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Basic Research Tips: Where do I start?

To find information on a topic for a Linfield class, go to the Linfield Libraries homepage, your local public library, community college library, or university library. Generally you can get a good start on any topic by consulting reference sources first. Think about what kind of information you need. Try Linfield's online encyclopedias and reference sources. Ask a reference librarian for a suggestion of where to start or contact the Reference and Distance Learning Librarian for tips on where to start. Librarians are full of ideas of places for you to find information.

Below are some suggestions for navigating any library system. Libraries are still full of information, but, the way for you to get to it is more often than not through a computer. The suggestions which follow are some generic ideas for making sure you manage your research instead of letting the computers do so! (Computers can not think , can not reflect, can not link concepts. They can only "see" dots. Lots of them!)

Three Basic Tips for System Navigation

  1. What kind of information do I need?  Is it historical, medical, economic?  Check the Articles and Library Databases for places to look.
  2. What language will I need to use to make this database work best for my research needs? Some databases are very discipline-specific, such as PsycINFO. To use it well, in other words, to retrieve citations which are most relevant to your research, you need to work with the Thesaurus for the database first. Other databases are more generic in what is covered, so your natural language (keyword) will be sufficient to start. But, eventually, you will need to pay attention to those subject headings or descriptors which best describe your topic.
  3. Do you have enough or too few resources? Electronic access to a myriad of databases often result in mass confusion on the part of the researcher because there is so much available on any one topic. How do you refine your scope? How do you judge what is pertinent? How do you find out about the background of the author or the intent of the magazine/journal?

Things to remember:

Language - words matter. Synonyms are essential, alternative terms help immensely. Ask a reference librarian. Our trade is in words. Look at appropriate reference books - the articles begin to give you the words in context, in the discipline. How many different interpretations are there to the word"environment"?  .

Keep track of which resources you've used and how they've been useful or not! Which databases have you searched? Which words worked better in one database and which in another?

Research is most often not linear but recursive.

You often find some information, read it, think about it, then come back to look for other information.

Research always changes your thesis.

Your original thesis is usually too broad, rarely too narrow. Some ways to narrow your search: narrow it to a time frame, narrow it to a specific geographic region, narrow it to a specific perspective, e.g., can the issue be looked at politically, sociologically, economically, legally, etc.?

Research is quirky; computers are quirky. Research is messy.

At some point you should feel as though you are in a quagmire of information and have forgotten just exactly what it was that you wanted to say in the first place! Free writing helps to escape this predicament!

Information does not equal knowledge.

Your minds create the knowledge after thinking about the information, comparing with other information, synthesizing it, evaluating it, creating your own voice.

A research paper is not a bunch of other people's words strung together.

Library research is only half of what a research paper is about: the other is writing and thinking and evaluating and writing some more.

Time, time, time.

Computerized databases can speed up a search. However, now that research is no longer confined to the walls of a library, often you will find much more information than you can use. How do you decide what to read?

One trip to the library is never enough.

Research often raises more questions than it answers. It should, in fact.

Other helpful research sites:

Linfield College Libraries Homepage

Evaluate your Print Sources and your Internet Resources

Cite your Sources and Avoid Plagiarism

Go to the DCE Library HomePage

Carol McCulley (based on Susan Barnes Whyte's page) 11/08