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ISF 190: Thesis Seminar: Research fundamentals

Advice, suggestions and strategies for researching your ISF Thesis.


"Writing" from Analyzing Qualitative Data by Graham R. Gibbs

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. You can also use UC Library Search to find articles, 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.

    • 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]

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

    • 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.

    • 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 UC Library Search
  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.