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POLI SCI 2 Intro to Comparative Politics: The Academic Process

Wendy Muse Sinek

The Research Process

Choose a topic.  

Do a brain dump: Note 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]

Fill in the gaps in your knowlege: get background information from encyclopedias or other secondary sources.  Wikipedia can be good here.

Select the best places/ databases to find information on your topicLook at some of the databases on later tabs of this guide for article database suggestions. Or use a catalog like Oskicat or Melvyl to search for books and other resources.

Use nouns from your brain dump as search terms.

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

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

Take a look this short tutorial on beginning your research for more ideas.

Scholarly and Popular Sources

The table below shows which characteristics are more commonly associated with scholarly or popular sources. Both scholarly and popular sources can be appropriate for your research purposes, depending on your research question, but research assignments will often require you to consult primarily with scholarly materials. 

  Scholarly Popular
Authors: Experts such as scientists, faculty, and historians Generalists, including bloggers, staff writers, and journalists; not always attributed
Examples: Journal of Asian History, New England Journal of Medicine, Chemical Reviews, Educational Psychologistbooks from University presses such as Oxford University Press and the University of California Press Wikipedia, CNN.com, About.com; People Magazine, USA Today; bestselling books; books from popular publishers like Penguin and Random House
Focus: Specific and in-depth Broad overviews
Language: Dense; includes academic jargon Easier to read; defines specialized terms
Format: Almost always include: abstracts, literature reviews, methodologies, results, and conclusions Varies
Citations: Include bibliographies, citations, and footnotes that follow a particular academic style guide No formal citations included; may or may not informally attribute sources in text 
Before publication: Evaluated by peers (other scholars)  Edited by in-house editors or not edited at all
Audience: Specialists in the subject area: students, professors and the author's peers General readers; shouldn't require any special background
Design: Mostly text, with some tables and charts; very little photography; no advertising Glossy images, attractive design; photo illustrations and advertising are more common
Purpose: Communicating research findings; education;  Entertainment; news

What is Peer Review?

Your instructor may want you to use "peer reviewed" articles as sources for your paper. Or you may be asked to find picture of thinking student"academic," "scholarly," or "refereed" articles. What do these terms mean?

Let's start with the terms academic and scholarly, which are synonyms. An academic or scholarly journal is one intended for a specialized or expert audience. Journals like this exist in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. Examples include Nature, Journal of Sociology, and Journal of American Studies. Scholarly/academic journals exist to help scholars communicate their latest research and ideas to each other; they are written "by experts for experts."  Magazines like Time or Scientific American, newspapers, (most) books, government documents, and websites are not peer-reviewed, though they may be thoroughly edited and fact-checked.

Most scholarly/academic journals are peer reviewed; another synonym for peer reviewed is refereed. Before an article is published in a peer-reviewed journal, it's evaluated for quality and significance by several specialists in the same field, who are "peers" of the author. Many times this is a "blind review" where the reviewers do not know who the author is and vice-versa.  Reviewers make comments and edits of the article and send those back to author before publication.  The article may go through several revisions like this before it finally reaches publication.

How do you find peer-reviewed articles?  The easiest way to know if an article is peer-reviewed is to select the "peer-reviewed" (scholarly, refereed, etc) limit in an article database. 

How can you tell if an article is peer-reviewed? A couple clues will alert you:

  • Is the article written by an academic (professor, grad student, professional, etc)? 
  • Are there citations or other references to academic sources? 
  • Is the article from a journal with academics as editors or an editorial board made up of academics?
  • Does the journal say its peer-reviewed?

As you become more familiar with an academic discipline, you will learn the peer-reviewed journals in that field.    

What are Scholarly or Peer-Reviewed articles?

How do articles get peer reviewed? What role does peer review play in scholarly research and publication? Video from NCSU Libraries