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Columbia Area Career Center: Starting Research

Types of Scholarly Information

Reference Sources

Reference sources are things such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, biographies, statistics, etc.  Using reference sources are a wonderful way to begin your research, as they provide:

  • Background information/ Context
  • Definitions and key terms
  • Important figures
  • Dates, places, people
  • Additional sources (articles, books, websites, etc.)

 

Periodicals

A periodical is any source of information published on a regular, recurring basis.  Periodicals have two main categories, popular and scholarly.

  1. Popular: Newspapers, magazines, and other regular publications that do not go through the peer-review process.  Usually intended for a general audience. National Geographic is a perfect example!
  2. Scholarly: These are journals that contain research articles and have gone through the peer-review process.  Peer-review means the information found in the articles has been fact checked by other experts in the same field prior to it's publication.  The purpose of scholarly publications is to share new knowledge, research, or advances within a particular field of study.  These are things written by scholars for scholars.  

Making a Search Strategy

Step 1: Research Question

Research projects begin with a topic.  You will intentionally start with a broad topic (when possible pick something you are interested in!), and narrow down or focus your topic as you think through what it is about that topic you want to hone in on.  If you start your research with a broad topic, you will end up with more sources than you could manage!


Results searching 'climate change' in Academic Search Complete


So how do you avoid a giant results list like this?  Try thinking about your topic as a questions.  With the example of climate change, one could ask:

"How does climate change affect polar bears?"


 

Step 2: Select Keywords

Databases don't work the same way as Google, you can't type a phrase into the search bar and get good results.  Scholarly databases like you to search using individual keywords.  These will be the most essential parts of your research question.  With our example of:

"How does climate change affect polar bears?"

The following would be our keywords:

climate change

polar bears


 

Step 3: Brainstorm Synonyms and Related Terms

When we plug our keywords into a database, most often it will search for those exact words.  It doesn't always know the synonyms or related terms for our topic.  For example, think of all the words to describe soda/pop/soda pop/coke/soft drink!  Using a thesaurus is a great place to gather synonyms and related terms.  For our topic options could include:

bears

habitats

wildlife conservation

climatology 

global warming


 

Step 4: Boolean Operators

Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) are used to help databases create relationships between your keywords.

AND connects key concepts

Example: climate change AND polar bears

AND tells the database you want to find information containing both of these terms to be relevant.

OR connects synonyms and related words within a concept

Example: climate change OR global warming

OR tells the database to find information sources containing either of these keywords, as long as one of them is there.

NOT excludes information sources including a word you specify

Example: polar NOT grizzly

NOT would find information sources about polar, not, grizzly bears in this results list.


Boolean search string in Academic Search Complete

Research is a Process

Research is a Process by Jessica Bennett