Research 411

Sarah Nielsen and Aline Soules

Hayward Campus:  Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012, 4:00 - 5:15 p.m., Rm. LI 3040

 
Think and Plan
 
Figuring Out a Topic

We can figure out a topic about anything. Honestly!
For example:  What kind of topics can we think of by looking at the floor?

What is the floor made of? Concrete? Carpet tiles? Linoleum?

What are each of these substances made of?  What are their advantages and disadvantages?  What is the history behind the creation of these types of floor coverings?  What are their aesthetic qualities?  What are their chemical properties?  How do these floor coverings last over time?  What about color options and how do they affect room occupants.  We can explore physics or psychology or art or other disciplines. And we've only just begun!
 
How do you find an "angle" for a topic? How do you "size" a topic?

Often, we find a topic through something we've read or seen on screen.  For example, on May 12, 2012, the New York Times ran an article on their "society page" called "Amy Goldman and Cary Fowler."  I wondered who they were and read this abstract:

"Dr. Fowler, 62, is the executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, a group in Rome that helps run theSvalbard Global Seed Vault, a bunker in the Arctic in Norway that contains hundreds of thousands of varieties, providing a sort of insurance policy against an agricultural Armageddon. [...]his book, which argued that agribusiness was eroding the genetic diversity of the world's food supply, turned her into an agricultural activist and a seed preservationist."

After viewing this story (the full story is at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/13/fashion/weddings/amy-goldman-and-cary-fowler-vows.html?pagewanted=all), here are the questions that came to mind:

Questions

  • What is the history and purpose of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault? Who funds the seed vault?
  • What is the history and purpose of the Global Diversity Trust? Who funds the trust?
  • Why is genetic diversity important in food crops?
  • Are Goldman's and Fowler's books on biodiversity and seed saving reliable?
  • What companies have contributed to a decline in biodiversity?
  • In what ways do these companies contribute to this decline in biodiversity?
  • What do these companies  have to say about their products and the benefits of these products?
  • What farming practices contribute to the decline in biodiversity?
Preliminary Exploration

In trying to answer the above questions, we will get more ideas about the topic we might want to explore in a paper.
 
First, we need to determine if the original source is authoritative.  In the case of the New York Times, it's fairly easy to do.  The New York Times is a known newspaper with a good reputation.  While it is also known for being more to the left politically, their articles make an effort to present several sides to an issue, so we can be confident that we are starting from a good source.  We also have a question about the reliability of Goldman and Fowler's books.  To check that out, we can do an "evaluation," something we should do with any material we use or even consider using.  Here's an evaluation technique to consider:  C.A.R.D.I.O.

C = Currency
A = Authority
R = Relevancy
D = Depth of information/Documentation
I = Information Type
O = Objectivity

In the article, Amy Goldman is described as "Dr. Goldman" and we are told that she is the executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, so that's a clue to use to find out more about her.  On my way to finding out about Dr. Goldman, I looked up the Trust through a simple Google search and clicked on their "Who We Are" tab at http://www.croptrust.org/content/who-we-are

I then clicked on their staff tab at http://www.croptrust.org/content/staff and scrolled down, looking for Dr. Goldman, but I didn't find her.  I did find Cary Fowler, though, and I read that he is now the current Executive Director of the Trust.  

I then tried to find out about the currency of their books.  There was nothing on amazon, which surprised me, so I did another Google search:  "amy goldman" "cary fowler," using quotation marks to make sure that the names within the quotation marks were together in my search results.  I discovered that they married, having met through the Trust.  I then decided to do a search on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amy_P._Goldman) and discovered that she is "one of the foremost heirloom plant conservationists in the United States."  I also looked up Dr. Fowler, who "is an American agriculturalist and the executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, based in RomeItaly. Previously, Dr. Fowler was Professor and Director of Research in the Department for International Environment & Development Studies at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences in ÅsNorway."

As for the rest of C.A.R.D.I.O., the original article is obviously relevant because it's my starting point, but it's likely not to be relevant later on because I'm not interested in their romance, but in the more substantive issue of diversity.  The articles I've look at so far are not particularly deep, but they have been useful on my way to where I'm going.  As for information type, they are not items I'd cite.  A newspaper article, maybe, depending on where I end up, but not this one.  Wikipedia, never, because I don't know who wrote those articles. Are they objective?  Maybe.  It seems so, but as these are just tools, not end points, I'm not too worried about it at this point.  The articles give me clues and help.
 
Once we've established that we're on a good track, we can focus on the questions and make a choice about what we'd like to review--the science of preserving seeds in a seed vault, the funding of efforts to preserve diversity, the role of companies in diversity and monoculture, and farming practices.  There are many angles.  We can choose one that interests us the most, which we decided was this:
 
Broad research topic:  How are companies approaching crop diversity?  
 
