Researching Topics

Researching Topics

from OWL.

1  To begin researching, start with what kinds of information you need to find.
A. Ask these specific questions about your topic:
1.  What words, terms, or phrases do I need to define and how can I define them? 
2.  What specific examples do I need to illustrate my thesis and what do these examples mean for my thesis?
3. What specific data do I need to provide statistics to support my thesis and how can I explain this data?
4.  What kinds of expert validation do I need to support the conclusions that I make?
5.  Who are experts that are writing on this topic?
6.  What will make a good opening attention-getter?
7.  What will make a good closing attention-getter?
B. Answer the questions on paper with specific terms and notes.
1. Write down specific terms or key words that connect to the above answers to the questions and to the topic for searches in the library and on the Internet.
2. List anything that will connect to your topic and which can give you search terms to provide you with information.
2. Compile a bibliography of sources on your topic.

A. A bibliography is a list of sources about a subject.

1.  It uses the same documentation form as that used in listing the references used in writing the paper.

2. See Documentation formats.

 B.  There are three basic types of bibliographies.
1.  A formal bibliography may be required by an instructor or publishers. 
a.  It contains only the publishing information for the work.
b.  The formal bibliography is a typed list intended for others’ use.

2.  An annotated bibliography contains the publishing information and a brief description of the contents of the work.

a. It may or may not be a part of the formal bibliography.
b. It is useful to both the writer and the readers.

3.  A working bibliography, one developed for the researcher’s personal use, includes annotations as well as references to the works’ locations, such as library call numbers or addresses or phone numbers for interviewees.

a. This type of bibliography is generally the writer’s initial bibliography.
b. Although format accuracy is not important with this type of bibliography, using accurate format may save time.


 3. Where to Find Sources

A. Always go to the library first since it has the best catalogued sources and, thus, the most easily researched sources.

1. Before you start your search, determine whether you want to look for books or periodicals.

a. The more current the information that you need, the more you will want to search for magazines.
b. However, check both at some point.

2. Select The Library Catalog for books.3. Select General Magazines for periodicals.

a. Select Expanded academic index if you can’t find material under General Magazines.
b. Usually General Magazines will contain many of the same listings that the Expanded academic index will have.

4. Once you get to Search the Library Catalog section or Search Magazines, you can use your list that you created earlier.

B. Begin your search with books.

1. Books provide a much easier way to browse through information than do computer sources since you have two pages open before you at the same time.

a.  Book indexes and tables of contents are also quicker to browse for information.
b. Book information is also easier to validate, particularly since information taken from an academic institution has already gone through a validation process.

2. Once you find a book on your subject, check books located near that one in the stacks.

a. Check the table of contents and index of each book.
b. Look for bibliographies that might give you other sources that you can get through Interlibrary Loan.

3. If the computers are tied up, use the Dewey Decimal numbers to organize your search.

a. Find which areas connect to your subject.
b. Search that area in the stacks.

D. Search the reference section–use this section for quick, factual information, such as definitions, dates, quotes, bibliographies, and biographies.

1. Use the Dewey Decimal List to find your way through the Reference Section.2. The reference section includes general encyclopedias, specialized encyclopedias, dictionaries, almanacs, yearbooks, directories, biographical information, bibliographies, abstracts, etc.
3. Use these sources for specific background information.4.  Also use these books to lead you to other sources and to provide terms, keywords, subjects, and names to use in your searches.
5.  Avoid letting these sources become your primary sources; they are supplementary sources to be used to explain, backup, and lead to primary sources.

E.  Search the periodicals–focus mainly on journals, but don’t neglect magazines which can have pertinent, current information.
  F.  There are also pamphlets available in the Vertical File, but they are usually catalogued in PALS and will indicate so.
G.  Nontraditional research venues–interviews, community resources, nonacademic libraries, etc.—are also important sources.
H.  Remember that not all information comes from print or electronic sources.

5. Internet Searches

A. There are two methods of searching:  using key words, as you did in library searches, or searching web addresses, if you have them available.

1. To do a word search, you need to select a Search Engine, such as Google, Alta Vista, Yahoo!,Web Crawler, Infoseek, or MSN, etc.2. Most of the engines which are offered for Internet searches search the World Wide Web, but they will differ in their methods of searching.
3. When searching, use certain Boolean characters to fine-tune your search.

a. A + sign will demand that that word or term be a part of the hits.
b. Putting terms in quotation marks will also focus the search.

B. As mentioned earlier, you must be careful in selecting what information is useful.

1. To begin this evaluation, study the individual match summaries.
2. Look at the relevancy percentage since the higher the percentage, the greater the relevance.

3. Look for an individual author’s name or source.

a. Some authors are recognizable experts in a field.b. Be skeptical about sites with authors who list first names only.
c. Be skeptical about sites which list no authors or sources.

4. Study the URL (Universal Resource Locator) for clues about the source.

a. The URL is the web address that specifies the access location and the server location (as in

b. Most URL’s break down in this fashion:i. http:// means “hypertext transfer protocol” and refers to the electronic regulations used for this file ii. www. refers to World Wide Web and is the machine on which the file is stored iii. Other machines are Telnet or Gopher, for example, and they would lead into the middle section of the address. iv. The middle section of the address contains a site which is followed by the type of organization and a reference to countries outside the United States, such as UK for United Kingdom.
v. edu. indicates an education institution, such as a college or university. vi. org. indicates a nonprofit organization, such as NationalPublic Radio or Red Cross or National Rifle Association. vii. com. indicates companies or commercial groups, such Time magazine. viii. gov. indicates government agencies, such as the IRS. ix. mil. indicates military sites.

c. By examining the URL, researchers can sometimes know whether the origin of the material is legitimate without having to read or even see the actual document.

i. For example,
ii. This URL says that the protocol is http, the domain is the world wide web, the port is the University of Heidelberg, located in Germany (de is the abbreviation for Deutschland).
iii. The rest of the address indicates that the subject is a responsive log about medieval history.

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