Your assignments at university are an invitation to join a scholarly conversation by exploring topics in depth, formulating questions, examining the research in order to build an arugument and draw your own conclusions. A good research topic is one that sparks your interest. This guide is intended to introduce the information literacy process that will help you conduct university level research. Begin with: First-Year Students: Library Basics
Pick a research topic
- Read your syllabus and course assignment instructions carefully
- Pick a topic that interests you and meets the criteria of the assignment
- Need extra help? Click on Choosing an essay topic
Do an initial search on Wikipedia for background knowledge
- Using Wikipedia will also help you to broaden your search terms and help you find Grey literature
- Watch the video, Using Wikepedia Wisely
Use Reference tools to identify key concepts
Academic literature is written by scholars in a specific field and is peer reviewed by specialists in the same field so that only the best possible research is published. Scholars usually have PhD degrees in an area of specialization and are employed at higher education institutions. Although many of the library's databases provide access to all types of sources, your professor will want you to use peer reviewed journals. These journals publish the world's most recent research written by scholars in all disciplines.
- Watch Peer review in 3 minutes video (from NC State U Libraries)
Popular magazines and newspapers are also indexed by the library's databases and are primarily designed to entertain, as well as inform the general public. They are written by staff writers or free lance journalists and are not peer reviewed. Getting to know the difference between these two types of sources is important.
- Academic Journals vs. Popular Magazines (overview)
What this means to you
For any resource that you wish to use, be critical about it! Ask questions. Consider who the author is, and what the purpose is of the author conducting the research.
- Who published the source?
- What sources did the author use?
- Try using: Evaluating sources: academic, popular, news, social media
If you are unsure if a journal is peer reviewed, you can check Ulrichsweb. It is the definitive source that lets you know what type of journal you are using by 'content type'.
To find books or journal articles, you have three options:
1. Use Omni, the library's main search box
- type in the keywords of your topic
- this discovery tool searches most of the library's databases, simultaneously, for all types of material, ie: journal articles, book reviews, books/e-books, newspapers, magazines,videos, reports, etc.
- each search can return many results (much like Google), so you must use the filters to refine your search results
- use the Advanced Search and narrow by Subject terms (controlled vocabulary)
- remember to login first if you are searching from 'off campus'
2. Search specialized databases
3. Use a search engine
- Google Scholar (access via the library's web site only) - Google Scholar is a large search engine that searches information on the web and provides links to full-text articles to which the Carleton Library subscribes, or to articles made freely available by publishers.
4. Here is a list of peer reviewed geography journals. You can browse the contents of each title to become familiar with the topics and themes. For help with this, view the Journal Searching feature in Omni.
Searching Techniques for Omni and most Databases
1. Select keyword search terms for your topic
- Choose words that represent the key concepts of your research topic
2. Create a search string using Boolean command words, AND, OR, NOT (must in in CAPS when searching Omni). Search string examples:
- rezoning AND "urban planning"
- (gentrification OR urban renewal) AND identity
- "right to the city"
- housing AND "social policy"
Using AND connect multiple ideas to narrow your search, and using OR allows you to group synonyms within brackets to broaden your search. NOT will eliminate a word, ie: cloning NOT sheep
Use truncation symbol * (asterisk) to replace word endings or variant spellings: enviro* will retrieve: environment, environments, environmental, environmentalism, environmentalist
3. Search Omni or select a database
4. Use database filters - to obtain high quality, academic literature, remember to refine your search by selecting the following filters in Omni:
- Peer reviewed journals
- Subject (optional)
Tip 1: Filter your search to find peer reviewed journal articles. Many sources are published in different formats and written for specific audiences and do not have solid authority as with peer reviewed literature.
Tip 2: Check the bibliographies of journal articles to find additional relevant sources.
- Writing is a powerful tool of communication that promotes original thought, but it takes time
- Devote sufficient time to your research and writing
- Plan your essay structure
- Edit and revise your work
- Ask for feedback
- Read your final essay out loud for clarity of language and expression of your ideas
Need help with writing?
- Communicating in geography and environmental studies (above noted tips are from this book)
- Student writing; give it a generous reading
- Writing Services