Researching efficiently enables the researcher to move on to writing the paper and completing the assignment as quickly as possible. This guide will show where to start looking, some important terms for searching an online database, and it will show how to ensure that the results are high quality. Researching, whether for school, for work, or for personal interests, is an activity that takes practice and experience but it's easy to learn and it is a skill that will last a lifetime.
The impression that research is required for one or two courses throughout education, and then never used again is not true in most cases. In many careers, researching is a must. In business administration, employees may need to do some research on sales strategies or how to find the name and address of another business. In medical fields, employees should be able to research symptoms or obscure procedures that may have been tried in the past. In technology-related programs, research on how to solve a problem with a computer or program may be necessary. In any field, there will be opportunities to look things up. And it's not just in work or education; it's possible to research a presidential candidate, recipes, or even background information on a new car or house.
While this How To... is designed for academic research (that is, research done for school), similar techniques can be used to research just about anything. Find out what is needed to conduct research in the sections below..
Unfamiliar terms may have popped up in English classes or while talking to a librarian about research. Here are some of those terms and definitions so that they can be better understood.
With a topic in mind, the first thing to do is start some true research. This means looking for articles, books, websites, and other sources that will be used in the paper. These are the sources that will be quoted from, paraphrased, or summarized, and they will need to be cited and placed in the works cited or reference page. This is different from background research, which (unless used in later parts of the paper) is only to help obtain a better idea of the options available on the topic; such sources are not always cited unless referenced to in the paper.
Before the Internet gained so much popularity, books and periodicals were the "go-to" sources. They are still considered among the most reliable of sources and are a great place to start. One nice thing about books is that while looking in the library there should be librarian around to help with research and to answer any questions.
A book can be a great starting point, whether it's a print encyclopedia, an overview, or even an in-depth exploration of the material. They can be found by using Georgia Northwestern Technical College's online catalog Web Safari (for further instructions, check out How to Use Web Safari). Search by subject terms as well as by author and other information. Students uncomfortable with searching on their own can come into the library and ask for help from a librarian.
Browsing the library shelves can be a great way to find ideas or narrow a broad idea for a topic.
When using periodicals in academic research, newspapers and academic journals are used more than magazines. These can be found in print at the library, or online through databases such as GALILEO and ProQuest. Books are great, but there are far fewer books on most topics in comparison to articles on the same topic. If lots of sources are need for a paper, this is a great place to find many options. The library will probably have some back issues, and some databases only allow full-text for items over a year old. If it can't be found online, consider asking at the library.
Most databases are collections of periodicals, and GNTC offers a wide variety of databases on the library's Resources page (if you're not sure how to use GALILEO, check out How to Use GALILEO). Remember to look for peer-reviewed or scholarly articles whenever possible. Using GALILEO and other databases to find articles can be confusing the first few times, so don't be afraid to talk to a librarian.
Websites can be great resources, but they require a significant amount of evaluation before they can be used in an academic paper. The easiest way to look for a website is to simply go onto a search engine and type in a keyword. Remember to avoid using Wikipedia as a source--the information can be edited by anyone and may not be not reliable! If using Wikipedia is necessary, visit the bottom of the page and look for the References often listed. Those articles, websites, and books can be a place to start.
Don't forget that it is possible to use the domain name as a quick way to determine whether a site is worthwhile. .Com sites are commercial, can be purchased or created by anyone and are frequently unreliable or biased. .Edu sites are created by educational institutions and can be useful, but be wary because students also put up information on those sites. .Gov and .Mil sites are hosted by the government and the military respectively, and depending on the kind of content being looked for, these can be good places to check. For example, for information on the Swine Flu, one authoritative website could be the Centers for Disease Control's website: www.cdc.gov. This information should be relatively unbiased. Finally, the other common ending is .Org, which are sites hosted by a non-profit organization (including some public libraries!) and can have bias but may be a good place to look.
Websites can often have some of the most current information because they are quick and easy to update. This can be good and bad, good because in a field where frequent updates are essential, it is possible find that information before it has to go through the publication process; bad because it does not necessarily go through any kind of verification process to ensure the information is accurate.
Knowing how to properly search can take some time and practice. There are some different methods for searching for information inside books and print periodicals, and online databases and websites. This guide will cover both here.
When using a book, particularly non-fiction and reference books, it may take too long to read the entire book.. In that case, there are two quick ways to find exactly where the desired information is.
Table of Contents
The first place to look is in the Table of Contents. This is usually located at the front of the books (within a few pages of the title page). It will typically be labeled with "Contents" or "Table of Contents". Much like the navigation box to the left called "Table of Contents", it offers a list of the broad topics available within the book. This will give a page number to start at. In a book on cyber crimes, check the table of contents to see if there is a chapter or section on harassment or bullying. If so, simply flip to the page listed and look for the information! If not, then see the next option.
If an entire section or chapter devoted to your topic doesn't exist, there may be at least a few pages. The index helps break down all of the topics within a book. So, flip to the last few pages of the book to see if there is an index. Then look in alphabetical order for "cyberbullying". Then look for "bullying" or even "harassment". Always check for multiple words relating to the topic for the best results. When relevant words are found in the list flip to that page. If the keywords are not on the list, there's a good chance it's not covered in the book or the topic may be too specialized or narrow.
Online resources frequently do not have a table of contents or an index that is easily searchable, so instead there are search engines. These could be sites like Google, or they could be internal searches like the ones in Web Safari and GALILEO. These searches allow for different types of searches, such as keyword, Boolean, and truncated. The Boolean and truncated options may be under "advanced searches" in some search boxes.
Keyword searches are done by simply entering important words or phrases from the topic into the search bar. If an exact search is desired, it is much the same. Type in the information (keyword, author's name, etc), and then surround it with quotes, telling the search that exactly what is said and spelled within the quotation marks is the only information desired.
