Module 2: Starting Your Search

Your Hunt Begins

RESEARCH: Systematic inquiry into a subject to discover or revise facts, theories, make an extensive investigation into. - Random House College Dictionary/Rev.

Doing research can be exciting. As Hollywood has shown, for a detective it's an exciting journey filled with the unexpected. Because you see, detective work is essentially research work.

When confronted with a murder a detective follows steps in a process of elimination, to figure out "Who done it."

First, they get a feel for the situation, gathering background information so they know the outline of what happened. Next, they think about the crime ’ the questions that need to be answered. (Why were the victim's shoelaces undone? What is the origin of that strange knife with which he was stabbed)

Then, they look at documents and interview people to try and find answers to those questions. In the process, they come up with new questions or decide to go after an entirely different lead. All the while, the detective keeps track of where information came from for use when they go to court or realize they must retrace their steps.

Just like detective work, research is a hunt for the truth. It is getting to know a subject by reading up on it, reflecting, playing with the ideas, choosing the areas that interest you and following up on them. But in order to research effectively, you have to have a research strategy.

In this unit you will find a 5-step research strategy that works well with almost any topic and can be adapted as needed.

The Steps


Formulate your question


Get background information


Tools Available


Use the Tool


Evaluate Your Sources

You can omit steps, repeat steps, or rearrange steps, as necessary.

On the each page of this unit you will find instructions for each of these steps.

A project of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

Step 1: Formulate Your Question or Statement

Your research may start as a general idea or a specific question or statement.

Example 1:
Your professor might give you general guidelines, but not a specific topic. For example:

"Write a paper on some aspect of school violence."

In this case, you may decide to focus or narrow the topic down into something in which you're interested. Or, you may decide to do some background searching (step 2) before you narrow your topic.

Example 2:
Your professor might assign a specific topic. For example:

"Write a research paper on how high schools can prevent violence in the school."

With either the general topic of school violence, or the specific topic of how high schools can prevent violence, you are now ready to proceed to step 2, getting background information.

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Step 2: Get Background Information

What is ‘background information’? It’s reading up on the subject before you make too many decisions about how you’re going to approach your research. It introduces you to a topic before you dive in, pretending to be an expert. It is the foundation on which you build good research.

    Why is background information important?

  1. It helps you to focus on names, dates, events, organizations, terms, etc., associated with a topic.
  2. It can help you to formulate/reformulate your topic (or, to put it another way, it can help you decide whether to broaden or narrow your topic).
  3. Background sources might include bibliographies that you can use to find additional sources for your project.

  Where do you find background information?

Encyclopedias are good sources for background information. You may choose to use a general encyclopedia, such as Encyclopedia Americana, or a specialized encyclopedia such as Encyclopedia of Special Education.

The type of specialized encyclopedia you use might depend on the approach you plan to take in your research. For instance, if you need an encyclopedia article on love, there are several options, including Encyclopedia Americana as a general encyclopedia, or Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology, as specialized encyclopedias.

Also, for current interest "hot topics," Congressional Quarterly, might be helpful.

Want to know more about specialized encyclopedias? Ask the reference librarian about the ones owned by the James E. Carter Library.

A project of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

Step 3: The Tools Available

GALILEO, GIL, Internet, Printed Indexes

Once you know what resources you need, choose the tool that will help you find them. But before we look at where to find the items, let's look at what each tool covers.

  • GALILEO - Contains primarily periodical databases that cover a variety of subject areas/disciplines. Some are full text. Many of the GALILEO databases cover only the last 15-20 years.
  • GIL - Contains primarily books, some government documents, periodical titles, videos and microforms held by the James Earl Carter Library.
  • Internet - Is a collection of a vast amount of materials. There are no guidelines that limit what may and may not be covered. So, you might find anything ranging from personal Web pages to digitized copies of historical documents to syllabi of college classes.
  • Printed indexes - Are usually multi-volume sets of books that include citations to articles in magazines, newspapers, scholarly journals, and sometimes chapters in books or other information. Print indexes generally cover many more years than the GALILEO databases.

Using the various types of materials that might be needed for research, we will now look at which tool is appropriate to use to find the needed materials.

A project of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

Step 4: Use the Tool

In this step, you will search for information on your topic in the selected databases using terms, organizations, names of people, and other information you identified in your background reading. Three examples follow:

Research Topic

Search Terms

1. The use of animal furs in clothing is unethical.

Term: animal rights
Term: fur industry
Term: PETA (an organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, often associated with the animal rights movement)

2. Euthanasia should be legalized.

Term: euthanasia
Term: mercy killing
Term: Jack Kevorkian (a name often associated euthanasia)

3. Zero tolerance is an effective method for controlling violence in schools.

Term: zero tolerance
Term: violence
Term: elementary schools
Term: high schools
Term: NEA (National Education Association, a national organization that represents many teachers and provides a forum for discussion on topics related to education.)

A project of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

Step 5: Evaluate Your Sources

As you search for, gather, and read information on your topic, you will find that the amount of information available on many topics can be overwhelming. If your purpose for writing a research paper is simply to find 10 sources, you can probably find those sources without a great deal of trouble. However, if you want to find 10 "good" sources for your paper, you must analyze and carefully select those sources that will make your research paper a good one.

Evaluating sources means looking at the content of books, magazines, newspapers, etc. to determine if the information is reliable and making sure that the source actually answers your research question.

Let's say you are writing a research paper on treatments for juvenile diabetes and you find an excellent article (well written by a specialist, current information, plenty of supporting facts, included in a medical journal) on the causes of juvenile diabetes. Despite the fact the article is obviously reliable, for your paper it is not a "good" source. Why not? The article is not about your research topic. You are writing on the ‘treatments’ not the ‘causes.’

When evaluating sources, keep in mind that information has been evaluated by an editorial process before it is included in printed indexes or the electronic databases in GALILEO.You are generally the sole evaluator of information on the Internet.

A project of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

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