Research isn’t about finding X# of sources for a paper. Research is really a conversation. People (students / professors / citizens / activists / interested parties / corporations /governments / nonprofits, etc.) are having conversations about your topic. Your job is to access, explore and evaluate the conversation as it happens between all of these sources. Then you’ll be able to contribute your own thoughts and voice.
Enter the Conversation: Ask yourself these questions: What interests me about my topic? What do I already know about it? Can I identify key aspects of the topic, like important places, dates, events, philosophies?
Browse class readings, Wikipedia, reference books for more background information
Consult the Research Guides (find the one for your department and/or class) to start your research
Talk with your professor about ways you can develop the topic & sources you should consider
Talk with a librarian at the Reference Desk about useful reference books, books & articles
Brainstorm with your classmates to get their take on how you might explore your topic further
CHECK IN: Sketch out the overall scope of your topic: do you understand the broad topic enough so you develop a focused research question? Discover who’s having conversations about your topic: who are the major scholars or experts in the field? Identify terms and jargons those experts use: what keywords can you use to search for more information?
Explore the Conversation: By now you’ve taken your topic and turned it into a fairly focused research question or hypothesis. (Find help by Googling “developing a research question” and consult the “Research” chapter in The Everyday Writer.) Now the fun really begins as you delve into what others are saying about your topic and let the scholars lead you to other sources and further refine your question.
This often starts with finding a good source that speaks directly to your research question. A good source may emerge from class readings, suggestions from your professor or your own research. (Use the CRAAP test for more info, as well as the resources on our Fighting Fake News guide.) You will use your source to go both forward and backward in time to find related source and trace the conversation. This process is called a bibliographic trace.
To go FORWARD: Type the title of your article, book or book chapter into Google Scholar. Your source will usually pop up as the first source on the results page. Look for the link that says Cited by [number]. That link will take you to other sources that have used your source in their work. Once you have a sense of leading scholars in your field, you can also search by their names.
To go BACKWARD: Read your good source and note the sources that are cited. Track down the hard copies of ones that look like they will be useful. Visit the Reference Desk if you need help accessing these sources and the Tracking Your Sources tab on this guide.
CHECK IN: Can you answer these questions: How are experts discussing your topic? What themes do they consider? What common questions do people debate? What is the scope of the topic? (Are scholars discussing your entire topic or pieces of it?) Who is having the conversation – are you seeing the same names mentioned in the citations again and again?
Next Steps: Once you can articulate the major aspects of the research conversation surrounding your topic, you’re ready to add your voice to the topic and contribute meaningfully to the conversation. Pay attention to the assignment prompt, talk with your professor and visit the Writing Center for help integrating sources. Use the Cite Your Sources link on the library’s homepages for information about formatting citations.