Pick a research topic:
- Read your syllabus carefully (assignment instructions).
- Pick a topic that interests you and meets the assignment instructions.
- Narrow or broaden the scope of your topic so that it is "doable."
- What's scope? Scope refers to the "people, places and things" or "who, what, when and where" that you are studying. For example, Nigeria or another country? Children or adults? Literature or globalization?
Identify key concepts and keywords to search:
Reference materials are a valuable resource when doing research.
Use dictionaries to help with terminology. Encyclopedias provide background information, an overview of topics and issues and often lead you to further readings.
- Africa an encyclopedia of culture and society
- Dictionary of globalization
- New encyclopedia of Africa
- Music Online: Garland Encyclopedia of World Music
- Oxford Music Online
Online resources like Google and Wikipedia, while not always accurate, are a great way to orient yourself in a topic, since they usually give a basic overview with a brief history and any key points. Reminder: you cannot use Wikipedia as a source in your bibliography!
Step 1: Write your topic out in sentence or question form
- How is African slavery portrayed in African writing?
Step 2: Break your topic sentence up into main ideas or keywords
- Africa, slavery, writing
Step 3: Think of synonyms or alternate words to describe each concept
- writing - literature
Tip: Use dictionaries, encyclopedias, or a thesaurus to find alternate words.
Step 4: Add "Boolean operators" (AND, OR) to make a complete search statement
- Use AND to limit or narrow your search to results that mention all of your keywords.
- Use OR to broaden your search to include synonyms.
- Africa AND slavery AND writing
- Africa AND slavery AND (writing OR literature) - Note: you can use as many synonyms for each keyword but OR terms must be bracketed for each term.
Step 5: Add wildcards to search for all possible word endings
A wildcard is usually represented by a *. This is also called truncation.
Your final search string will look like this:
- (writ* OR literature) AND Africa* AND slave*
Step 6: Consider Key Phrase searching
Some databases search each word separately. To ensure that your words are evaluated as a key phrase, enclose them in double quotation marks.
- "human rights"
Step 7: Evaluate your results
If you are finding too many or too few results, try these tricks:
To broaden your search (find more):
- Find synonym for each keyword.
- Search for a broader concept ('dog' instead of 'poodle').
- Use wildcards/truncation.
To narrow your search (find fewer):
- Add another concept or idea to your search with AND
- Use more specific words ('poodle' instead of 'dog').
The library's search tool Omni is on the library homepage and lets you do just one search to find books, newspaper articles, journal articles, and other types of resources.
Also of note: eBooks: Black Women Writers: Black Women Writers is a searchable online database containing the writings of black women from North America, Africa, the Caribbean, and the rest of the African Diaspora.
- Use keywords only, do not search using a full sentence. OMNI is not like Google. You cannot type in a question or sentence and get results.
- Use an online thesaurus to help find synonyms for your keywords.
- Use the Step-by-Step Guide to Building your Search above to create your search string.
After doing your search limit or narrow by:
- Peer-Reviewed Journals
- Resource Type
- Publication Date
More information available here.
Omni Searching on the library homepage
Use the same Search Tips as found above in Find Books or see the Step-by-Step Guide to Building your Search. The databases are not like Google. You cannot search an entire question or sentence.
Tip: Most databases provide a way to restrict the results of a search to peer-reviewed or academic articles. This may be done differently from database to database.
- Politics and Globalization
DO NOT LIMIT yourself to these databases alone. If you are doing a topic that is economic in nature, check the databases listed under Economics, or if your paper has a feminist slant you will want to look at the databases listed under Women's and Gender Studies. Here is a complete list of Databases by Subject.
Research Skills Tips:
- Start broad, then dive into the specifics. Get a good overview of your topic (see information above in Getting Started...). Then start narrowing down to more specific ideas.
- Learn how to recognize a quality source. Not every source is reliable, so it’s crucial that you recognize good sources. To determine a reliable source, use your analytical skills and critical thinking. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Does this source agree with other sources I have found?
- Is the author an expert in the field?
- Does the author’s point of view have a conflict of interest regarding this topic?
- Verify information from several sources. The internet is a big place, and, for the most part, anyone can say whatever they want online—many websites don’t evaluate their content for factual accuracy. Use the CRAAP test to help determine the accuracy of online information.
- Stay organized
- Use the Library!
Search OMNI on the library homepage for Academic Writing.
Help is available on campus at the Writing Services.
You may find the following writing resources helpful as well:
- Purdue Online Writing Lab
- Writing the Research Paper Video
- Student research and report writing : from topic selection to the complete paper
- Grammar and style
Citation ~ Avoid Plagiarism
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to plagiarize is "to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own [or] use (another's production) without crediting the source".
5 tips to avoid plagiarism:
- TAKE NOTES: writing down page numbers and references throughout your research is a good way to save time when you need to quote and cite sources.
- NEVER copy and paste material unless you cite it properly.
- At the end of each paper/report you must CITE ALL SOURCES you have used, whether you quote them directly or paraphrase the ideas.
- LEARN AND USE citation style guides: Citing Your Sources
- When in doubt, ask for help!
Other Citation resources
What is an annotated bibliography?
An annotated bibliography gives an account of the research that has been done on a given topic. Like any bibliography, an annotated bibliography is an alphabetical list of research sources. In addition to bibliographic data, an annotated bibliography provides a concise summary of each source and some assessment of its value or relevance.
Zinn, H. "A People's History of the United States". New York, NY: New Press, 1999.
In this book the history of the United States is seen from the viewpoint of people who were not necessarily beneficiaries of American democracy. The book concentrates on the experiences of slaves, American Indians, women, and other disenfranchised groups and how they were affected by the major events in American history. Zinn emphasizes in the introduction that his intent is not to demonize figures such as revolutionary leaders, but to portray them in a more realistic light, as people who, while contributing to the development of the United States, were influenced by the prejudices of their time.
Your annotation should include:
- A brief summary of the source
- The source’s strengths and weaknesses
- Its conclusions
- Why the source is relevant in your field of study
- Its relationships to other studies in the field
- An evaluation of the research methodology (if applicable)
- Information about the author’s background
- Your personal conclusions about the source
Resources that may help you
Consult the help guide on writing an annotated bibliography
- Writing an Annotated Bibliography (University of Toronto)
- How to Write Annotated Bibliographies (Memorial University)
- Annotated Bibliography Purdue Online Writing Lab