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ISF 190: Thesis Seminar: Research fundamentals

Advice, suggestions and strategies for researching your ISF Thesis.

Guides

The Research Process

1. State your problem as a question as succinctly as possible. 

2. 'Brain dump': Write down what you already know about your topic, including

  • Names of people, organizations, companies, time period you are interested in, places of interest [countries, regions, cities], conceptual terms...

3. Decide what disciplinary methodologies you plan to use: e.g., sociology, political science, literature, psychology...

4. Fill in the gaps in your knowlege: get background information from specialized encyclopedias or other secondary sources.  Wikipedia can sometimes be good here, or Google News.

5. Select the best places/ databases to find information on your topic from the Library's list of databases by subject. Or use a catalog like Oskicat or Melvyl to search for books and other resources.

6. Use nouns from your brain dump as search terms.  

7. Evaluate what you find.  Change search terms to get closer to what you really want.

8. Refine Your Search Words - Using the information you have gathered, determine if your research words should be narrower or broader. You may need to search basic resources again using your new, focused topics and keywords.  

 

How is interdisciplinary research different?

How can you do truly interdisciplinary research, when most research sources are discipline-specific? Most of us learn to do research within a discipline, but you need to become adequate in multiple disciplines for this course.

  • Determine which disciplinary methods you will use- to know WHERE to search and how to use what you find.

    How? 
     
    • Look in a specialized encyclopedia to get background information on research methods for a specific discipline.  For an econ related topic, you could use An encyclopedia of macroeconomics.
  • Become conversant with the terminology of all relevant disciplines- to know HOW to search [i.e., which words to use as search terms]

    How? 
     
  • Understand what kinds of sources are considered legitimate by those disciplines- to know WHAT to search for.

    How?
     
    • specialized encyclopedia will probably have an essay on methods of research that will explain what sources are appropriate.

  • Learn what kinds of research questions are valid in the disciplines you are working with.

    How?
     
    • Reading other research articles in the discipline is the best way to learn about what questions are considered valid.

Find specialized encyclopedias for your disciplines:

  1. Open Oskicat
  2. Type encyclopedia and a word or phrase describing your topic, such as development
  3. See what comes up.
  4. If that doesn't work, try typing handbook and a word or phrase describing your topic such as organizational behavior
  5. If that doesn't work, ask a librarian.

 

B.E.A.M.

What sort of articles and data do you need to find for your paper?  Scholarly, for sure, but there are many others:

  • news
  • laws and statutes
  • statistics
  • interviews
  • 'primary sources'

It's helpful when doing your research to think about how you will use what you find.  The acronym BEAM helps you make sure you find materials that will do the job you need in your paper. Research papers need materials in all four categories.  

B = Background information.    Do you know the seminal works, major scholars and theories in your topical area?  What about the actual definitions of the disciplinary jargon you're using?  Scholarly encyclopedias are the best source of background information: look in Oskicat under your discipline, with the word encyclopedias, [sociology encyclopedias]. Could also use Wikipedia, a textbook, a newspaper, or any source that fills you in on your big topic. 

E = Evidence   Often called primary sources, evidence is the stuff you are studying in your research.  Evidence could be news coverage, laws, court cases, personal interviews, statistics or data... whatever helps you prove your thesis.

A = Analysis  Here are the secondary sources-- analysis is usually written by faculty scholars or technical experts, who are themselves analyzing evidence that they may include or cite.  As a student writing a paper, you are doing analysis, so it's important to refer to the work of others studying the same topic

M = Methodology  This means the methods and questions you will use to analyze your evidence.  Each discipline has its own favorite ways of asking questions and its own ideas about what sort of information can serve as evidence.  You must know which methods are suitable to the disciplines you are working within.  To find methodology, search for books by using the name of the discipline and the word methodology.  E.g. Sociology method*.

[Bizup, Joseph.  "BEAM: A Rhetorical Vocabulary for Teaching Research-Based Writing." Rhetoric Review Vol. 27, Iss. 1, 2008]

Forward Citations

If an article is relevant to your topic, it can be very helpful to see who has cited it. There are several different ways to do this, and the results will overlap --  no single method is comprehensive.

Google Scholar provides forward citations for some articles. It has a broader range of documents included (not just peer reviewed journals, but reports, pre-prints, etc.) and doesn't eliminate self citation or de-duplicate the results.

ISI Web of Science contains the Social Science Citation Index which allows you to do a "Cited Reference" search. This shows other articles (from a prestigious list of peer reviewed journals) which have cited the target article, and it also shows the references for the the original article... both forward and backward citation.

Screenshot below on how to get to the Cited Reference Search from the Social Science Citation Index.

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