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Research Tips and Tricks: Getting Started

Choosing a Topic and Search Strategy

1.     eyeball over red background   Topic Selection

Sometimes selecting a topic is the most difficult part of the entire research process.  Brainstorm concepts and ideas with your friends, family or your professor.  What is it that you want to find out, prove, compare?  Be sure to to select a topic that is of interest to you, or if you have been assigned a topic, select something about that topic that is of interest to you.

            •   Topics that are too broad are difficult to research; broad topics should be broken down into smaller components so that they’re easier to work with.  An excellent tool to use to narrow a topic is an encyclopedia, such as Encyclopedia Britannica, or even Wikipedia.  Articles in encyclopedias also will often give you an excellent overview of a topic, and sometimes a bibliography with references to additional information.  Also, browsing through the tables of contents of in books, especially books in the Reference section of the library, will often provide background information on a large topic and can be another way to find good information and will help you find the unique terminology and definitions of a topic.  In addition, you may narrow a topic by time period, geography, or by players, or the people involved. 

2.         Formulation of a Research Question.  Once you’ve determined your topic and narrowed it down to a manageable subtopic, it’s time to determine your research question.   A research question is a brief question that helps direct your efforts in collecting, critically reading, and evaluating the sources that you’ll find during your research efforts.  What do you want to find out about your topic, or prove, or compare?  From that list, choose the best question, one that is neither too broad, nor too narrow as your primary research question. 

3.         Your Search Terms.  Once you’ve defined your research question, pick out the key concepts related to your topic, usually three or four main ideas.  Once you’ve defined the concepts, you’ll need to identify synonyms for the terms.  Using a thesaurus will help you find alternative words for your topic, and be sure to come up with several alternative keywords!  Once you’ve completed this task, you have the keywords to use as your search terms in the library catalog, in periodical databases, and in any web-based resources you might choose to search.  Keep in mind that if the first search terms you use don’t give you the desired results, try others, or ask a librarian or your instructor for help. 

4.         Boolean Operators.  You may have never heard this term before, but Boolean operators are a very important component to searching any database, whether it's a UAS database or a search engine like Google.  Boolean operators connect keywords, or search terms, in order to increase or decrease the number of research results by using the words AND, OR, NOT and NEAR.  The UAS databases allow you to use Boolean operators with drop down menus in advanced searches, and some search engines, such as Google, imply the AND in their searches so that you don't have to physically type it in your searches. AND is used to narrow your search results; OR is used to broaden your search; NOT is used to exclude certain words from your search.  EXAMPLE:  patriots NOT New England Patriots.  Savvy use of Boolean operators can be extremely helpful and time saving.

E-Learning Students

On-campus student? E-Learning student? – UAS libraries provides many online resources for the convenience of all students.  As you use this guide, you'll notice green student sitting at desk w/computerthat it includes information about searching and finding both print and online resources.  All students have access to our electronic resources.  You will need your UA username and password to access our e-resources, like eBooks and the full text of articles online.  If you need to retrieve or reset your UA username and password, visit ELMO.


About This Guide

This research guide is intended to provide some ideas for Ketchikan students who have questions about the research process.  Those with additional questions are encouraged to contact Librarian Kathleen Wiechelman at the Ketchikan Campus Library at 907-228-4567 or Library Manager Kathy Bolling at 907-228-4517.   Start the research process early instead of waiting until the last minute!  It's a lot more fun that way. 

Which Materials to Use and Where to Find Them

a.       Books:  Using the keywords that from your list, you can find books on the shelf on your topic in the Campus Library through the Library catalog or at your local library.  If your keywords aren't working, try others on your list, ask a librarian or your professor for help. 

b.       Electronic Books: From the Campus Library's top page under the heading "Find Books", click on Electronic Books.  Search in the UAS EBSCOHost's e-book collection and others to find electronic books on your topic available to you as a UAS student. You may be required to enter your UA login and username if searching from off-campus.  The following Research Guide will provide you will additional help on using the electronic book databases:  ebooks at UAS LibrariesKeep in mind that as a UAS student, you have access to more than 100,000 electronic books focused on the programs and classes taught at UAS!                                                                 
                                                                                                                                       magnifying glass on books

c.       Journal Articles:  From the UAS Ketchikan Campus Library website, link to Database Vendors, and from there to one of the journal databases recommended on the Find Articles tab above.  Sometimes periodicals provide the only useful and timely information and on very narrow or very current topics, such as medicine and technology.  (Click on the Find Articles tab above.)

d.      Websites:  Websites can often provide a very quick source of information but can often lack depth, authority and accuracy.  However,  they require a much higher level of evaluation than journal articles found through the databases on the Library’s website.  Please see the Explore Websites tab above for more information.

e.      Other:  Keep in mind that libraries also have DVDs, newspapers, maps, governments, atlases, and other resources that might be useful for your research.  In addition, sometimes an interview or a phone call may provide the best resource for your research project.  Contact the UAS Ketchikan Campus Library for any assistance you might need.

     •        Evaluation:  Evaluate all of your sources carefully for credibility, relevance, quality, and possible bias.  Please see the Evaluation tab above for more information.

     •        Synthesizing:  The final step is to determine how your pieces of your research  fit together and to present them cohesively in your paper, presentation or speech.