Choose a topic.
Do a brain dump: Note down what you already know about your topic, including
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 topic. Look 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.
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.
|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 Psychologist; books 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|
Your instructor may want you to use "peer reviewed" articles as sources for your paper. Or you may be asked to find "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:
As you become more familiar with an academic discipline, you will learn the peer-reviewed journals in that field.