The following seven steps outline a simple and effective strategy for finding information for a research paper and documenting the sources you find. Depending on your topic and your familiarity with the library, you may need to rearrange or recycle these steps. Adapt this outline to your needs.
State your topic idea as a question. For example, if you are interested in finding out about use of alcoholic beverages by college students, you might pose the question, "What effect does use of alcoholic beverages have on the health of college students?"
Identify the main concepts or keywords in your question. In this case they are alcoholic beverages, health, and college students.
Test the main concepts or keywords in your topic by looking them up in the appropriate background sources or by using them as search terms in the Coastal Bend College Library Catalog and in online databases such as Literati or CINAHL.
If you are finding too much information and too many sources, narrow your topic by using the AND operator: beer AND health AND college students, for example.
Finding too little information may indicate that you need to broaden your topic. For example, look for information on students, rather than college students. Link synonymous search terms with OR: alcoholic beverages OR beer OR wine OR liquor. Using truncation or wildcards with search terms also broadens the search and increases the number of items you find.
Once you have identified the main topic and keywords for your research, find one or more sources of background information to read. These sources will help you understand the broader context of your research and tell you in general terms what is known about your topic. The most common background sources are books and review articles.
Tip: Exploit Bibliographies:
Look up these sources in the Library Catalog and online databases. Check the subject headings listed in the subject field of the online record for these books and articles. Then do subject searches using those subject headings to locate additional titles.
Remember that many of the books and articles you find in the CBC Library Catalog and online databases will themselves have bibliographies. Check these bibliographies for additional relevant resources for your research. By using this technique of routinely following up on sources cited in bibliographies, you can generate a surprisingly large number of books and articles on your topic in a relatively short time.
Use keyword searching for a narrow or complex search topic. Use subject searching for a broad subject. Print or write down the citation (author, title,etc.) and the location information (call number and library). Note the circulation status. When you pull the book from the shelf, scan the bibliography for additional sources. Watch for book-length bibliographies and annual reviews on your subject; they list citations to hundreds of books and articles in one subject area. Check the standard subject subheading "--bibliography," or titles beginning with Annual Review of in the Library Catalog.
Use online databases to find citations to articles. Choose the database that best suits your particular topic; for example, search Literature Online for literary criticism topics, CINAHL for nursing topics, and Academic Search Complete for psychology topics. These databases and more are located on the library's website under Online Resources. If the full text is not linked in the database you are using, write down the citation from the database and search for the title of the journal in the Library Catalog. The catalog lists the print and electronic versions of journals.
Use search engines and subject directories to locate materials on the Web. As information on the Internet varies in its reliability, it is suggested that you use directories such as the Library's Delicious Links [organized by subject] or Google Scholar, which contains links to the library's resources when available. (Note: To set up Google Scholar for Coastal Bend College access at home, read this guide [insert link]. To access the Library Online Resources, you will still need to log in with your Cougar ID.
You may be asked to utilize peer reviewed articles in your assignments. Many journals are peer reviewed, meaning that submitted articles are scrutinized by one or more experts in the field before they are published in the journal. Not all items in a peer reviewed journal have gone through this process, however. These items may include letters, editorials, news, and book reviews. Generally, only the primary articles, such as studies or review articles, are peer reviewed. You can search in EBSCOhost Research Databases, and Gale Databases for articles in peer-reviewed journals.
Give credit where credit is due; cite your sources.
Citing or documenting the sources used in your research serves two purposes, it gives proper credit to the authors of the materials used, and it allows those who are reading your work to duplicate your research and locate the sources that you have listed as references.
Knowingly representing the work of others as your own is plagiarism. Use a citation style approved by your instructor. Style manuals are available at the Library and are listed, along with examples, on the Citations page.
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