subject Terms, and Boolean Operators
As you read about your topic, build a word bank of potential search terms by paying attention to the vocabulary used to discuss the topic and to key people, events, places, court cases, treaties, legislation, etc. associated with it.  If the source has subject headings/subject terms assigned to it (often true in a library catalog or database), take note of those as well.

When you're searching online, you'll need different search strategies depending on where you're searching - on the open web using a search engine like Google, or in a database like Science Direct.  Not all tools give you the option of using every strategy, but it's important to understand the options and their pros and cons.  This video from the University of Sydney provides an entertaining introduction to the power and logic of key words, synonyms, and Boolean operators.

Databases Search Strategies
Posts and videos from Ms. DeGroat about how to search for and save links to articles in databases.

Important search limiters in Science Direct

Saving the correct links to articles in databases

Learning the Lingo of a Discipline
When researching in an unfamiliar academic discipline, learning the lingo is one of the challenges.  If you're fascinated by language, examining how the vocabulary around a topic has fluctuated can be interesting too.  JSTOR's Data for Research (DFR) can help.  Use the Key Terms feature to learn the lingo of a discipline and the search interface to satisfy your curiosity about the changing vocabulary around a subject.  Want to download a data set to analyze for your Stats course?  DFR allows free downloading too.