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Humanities LibreTexts

7: Researching

  • Page ID
    170486
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    Learning Objectives
    • Objective 1: Search academic databases to find sources appropriate for college-level research
    • Objective 2: Evaluate sources of information to determine quality, credibility and appropriateness for use in college
    Learning Outcomes
    • Find, analyze, interpret, and properly cite print, non-print, and electronic sources using MLA style

    Chapter Overview

    You will be asked to write research papers for your college classes. Developing a plan of action for the research process will help you to methodically direct your efforts toward finding quality resources. This chapter will help you choose an appropriate topic and focus your research in relevant academic sources.

    Chapter Contents

    Step 1: Select a topic

    Sometimes your professor will give you a topic to research. If not, you will have to select a topic of interest to you based on the subject matter of the class and the requirements for the paper. You might browse through your course textbook or readings to get ideas or use a library database to brainstorm for ideas.

    Step 2: Do some background research

    Acquire a general understanding of the topic you choose. Use the reference collection in the EVC library or online reference sources, like the Opposing Viewpoints in Context database, to get an overview of your topic or to find general background information. Encyclopedias and reference articles will be very useful for this purpose.

    Step 3: Focus the topic

    General topics are usually very broad. Since most research papers require fewer than 15 pages, you will need to narrow your topic by finding a focus. Normally, you will get ideas from your background reading that will help you focus or narrow your topic. For example, if your general topic is global warming, you could focus on electric cars and their environmental impact.

    Step 4: Form a research question

    Turning your focused topic into a research question will help you explore your topic without bias. A question such as “Do electric cars benefit the environment?” will allow you to look at all aspects of the topic. Conversely, a statement such as “The benefits of electric cars on the environment” might limit your exploration and make your understanding of this topic relatively one-sided.

    Step 5: Define concepts or keywords

    Keywords are used to search and retrieve relevant resources from the library’s catalog and online databases. Your keywords need to be specific, simple and represent your topic. For example, the keywords for the question posed in Step 4 would be “electric cars” and “environment”. You might also need to find synonyms for your keywords, such as “automobiles” or “motor vehicles” or related terms such as “carbon footprint” or “global warming”. You might even need to refine your search with other terms such as “emissions”.

    Step 6: Conduct in-depth research

    Now that you have a focused research question and keywords to search with, you will need to find books and articles on your topic. Use your keywords to search the library’s catalog for books and the online databases for articles. Be sure to evaluate each source for its credibility, particularly if you also use websites from the World Wide Web. Take note of the bibliographic information (author, title, etc.) from your sources as you conduct your research.

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