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Beyond Google: Research for College Success

THE RESEARCH PROCESS

OBJECTIVES: 

1) Selecting a suitable topic for your annotated bibliography

2) Identifying key concepts and words related to your topic

3) Broadening or narrowing a search related to your topic

Introduction

If you are at this Lecture #2 site and reading this text, I hope you have already completed the quiz in the folder for Week #2, as well as the readings from the e-textbook - chapters 3 & 4.  It is important that you have done so. The quiz assesses your understanding of last week's materials, and the chapters would have introduced you to understanding your research needs and developing a research strategy.  This week, you will submit a research question on the topic of your choice for your annotated bibliography.  

Following the above objectives of this lecture, you will find below descriptions in short sections that describe elements about the research process. This lecture supplements the readings of Chapter 3 & 4 and introduces you to additional information and exercises for you to perform so that you may connect theory to practice.  Brainstorming your topic on paper by drawing a concept map is one of the best ways to zero in on a research area you might want to explore.   But first, to begin, I have included the definition of "research" which I have selected from my favorite dictionary, the Oxford English Dictionary.  (The CSI Library has a subscription to the OED database.)  

As a reminder, this course is designed for a "class-meeting" of 2 hours.  As such, you should try to complete today's lesson in 2 hours.  Please set aside an hour to get through the section below, including the exercises to do.  Once completed, please go back to your Blackboard site, as you will be prompted to do so below, and spend another hour on assignments and discussions available in the folder for Week #2. 

Any questions you may have, please do not hesitate to email me or drop in to see me at my virtual office hour.   

2.1 Definition of Research

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) Online:

1. The act of searching carefully for or pursuing a specified thing or person; an instance of this. Frequently with afterforofObsolete.

First used in 1577...below are selected instances of how the word has been used over time.
1577   tr. ‘F. de L'Isle’ Legendarie sig. Givv   Being deliuered of that which they most feared, which was the researche for the Princes imprisonment.
1635   J. Reynolds Triumphs Gods Revenge (new ed.) iv. xvii. 343   De Boys makes a speedy, and curious research for his thiefe, whom as yet he could not finde, or discover.
1759   W. H. Dilworth Life of Pope 53   His thoughts being quite weaned from Parnassus to the research of truth.
1847   C. Brontë Jane Eyre III. vii. 162   She had left Thornfield Hall in the night; every research after her course had been vain.
1889   Nature 19 Sept. 493/2   Constant explorations are being carried out..chiefly in researches after gold and other precious metals.

Oxford English Dictionary Online, 3rd edition, 2010.  The OED offers not only meanings and pronunciations to over 600,000 words, but differs from other dictionaries in that it offers the history of individual words. 

2.2 DIFFERENT Types of Research

The word "research" is used to describe a number of similar and often overlapping activities involving the search for information.  For example, each of the following activities involves a different type of search; but the differences are significant and worth examining. 

RESEARCH TYPE ESSENTIAL CHARACTERISTICS
1. Find the population of each country in Africa OR the total (in dollars) of Japanese investment in the U.S. in 2002. This type of research is a search for individual facts or data.  It may be part of the search for a solution to a larger problem or simply the answer to a friendly, or not so friendly, bar bet! Concerned with fact, rather than knowledge or analysis and answers can normally be found in a single source.
2. Find out what is known generally about a fairly specific topic.  "What is the history of the Internet?"  

This type of research is a report or review, not designed to create new information or insight but to collate and synthesize existing information.  A summary of the past.  Answers can typically be found in a selection of books, articles, and Websites. 

[Note: gathering this information might include activities in #1 above]

3. Gather evidence to determine whether gang violence is directly related to playing violent video games.

This type of research seeks to gather and analyze a body of information or data and to extract new meaning from it or develop unique solutions to problems and cases.  This is "real research" and requires an open-ended question for which there is no ready answer. 

[Note: this will always include #2 above and usually #1.  It may also involve gathering new data through experiments, surveys, or other techniques.] 

2.3 Un-Packing the Research Process...

In College, you will be asked to write research papers in just about every course you take.  Why do you think this is the case? 

Let's look at research like a Crime Scene Investigator (CSI) would. We are all somewhat familiar with mysteries/crime cases that air on tv or that you've read in a book.  How much does an investigator know when a case begins?  Nothing!  How much does an investigator know when the case is solved?  Pretty much everything! 

Here's a case:  Two children are missing after their parents are found killed.  Crime Scene Investigators are called to the scene.  How do they proceed?

  • They cordon off (yellow tape) the scene when they first arrive
  • They collect evidence
  • They talk to people --bystanders, first responders, relatives -- ask questions
  • They review the answers, check the facts, and delve further into answers which provoke additional questions
  • They then analyze the data, i.e., evidence gathered
  • They synthesize the information and solve the mystery
  • The Crime Scene Investigators present the results of their case - children were found with little harm to them.  They had been abducted by a sex-offender who had recently been released on parole.  The parents of the children had testified in the case that sent the individual to jail for 15 years. 