While we still need to narrow this further, it's a place to start.  Keep in mind that we need a qualifier for the word "diversity" because if we simply ask "How are companies approaching diversity?" it could be interpreted as a human resource topic.
 
Getting Started

Before
we start looking for background information, consider one or more of these strategies:
  • Be sure you understand the assignment (remember the first step on the assignment calculator?). If necessary seek clarification from your professor, classmates, or tutors.
  • Think about what you already know about the topic.
  • Use a pre-writing strategy, e.g., brainstorming, free writing, clustering, etc.) to help you to discover what you know and want to know about your topic.
  • Talk to your professor, classmates, friends, and family about the topic.
  • Look for ways to make the topic interesting to you.
  • Figure out a system for keeping track of the information you will find as you research your topic AND of your searches that don't work out (so you don't repeat them by mistake!)
  • Ask questions about the topic that will guide your initial research.s
Remember how this topic arose. As is typical, it relates to something already encountered--a news broadcast on TV, something we read, a Web discovery, something we heard in conversation. It piques our interest and provides a wonderful opportunity to explore and conduct research.

Using our preliminary topic, we can start our exploration. Remember that there are many sources we could search and the ones we choose will vary from topic to topic.
 
Getting Started

In a sense, we've started our overview already because we found some information as we were validating our original source, but now we want to focus in a little more by looking at how companies do or do not approach diversity and their driving factors.  How would we start?

The first thing to remember is that we are "detectives."  We are not only looking for information; we are looking for clues that we can use as terms to search in other places.  What we need first are some terms that we will use to search.  Remember our starting question:  "How are companies approaching crop diversity?" and remember some of the words we found in our original article. When picking terms, it's best to start with nouns and synonyms, if I can think of any.  I may change my terms as I go along and find more clues, but here are some possibilities I might use to begin:
  • companies OR businesses
  • "consumer demand" (the quotation marks keep the two words next to each other)
  • crop diversity OR seed diversity
  • Global Crop Diversity Trust
  • "seed bank*"
  • Svalbard
  • Amy Goldman
  • Cary Fowler
We have plenty of terms to begin.

Where Do We Go Next?
  • databases, which are more current than books because they cover journal articles, book chapters, approved Web sites, reports, etc.
  • library catalog, which covers whole books, whole journals, and media
  • Selected Websites that may offer research on this topic (university sites; government sites; both state and federal, possibly some reputable newspapers, depending on whether you are doing an article that requires scholarly peer reviewed articles )
Databases
Go to the Library home page, click on "Databases A-Z" or search the "Subject Guides" tab.  Because we are interested in companies and the business aspect of this topic, will start with 

Academic Search Premier, a general database
and combine it with
Business Source Premier, a business database

As a side note, if we look for the full text and it is not available in the database we are searching, we can click on "Check SFX for more information" and see if the full text is elsewhere in the library holdings.  If not, we can ask for it through Interlibrary Loan.

I begin with a simple search for 
  • compan* AND
  • "crop diversity"
I get a small number of results and some are repetitive, but they give me more information and more clues.  They lead me to SUBJECTS, which are often more effective than keywords, so I use these in my next search, as well as reading the article about Dupont's pledge of $1M to the Global Crop Diversity Trust, a newspaper article.  SUBJECTS of use might be "crop diversification" "agricultural diversification" and "agricultural industries."

My next search:
  • DE "AGRICULTURAL diversification" AND
  • seed*
I get a few more results and find an academic journal article called "Banking Seed: Use and Value in the Conservation of Agricultural Diversity."  First, the article tells me that the problem has been going on since the 1930s and that the primary international response has been "ex situ genebanks," that is seed banks.  The author, van Dooren, suggests that this will not work because humans decide which seeds to bank and who can access them.  He recommends "a brand of conservation that includes whole biosocial, more-than-human communities," and suggests that "genebanks might instead take the place of central nodes in networks of diversity sharing, helping to keep plant varieties growing and circulating. This focus, in turn, requires that we also pay more critical attention to the various economic, legal and other mechanisms that prevent or stifle the flow and development of plant genetic resources in/to agricultural communities—especially those of peasant and indigenous farmers that play such a crucial role in conserving the world's (agro)biodiversity."

Now that we have this much information, we can also search another set of databases:

ProQuest Newsstand, which covers international newspapers
ABI/Inform Complete, a business research database, also on the ProQuest platform
CQ Researcher, which is a Congressional Quarterly database of reports prepared for Congress on topics of interest to Congressional leaders

ABI/Inform Complete
  • "agricultural diversity"
  • seed*
  • compan*
Limited by dates:  2008-2013.

