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How To Research: A Starter Kit

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Research can be very challenging. You might find yourself starting over or off-track, but that is all a part of the process. Here are some tips to help you stay on task and keep moving forward.

  1. Think about why you are researching your topic. Hopefully, it is something important/interesting to you. You are going to be investing your time in this process, make sure it's worth your while. Video: Choosing a research topic (see below).
  2. Conduct a web search (Google, Bing) on your topic to see what information is out there, including the vocabulary used for your topic (it's really helpful for developing search terms/keywords). Video: Google vs. Library Databases (see below).
    • Background research can be very helpful in developing keywords. What you know as one thing could be called something completely different to someone else. Check out the databases of Encyclopedias & Dictionaries. They're great resources for background research!
  3. Think about the type of sources you need. If you need articles (scholarly or popular), books, or films. Where you look matters.
  4. Change your search strategy
    • Use different search tools
    • If one keyword isn't working so well, try a different keyword. Databases are organized in a very specific way and requires specific vocabulary to locate information. (ex.: instead of 'internment camps', try 'concentration camps').
  5. Ask for help! You can schedule a research appointment with a librarian. 

Not sure where to start? Below are a few places to that could be helpful. You don't have to use these databases exclusively, if you prefer to use a different research tool, use it!

Choosing a research topic 

Video provided by University of Minnesota Libraries.

Google vs. Library Databases

What is Google? Google is a search engine. The information it provides is not organized in a specific way and most of the results from the first page are determined by popular searches or the virtual profile created from your search history.  

What is a database? A database is an electronic filing system. It organizes information in a specific way that requires users to use specific keywords and search terms to find information. Databases can be subject-specific and include search filters to help narrow the results.

Does this mean Google is bad? Absolutely NOT. Google is a fast and more accessible resource which is why it is more widely used. However, it will take more skills and time to find information from a reputable source. As a librarian, I often use Google when helping students formulate a research topic, get background information, and find current events relevant to their research topic. 

The library's databases are more useful for academic research and include search features that will help narrow your results. With databases, you can search by subject, author, publication, and keyword all at once. For Google, even the advanced search feature and Google Scholar are very limited in that regard. Additionally, the kinds of sources that your instructor requires (mainly scholarly sources) are not easily accessible. They cost money and being a student here at Goucher College means you have free access to those sources. Google is not bad, and you do not need to use the databases exclusively. In fact, I encourage you to use both throughout your research process.

This page was adopted from the Research Overview Guide from Shoreline Community College.

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