“Writing is an exploration.
You start from nothing and learn as you go.”
-- E.L. Doctorow
Like writing, research is also an exploration. It's a process during which ideas develop and change. As you gather information, analyze and synthesize it, you may find that your preconceived notions are cofirmed, refuted, or modified based on what you discover. Be open to new ideas and new directions. Allow yourself to learn as you go.
Explore for Ideas
Need a paper topic? Try browsing the current periodials on the main floor of the library. Look at articles in journals, magazines and newspapers. Find something that interests you, something you would like to explore. See our subject guides for recommendations in your area.
Narrow Your Topic
Use the five Ws to narrow your topic:
- Who? (populations by age, gender, race/ethnicity)
- What? (specific aspect of your topic)
- When? (timeframe)
- Where? (place, geographic location)
- Why? (causes)
Find Background Information
Put your topic in context with a general overview of the subject. Consult reference sources such as almanacs, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and handbooks to gather basic facts and establish a foundation for your argument. Browse the reference collection on the main floor of the library, using our subject guides to point you in the right direction. Here are three excellent general reference sources to get you started:
- CQ Researcher -- weekly briefings on social, political, economic, international and scientific issues
- Encyclopaedia Britannica -- the complete encyclopedia, along with timelines and a world atlas
- Credo reference -- a general reference collection of over 500 titles covering every major subject
There's usually more than one way to describe your topic. As you gather background information, make a list of keywords that describe or are related to your topic. Once you've formulated a research question, look at the keywords in your question and brainstorm for synonyms. Use various combinations of the keywords to search for books and articles in the library's databases.
Example: What is the connection between smoking and depression among teenagers?
||high school students
Academic research requires sources that are relevant, authoritative and accurate. If you have any doubts about the quality of your resources, talk to your professor or ask a librarian to help you find appropriate materials.
Books -- Use the online catalog to find books here in Funderburg Library. If we don't have what you need, try searching WorldCat, the world's largest library catalog. If you find something useful, click on "Borrow this item from another library" to request an interlibrary loan. Remember that when you're searching for books, sometimes you have to think broader than your specific topic. For example, instead of searching for a book on beagles, look for books on dogs. Then check the table of contents and/or the index for information on beagles.
Magazines and Newspapers -- Academic Search Premier and Lexis-Nexis Academic are two good places to start your research. Both are general databases that contain articles on a wide variety of subjects. You can be more specific with your searches and are more likely to find entire articles written on your topic.
Scholarly Journals -- Scholarly or peer reviewed journals contain articles written by academics and reviewed by a panel of peers in their field before being accepted for publication. As you advance in your studies, your professors will increasingly want you to rely on scholarly journals in your research. In Academic Search Premier (or any of the EBSCO databases), check the box next to "Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals" to limit your search to these journals. To learn more about scholarly journals, check out Scholarly Journals, Popular Magazines and Practitioner Journals.
Websites -- Information you find on the Internet can vary in quality and reliability. Remember--anyone can create a web page. Evaluating Web Sites can help you with the critical task of determining which Internet resources are suitable for your research. Using a subject guide such as Best of the Web can help lead you to qualified websites.
Find Additional Information
The books, articles and websites you've found can lead you to other helpful resources. If you've found a good book in the online catalog or a good article in a database, take a look at the subject headings to get ideas for alternative searches. When you go to the shelf to find a book, remember that there may be other helpful books nearby. Examine titles, tables of contents and indexes to find out. Finally, look at the bibliographies of your books and articles for further reading. Research involves investigative skills, so keep an eye out for leads that can help you get a better understanding of your subject.