One of the results is a report from the OECD titled "Competitiveness, Productivity and Efficiency in the Agricultural and Agri-Food Sectors."  Here is the abstract:  "This report reviews the literature on competitiveness, productivity and efficiency in the agricultural and agri-food sectors. It clarifies concepts and terminology used in this area, and provides a critical assessment of approaches and indicators used in the literature to measure competitiveness, productivity and efficiency at sectoral and farm levels. It also discusses recent findings on productivity growth, changes in relative competitiveness between sub-sectors and countries, and determinants of competitiveness, in addition to identifying the major knowledge gaps. This report suggests that more attention should be paid to the agri-food sector, non-price factors of competitiveness, and the impact of government intervention on competitiveness."  

This sounds as if it's very much on topic.

If using ProQuest Newspapers, be sure to limit by date because this is a very big database.  Note, too, that it offers only newspaper articles, not scholarly peer reviewed materials.

In CQ Researcher, there is a simple search box available.  On entering "crop diversity," several reports are listed and their titles alone give other possible angles for our topic:  world hunger, farm policy, genetically engineered foods, farm subsidies, global food crisis, food safety battle: organic vs. biotech--many choices.
 
Library Catalog

Although many of the library's materials are not as current as we would like, there are a number of recent ebooks and government documents.  Because the materials listed in the catalog are larger than in the databases (whole books and journal titles rather than book chapters and articles, for example), a broader search is advised.  The search for this topic might begin with
  • crop diversity
and we might find a title that would lead us to more SUBJECTS rather than keywords.  One title, "Genetic time bomb," a video, dates back to 1994, but one of the subject headings is "Food crops -- Losses -- Prevention" and that leads us to the subject index where we find fewer items under that heading, but items that are more on target.  Since we learned earlier that this problem has been in existence since the 1930s, we might find "Shattering : food, politics, and the loss of genetic diversity" a useful title, even though it was published in 1990.  At the very least, it would provide us with background information.

Web
  • We have already looked at the web site for the Global Crop Diversity Trust, but we can also look for other web sites as long as we evaluate them carefully!
    Tracking and Citation
     
    Throughout this process, we track what we find and what gives us dead ends (so we don't repeat these searches accidentally).
     
    Go to our home page, scroll down and click on "Cite Your Sources."  This leads to links and tutorials on various citation formats.

    Next Steps
     
    Now that we've got this far, we want to create a working outline that will let us start writing. This may not be our final outline and we may circle around, writing a little, going back and researching some more, adjusting our outline, writing again, and so on, but this will help us to get anchored, as we start writing.
     
     
    Working Thesis
    Governments around the world should enact policies that support biodiversity in food crops because failure to do so could lead to severe food shortages.
     
    Working Outline

    Introduction

    A. Brief discussion of the history of agriculture in the US, from small, multi-crop farms to large, single-crop farms

    B. Introduce the problem that single-crop farms decrease biodiversity in food crops, which increases the risk of famine if a key crop fails on a large scale


    C. Statement of thesis: Governments around the world should enact policies that support biodiversity in food crops because failure to do so could lead to severe food shortages.



    Body

    A. Problem: Biodiversity in food crops has decreased since the 1930s.

     

    1. As human populations have increased so has the need for food.

    2. Much of the US agriculture industry has addressed this problem by increasing the yield of a few key crops that are grown on large farms.

    3. This move to single-crop farms has decreased the biodiversity of food crops and increases the risk of famine because of crop failure.

    B. Historical and current approaches to addressing the problem of decreased biodiversity in food crops

    1. Seed banks: overview 1930 to now

    2. NGOs: example of Global Diversity Trust

    3. Government policies/laws: find examples of these, maybe one that seems to support biodiversity and another that allows agricultural companies to control seeds


    C. Limitations of current approaches

    1. Limited access to seed banks

    2. Policies and laws that discourage seed saving and sharing

     

    D. Solution: Governments around the world enact policies and laws that support biodiversity in food crops.

    1. Justification for government regulation of biodiversity of food crops

    2. Examples of policies and laws already in place that support biodiversity of food crops

    3. Discussion of additional policies and laws that would further support biodiversity of food crops


    Conclusion

    We could conclude with a call to action, or we could end on a cautionary note reminding readers that there are historical examples of famine due to the overreliance on one crop.


    Tutorials

    Various tutorials are available to help you with your research and your writing.  Here is the link:

    https://sites.google.com/site/alinesoules/library-support/tutorials

    Need Help?

    Go to the library home page at http://library.csueastbay.edu. Look at the "Ask Us" box.  Try chat, email or phone. You can also visit us in person.

    For information about this Google site, contact
    aline.soules@csueastbay.edu
    sarah.nielsen@csueastbay.edu
    __________________________________________________________
    copyright Sarah Nielsen and Aline Soules 2012
    under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States
    http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/us/
      
     
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