Let's look at how you can apply steps in solving a mystery against solving the answer to your research question.  

The CSI Case Your Topic 
  1. They cordon off (yellow tape) the scene of the crime around the house.            
  2. They collect evidence from the scene and ask questions of people connected to murdered victims--relatives, bystanders, first responders, school teachers, etc.
  3. They review the answers, check the facts, and delve further into answers which provoke additional questions
  4. They then analyze the data, i.e., evidence gathered
  5. They synthesize the information and solve the mystery
  6. The Crime Scene Investigators present their case to their supervisor
  1. You have a research topic; parameters have been set given a particular question about this topic  (i.e., cordon off (yellow tape) the scene)
  2. You then gather sources about this topic -- from people you know who are knowledgeable about the topic, podcast news reports, reference sources, articles in magazines and journals, websites, etc.
  3. You review the information collected and some contents lead you to further ask or find more relevant missing information (e.g. include a definition, fact check the statistics, look up an organization's purpose, etc.).
  4. You then analyze what you have in front of you.
  5. You piece together (synthesize) the data that answers your research question
  6. You write up your research paper and submit to your professor

So, to answer the question at the top... Why is it the case that students are asked to write research papers?  I hope you will agree with my answer when I say, if you follow the research process and do it well, you will be able to present an evaluation, interpretation, or argument of a topic (whatever your research question was).  By writing research papers over and over again, you will learn the art of (become an expert in) analyzing, synthesizing, and understanding complex issues, easily and quickly. 

This is a life-long learning foundational skill every student must be know as it becomes the bane of existence when one enters the real working world.

2.4 Why an annotated bibliography for the final project?

The annotated bibliography is step#5 in the crime scene investigation.  An annotated bibliography will form the foundation of a research paper.  Developing one forces a researcher to better understand the sources that will be included in one's research paper.  As you evaluate and analyze and write up the summary about each source relating to your topic, you will gain a deeper perspective on whether it really fits as an answer to your research question...think of each one as a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. This exercise, critiquing each source, so to speak, may even reveal few sources that do not fit your topic and you may have to find additional sources.  

In this course, you will learn how to create an annotated bibliography and we will do so using a scaffolding process over four weeks.  First, (in week #3), you will find books relating to your chosen topic, and you will summarize the information following the prescribed details of creating an annotation.  Next, (in week #4), you will find articles on the same topic, and you will follow the same ritual. Lastly, (in week #5), you will find some non-print materials on your topic to add to your growing document.

For more on creating an annotated bibliography, please go to the navigation frame on the left of this screen and click on "Annotated Bibliography."  It's the last tab.

2.5 Topics to consider for your annotated bibliography...

If you do not have a topic in mind for the annotated bibliography, here are some to get you started...

Artificial Intelligence Electric vs. Hybrid Vehicles
Identity Theft Global Warming
Infectious Diseases Prison Reform
E-Cigarettes Presidential Elections
Medical Marijuana Females in Hip-Hop
"Me Too" Movement  Refugees in the U.S.
Gun Control Food Waste
Social Media Addiction Police Brutality
Assisted Suicide Natural Disasters
Distance Learning and Home Schooling White-Collar Crime

2.6 DEVELOPING Your Research Topic

Research requires a question for which no ready answer is available.  For the annotated bibliography project in this class, you are required to submit a topic in the form of a research question.  So, what do you want to know about a topic? Asking a topic as a question (or series of related questions) has several advantages: 

  1. Questions require answers.  A topic is hard to cover completely because it typically encompasses too many related issues; but a question has an answer, even if it is ambiguous or controversial.  For example: 
    • Topic: Drugs and crime
    • Question: Could liberalization of drug laws reduce crime in the U.S.?
  2. Questions give you a way of evaluating answers.  A clearly stated question helps you decide which information will be useful.  A broad topic may tempt you to stash away information that may be helpful, but you are not sure how. A question also makes it easier to know when you have enough information to stop your research. 
  3. A clear open-ended question calls for real research and thinking.  Asking a question with no direct answer makes research and writing more meaningful.  Assuming that your research may solve significant problems or expand the knowledge base of a discipline involves you in more meaningful activity of community and scholarship.

2.6.1. DEVELOPING a Question

Developing a question from a broad topic can be done in many ways.  Two such effective ways are brainstorming and concept mapping.

Brainstorming is a free-association technique of spontaneously listing all words, concepts, ideas, questions, and knowledge about a topic.  After making a lengthy list, sort the ideas into categories.  This allows you to inventory your current awareness of a topic, decide what perspectives are most interesting and/or relevant, and decide in which direction to steer your research.

WHAT How WHO
Where WHY When

Concept Mapping. You may create a concept map as a means of brainstorming; or, following your brainstorm, you may take the content you have generated and create your map for it.  Concept maps make elaborate or simple and are designed to help you organize your thinking about a topic, recognize where you have gaps in your knowledge, and help to generate specific questions that may guide your research. 

