Welcome to my research guide! I begin this guide by outlining the overall research process. It is a quick read to give you an overview of what you need to do to be successful in this or any research project and is chock-full of secret tips and tools I learned in my many years of intense librarian training. After this overview, I point you towards specific tools and resources to help you check this research project off of your to-do list. Please feel free to contact me at email@example.com with any questions, no matter how big or small.
The Research Process
Research breaks down into four essential steps. There is more detail on these steps below.
Step One: Defining Your Topic
When you are given a research assignment, take a few minutes to break it down to figure out what exactly you need to find so you know when you find it.
Step Two: Finding Your Sources
Search for and find sources that fulfill your research topic and assignment.
Step Three: Evaluating Your Sources
Decide if what you have found is good enough for you to use.
Step Four: Citing Your Sources
Create the citations in the appropriate style for your discipline.
Defining Your Topic
Before you dive headlong into a research project, it can be extremely helpful to take a minute to figure out what you need. If you don't know what exactly you are looking for, you won't know when you find it, right? Have your research assignment in front of you and answer these few questions to make sure you get what you need when you start searching.
1. What information do you need to answer your research question or understand your research topic?
2. How much information do you need to answer this question (Does your professor specify a certain amount of sources?)
3. What type of information do you need to answer this question? (Does your professor specify a certain type of source- scholarly, peer-reviewed, empirical study, primary, etc.)
4. Where can you find this information? (library catalog, library database, textbook, GoogleScholar, etc.)
Finding Your Sources
Now that you know what you need it is time to go find it! It is time to create your search strategy.
First, look at your research question or topic and identify main concepts or words that you can use as keywords. The library catalog and databases do not play well with full sentences- that is why we need to break your topic up into keywords.
Now you need to string your keywords together with Boolean Logic. What is Boolean Logic? Boolean Logic is just a special type of language that the library catalog and databases use to string your keywords together. More specifically, it is the words AND, OR, and NOT. Depending on what word you use, you will get a different number of results. Let's look at a quick graphic to understand this more.
If you are new to searching and Boolean Logic, I would suggest sticking with using the AND at first to string your keywords together.
Once you've decided on your search strategy, you have to pick where to search. I have suggestions of places to look in this guide. Make sure you look in more than one place because each offers different things. Even when it comes to databases, each database has a collection of different journals and articles. You may get different results in different databases even when using the same exact search strategy so it's worth it to look in more than one!
As you skim through your results, make sure you have a method for keeping track of promising titles to review and read later. You do not have to open a billion tabs. You can use Mendeley to store and organize your research (learn about Mendeley in this guide's "Cite" page) or most databases have some method of temporarily storing your flagged items (if the database is owned by EbscoHost you can select "Add to folder", if it is owned by Proquest you can select "Add to selected items". When you are done searching in either, you can select the folder icon in the upper right and then either email, print, or save what you've found so you can read it later).
Don't be afraid if you find the perfect source but the full text isn't there- we can get it for you! Try Journal Finder or InterLibrary Loan (learn how in this guide's "Find Articles" page)
Make sure to use what you find. If you find the perfect source for your topic, check its references to see if any of them look useful for your research. If a book looks useful, check our catalog and then Connect NY if we don't have it. If an article looks useful, check Journal Finder and submit an InterLibrary Loan request if we don't have it. If you need help, contact me! If you find the perfect source for your topic, check its subject headings and search for more sources using these words. Think about what terms it uses to talk about your topic and consider using them as keywords in a new search. Look at the authors and check to see if they have written more on the same topic.
Evaluating Your Sources
It's time to celebrate because you've found all of your sources and you are almost done! Before you go ahead and include what you've found in your project or paper, you want to take a minute and make sure you feel comfortable using these other people's work to support your own. In other words, are they good enough to include in your work?
This is evaluating your sources. I like to take a two-pronged approach to tackling this stage of the research process.
The first prong is evaluating your sources' usefulness. Generally, we are asking is this source useful for your research topic? More specifically, how does it help answer your research question or what does it contribute to your understanding of your research topic?
The second prong is evaluating your sources' quality. Generally, we are asking is this source high quality? Specifically, we consider things like is the author/publisher/source credible? Is it biased? Is the source current enough for your topic? Is the source accurate? Where does its information come from? Does it provide evidence? What is its intention?
Citing Your Sources
Now we come to perhaps the least interesting but most important part of research- citing your sources correctly. Determine which citation style is appropriate for your discipline and then check out the guidelines found here. Now that you've seen how precise and often painstaking citations can be, seriously consider learning Mendeley here. Mendeley will automatically create citations and complete bibliographies for you. Believe me- it is the best thing that has ever happened to you (academically).