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Research Strategy

What is research?

Research is simply the process of finding information. The method is formalized for those who must locate a LOT of information.

(Cognitive Perspective)
Your Need Your Source
1. Know the information exists INFO 1371
2. Know the indexes and tools to access the information
---Have a search plan
---Know MLA or APA style
INFO 1371
INFO 1371
INFO 1371
3. Is the info. useful, relevant?
---Is the info. reliable, valid?
---Is the info. quality high?
Statistics; INFO 1371
English; INFO 1371
4. Take notes
---Keep bibliographic record
English; Orientation
INFO 1371
5. Keep track of the process INFO 1371
6. Synthesize the information
---Write the paper
---Create the WORKS CITED
English; Reading
INFO 1371

The process in the library...

Here is the process, step by step:

  1. Define your subject
  2. Look up subject in Encyclopedias, both general and special.
    • Refine def. of subject.
    • Make note of terminology.
    • Take notes.
    • Write down any references which look good.
  3. Look up subject in print indexes.
    • Refine def. of subject. Narrower subject if possible.
    • Make list of KEY WORDS and SEARCH TERMS.
    • Note all citations worth looking up.
    • Locate all citation sources; take notes.
    • Read the bibliographies and write down any good looking references.
    • Look up the references and take notes.
  4. Locate books on your subject, or books which will cover your subject in the process of covering their larger subject.
    • Look up each book and take notes.
    • Write down all references and look them up.
  5. Look up subject in electronic indexes.
    • Note all good looking citations. Copy all good abstracts.
    • Locate the materials. Read and Take notes.
    • Each article found, read through the bibliography for more references.
  6. Cycling... Look up references in books and articles, then look up their references, then look up their references... You will learn two important things:
    1. If your subject is narrow enough;
    2. Everyone who writes on your subject with any frequency.

Categories of sources used in doing research:

Advantages of using a computer in doing research:

Controlling the search process:

If you are working on a research project of substantial size, you will need to create five bibliographies, or files in your computer, in order to avoid "running into yourself" as you search. Here are the files I would suggest creating and then using:

bigpile.txt or .doc -- This is the unsorted list of references, citations, etc. that you find as you go through indexes, bibliographies, Works Cited and References lists at the ends of articles and books. (This list should be alphabetized by author as you key it into the computer--this makes eliminating duplicates easier.) You can take this list to the library. I recommend one further step if you are "online" to the Internet, or another online system which gives you access to the catalogs of all the libraries you may use...

whichlib.txt or .doc -- Once you have a bigpile.txt list of citations you wish to find, you should get online to the electronic catalogs of the various libraries to which you have access. Discover which books and journals are at what libraries. Sort the list by library. This will make you MUCH more efficient when you arrive at each library. Be sure to note the call number for each library and where the material is located.

If you are NOT able to get online to all the libraries you may use, then divide this list of citations into books and articles. Put the books in alphabetical order by author. Sort the articles by the journals in which they are to be found. This will expedite searching when you arrive at each library. If a particular library has subscribed for some lengthy period of time to one journal, you have at your fingertips ALL the articles listed which you want to locate in that journal.

rejects.txt or .doc -- Every time you locate a source and it is not applicable, not relevant, not high quality, not legible, etc., you need to move the citation to this list. Every time you prepare another .LIB list for a "run" at the libraries, you will want to check this list and eliminate any duplicate titles which will have cropped up.

In fact, as you accumulate citations from indexes, ends of articles, etc, you will want to keep this list, as well as the above two, handy. Far better it is to altogether avoid writing down a duplicate citation than to have to eliminate it.

SUBJ-BIG.txt or .doc -- BIG stands for "BBIIIIGG!" This is where all your notes go, and if you are diligent, it will be BBIIIIGG! At the end of these notes will reside the unedited "Works Cited" (MLA) or "References" (APA) -- the list of books and articles which you have read, taken notes from, and hope to use in your paper. SUBJ-DFT.txt or .doc -- DFT stands for "DraFT." This list will not be created during the research process. It is created EITHER as you move notes and information from your .BIG file to the fill in the outline of your paper, OR it will be created once your paper is finished and you go back to create the Works Cited (MLA) or References (APA) section at the end of your paper.

The first approach has the advantage of making sure you don't leave any references out. The second approach avoids having to edit down the references once your paper is put through your last editing process.

Other files and processes which will be needed:

SUBJ-MAP.txt or .doc You need to keep track of what you are doing. Otherwise, at some point, you will become lost, you will waste amazing amounts of time, or you will fail to capture critical information due to confusion, and the phrase "Huh?" will escape your lips, or even worse, the dread "Oh NO!" will be heard.

You will need to include, and constantly update, 5 areas in this list/file:

  1. You need a plan--a list of every index, bibliography, and other tool you plan to use in your search. Include notes to yourself in this section.
  2. You need to keep a record of where you have been. As you finish going through one index from current back to 1985, for instance, you need to note that fact. You may want to search further back at some later time. This section also serves as a "bookmark" for those times when you cannot finish using a particular index or tool and will have to return later.
  3. You need to know what has worked. For instance, if you are seeking material on "GENETIC MAPPING," you will want to note that the terms "GENETIC MARKERS," "LINKAGE," and "GENE LOCUS" are effective alternate terms for searching this area.
  4. In addition, as you search you will discover new terms or author names of which you were not conscious when you began. Five volumes into the Biological & Agricultural Index, for instance, you may discover that a very effective term for searching GENE MAPPING is HETEROZYGOSITY. Where have you tried this term, and where have you NOT tried this term??? You will need to know because if you are doing a thorough search you will have to try this term in every index and database in which you have not previously tried it. It is critical, therefore, to keep a record of what terms you have searched in each volume or database each time you employ a bibliographic or electronic tool.
  5. There may be other miscellaneous notes you want to keep in this area. The specific subject matter, and the purposes of your search, will determine your needs.

SUBJ-BIG.txt or .doc --This is your notes, and (at the end of the file) the list of citations which you have found and which are complete and ready to use as references. This file is exremely important for three reasons. (1) This is a record of your "soaking in the literature." It can be reviewed. Such soaking should result at some point in your gaining a clear enough picture of the subject to be able to create a cogent outline for a paper. (2) Once an outline is created, material from this .BIG file can be "copied and pasted" (a computer term) into your outline, "filling in" the frame of the outline. Each section of the outline can then be "worked," bridges and explanations added. This is a fast and relatively simple way to write a secondary research paper or literature review. (3) This file represents an extensive amount of research on a subject. It has quotes, it has references. It is an outstanding source for material for papers which you will subsequently create. Save it and treasure it.

SUBJ-OUT.txt or .doc -- OUT stands for "OUTline." This will probably be the FIRST file you create. It should certainly be the last file you read before turning in the finished paper. This file should contain every word your professor has said about the paper, and a summary or outline of every syllabus and handout concerning the paper which has issued from the professor. At the end of these materials should be your initial notes and thoughts on the creation of your paper's outline. This file should be the beginning of your DFT file.

NEXT: Evaluating Information

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Please send comments to: Colby Glass, MLIS

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