Combining brainstorming and concept mapping (brain-mapping, if you will) can be a productive way to begin your thinking about a topic area.  Try to establish as your goal, the drafting of a topic definition statement which outlines the area you will be researching and about which you will present your findings.

To view examples of some good and bad research questions, click on this LINK.  And no, no, no, you may not submit any one of these as your research question. 

Below are two documents for you to utilize in your attempt to come up with a good research question for your first assignment:

2.7.1. BROADENING Your Research

A research question that is too narrow or specific may not retrieve enough information.  If this happens, broaden the question. Most research questions have multiple contexts and varying levels of specificity. 

The underlined terms below represent broader ways of asking without changing the basic meaning.  If you find sources that treat a subject broadly, use the index or table of contents to locate useful sections or chapters.  Or ask yourself, "How might the arguments made here support my argument?

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INSTEAD OF:  Should Makah whaling rituals be permitted despite endangered species laws?

TRY:   Should Native Americans practice religious and social customs that violate local and federal laws?

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INSTEAD OF:  What are the economic impacts of sweat shops on development in South Asia?

TRY:  What are the impacts of U.S. labor practices on developing countries?

2.7.2. NARROWING the Topic

A question that is too broad may retrieve too much information.  Here are some strategies for narrowing the scope of a question.  They may be used individually or in combinations.

STRATEGY EXPLANATION EXAMPLE TOPIC: "INTERNET SECURITY"
Time frame

1995-2020?

This Year?

In the future?

Internet security initiatives
Place

Local social norms & values 

Economic & political systems

Languages

Internet security in the U.S.
Population

gender, age, occupation, ethnicity

nationality, educational attainment, etc...

Filtering software and children's access to 

Internet pornography

Viewpoint

A viewpoint allows you to focus on a single aspect, e.g.:

social, legal, medical, biological, psychological,

economic, political, philosophical?

The constitutionality of Internet

filtering technology

   

2.8. CHOOSING Keywords

As you prepare to search any database, you need to have identified the central concepts on which you are about to research.  For example, you are in desperate need of a new car for your new job 50 miles away.  Central concepts you might consider would be:  SAFE FEATURES + RELIABILIY + FUEL CONSUMPTION.  You may further limit your choice by "cost" and "performance."

Search engines, such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, and your library catalog, OneSearch, are programmed to match strings of characters and spaces and do not often understand the natural language we use with each other.  They can't guess what you mean, don't "read" subtexts, and are easily confused by ambiguity, so clarify for them what you will be looking for, i.e., focus only on essential concepts.  

EXAMPLE EXPLANATION
"media coverage of 9/11" The media covers events.  Unless the media caused the event, this term is unnecessary.
advantages of home schooling over public schools Value words like "favorite," "advantage," or "better" are not useful if you need to gather evidence to help you make a decision or develop a solution. Don't just grab an opinion or the "right" answer off someone else's shelf.  
dissertations about bioethics Many databases and search engines are programmed to ignore common words that don't impact a search.  These are called "stopwords" and typically include terms like "the," "from," "about," "when," "if," etc. You get the point.

2.9. Vocabulary

Earlier, we discussed broadening and narrowing a research question.  Vocabulary can also be broadened and narrowed to find different types of sources.  This chart suggest some alternative vocabulary for the following research question:

"Should Native Americans practice religious and social customs that violate local and federal laws?"

KEY WORDS BROADER RELATED  NARROWER
Native Americans

Indigenous Peoples

North American History

Indians

Amerinds

North American Indians

Makah, Nez

Perce, Cherokee,

Lenape, Kwakiutl

Customs

Social systems,

anthropology

marriage

social relations

spirituality

rites and ceremonies

religion

culture

lodge house(s)

hunting

whaling

potlatch

etc.

Law

Criminal justice

U.S. Constitution

constitutional law

legislation

crimes

treaty rights

Bureau of Indian Affairs

NAGPRA (Native American Graves 

Protection & Reparation Act)

cases (e.g., Kennewick Man, Neah Bay Whaling)

Go to the BlackBoard Course site for LIB102...

Please log in to BlackBoard to complete the following listed in folder for the Week of Sept 2 -Sept 8.  Any assignment, quiz, or tutorial given in this lesson MUST be completed on or before September 8, 2020 and submitted by 12noon:

  1. Using the above segments, 2.5 through 2.6.1 please prepare and submit your research question via Blackboard by given deadline. More instructions in Blackboard. 
  2. Watch and respond to video: "Danger of a Single Story."
  3. Prepare for mini-quiz on 9/9/2020, which will based on the above readings and modules in Blackboard for Week #2

 

 

 

 

CREDIT: With permission, partial content on this web page was adapted from the University of Idaho Information Literacy Portal.