The most important thing to know in keyword searches (such as basic searches in Google, Web Safari, and GALILEO) is to try out different combinations of words. If a first effort doesn't yield the results desired, try shortening a word or re-arranging them. For example, don't just search "cyberbullying". Also search "cyberbully", "cyber bully", "cyber bullying", "cyberbullies", and "cyber bullies". If none of those return results, then try "bullies online", "bullying on the internet", "internet and bullying", and any number of combinations. If the results are relating to one term or the other (if there is more than one term), surround the word in quotes to make an exact search and try again. Then the search engine looks strictly for those words, in that order.
Boolean searches are more precise than exact and keyword searches. The keywords are still used, but Boolean terms are added. Boolean terms are "AND", "OR", and "NOT" (all caps are required!). By typing in "cyber AND bullies", the search engine will look for entries that include both "cyber" and "bullies". It will not find results that have just "cyber" or "bullies". By typing in "cyber OR bullies", the search will return results that have either "cyber" or "bullies"; not all of them will include both. Typing in "cyber NOT bullies" will ask the search engine to only display results that have "cyber" in them without having "bullies" anywhere in the article.
Take note that some search engines do their searches differently, but when using the words "AND", "OR", and "NOT", the words must be in all capitals to work.
Truncation allows for some flexibility in words. While it technically means to shorten a word, and can do that, it is used in searches as a wild card. Searching "cyberbull*" is the same as searching "cyberbullies", "cyberbully", "cyberbullying", and any other appropriate endings to the word. Typing in "cyberbully*" would only return "cyberbully" and "cyberbullying" out of the three above options. By having it at the beginning or end of a word, most search engines will know to look for all possible endings or beginnings. Similarly, having it in the middle of a word will change what that letter could be. So, searching "bo*t" could return "boat", "boot", "bombardment", or any other word that starts with "bo" and ends with "t".
If it is unclear what is used for boolean terms or for truncation, look for something that offers "help" or "tips". Many times, that information is located there.
Understanding the results of researching using print materials is relatively easy. The information is right there, and all that is needed is to read it, to take notes on it, and to keep the information necessary for citing. When using the books at the library, consider checking them out so that re-reading or double checking information is possible.
When searching online, the results displayed are significantly more complicated. Database results are somewhat different from how Google and search engines display their results.
Understanding the results page in GALILEO will be covered in detail in the How To... Use GALILEO guide. Many scholarly databases will be similar in style. Below is a brief version of the information listed there.
When you have entered your search terms and pressed "search", "go," or whichever button submits the terms, a results page should pop up. Either it will say there are no results, in which case try different terms, or there will be a list of articles that fit into the search. Databases will return results in order of relevancy (i.e., results that are a best match will be at the top, worst match at the bottom). If currency is important, it is possible to change what order they are displayed, so that most recent is first.
The first line should be the title, followed by the author and publication information. In some cases, the next thing will be a very brief summary of the article, often a portion of the abstract (a formal summary submitted by the author with the rest of the paper). Then, there may be some keywords.
When full-text is available along with the title and other information, there may be an option to read the article, to "find it", or to download it. Click on the title to receive more information and then ways to access the document. In databases with HTML full-text, clicking on the title should take bring up an HTML document which can then be printed or read on the screen.
Most databases will allow users to print the document, to save .pdf files for later reading, or allow for e-mailing the citation information to yourself so that the article can be found again later.
Search engines, such as Google, are unlikely to return no results. They too are sorted by order of relevancy, but it may take several pages to find useful information. Never just look at the first page and determine that there is nothing interesting or important. Most search engines will display the title of the website as a link, followed by the web address and a brief summary when available. Be wary of clicking strange links on any search engine, because the site may not be a real site. Google being the most well known of search engines, this information will relate directly to Google. Other search engines should be similar.
In most cases, the number of results will be displayed at the top. This number is usually in the millions, but do not worry. It won't be necessary to go through anywhere near that many links. Looking on the first five or so pages is usually sufficient. Make sure not to click on any advertisements. They should be marked "ads". To the left or on a top bar are limiters, such as images, maps, and other types of materials. When looking specifically for an image or a book, try using one of those limiters. If not, the information is in the middle. With Google, hovering the mouse over the double arrows to the right of a title will open up an image of the page. This can be useful in immediately eliminating some websites. Clicking on the blue links for titles will lead directly to a new website.
While doing research, take notes! Upon finding a book, article, or website that is interesting, jot down the citation information and then start taking notes on the major points found in the resource. If there is a quote that phrases something particularly well, or that catches your interest, write it down with the page number to consider for use. Keep notes for different resources separate in the beginning stages. Later, the notes can be broken into categories, so that all the information about one point that is backed up by a variety of sources can be kept together.
Taking efficient notes will make the outlining and writing processes easier. It is incredibly frustrating to have found a good source or a good quote, and then not be able to find out where it came from once the paper is being written. A quotation without a citation cannot be used. Many books suggest taking notes on note cards, which can then be easily re-arranged, as long as they have the information about where the information came from on them.
Below are the main types of notes available, as found in Writing the Research Paper: A Handbook, 8th ed. by Winkler and Metherell.
Plagiarism is a serious offense. By not citing, you are stealing other people's ideas. If your instructor discovers it, you can face severe penalties, including at the least, failure of the assignment if not the class. Many schools suspend or expel students for severe plagiarism. To better understand the consequences for this academic misconduct, look at the Student Handbook. To avoid plagiarism, always cite the sources being summarized, paraphrased, or quoted.
Georgia Northwestern Technical College's Student Handbook defines plagiarism as the following: