By finding, limiting, and focusing your topic, you have already familiarized yourself with gathering research. The hope is that now you have equipped yourself with a foundation, you can use what the Library has to offer in secondary source materials without being intimidated by what has already been written about your topic.
The trick is to keep in mind the point of using the Library, which is to help you formulate and strengthen your argument. It is to gather, to sift, to accumulate knowledge, background, evidence, illustration, and data for use in letting YOUR position or aim for the paper to take hold and emerge. The Library is a “place” for you to “see what’s out there” on your topic, to find out what people are saying about your topic, and to determine what both sides or the many sides of your topic’s issues are.
If you are uncertain of your stance (see Establishing a Thesis), the Library can serve as a way for you to hone in on what position you feel comfortable supporting by finding out which opinions you seem to be aligning with. For instance, you may be curious about animal rights, body piercing, or fraternities as topics, but you may not be sure of what your direction might be in terms of persuading your audience one way or the other. Reading what’s “out there” from reference works, books, and articles can help you form your opinion and maybe even help you carve your niche or find a unique aspect of your topic that does not seem to have gotten much “airtime.”
Let’s take a closer look at the specific research materials available in the Library to see their potential value for you.
Reference Works are invaluable resources for information and background and for helping researchers find when and where books and articles have been published. Encyclopedias will not only supply you with all the information you will need for an effective paper and indexes, which help researchers by listing the literally millions of book, video, and article titles, but can usually guide you towards obtaining your sources. (Many on-line databases like Academic Search Premier and The New York Times databases, however, now supply full texts at the click of your mouse.) They serve as essential starting points to help you build up your knowledge base and navigate your steps towards actually obtaining and reading the secondary sources that will become the cornerstone of your research.
Books seem to have become the forgotten resource, but their value to a researcher can be essential. They can be a tremendous source for background, history, data, diverse points of view, and further research. A book often represents a cumulative research achievement, symbolizing sometimes a researcher’s life work, thereby providing you with a head start, so to speak, on much of what’s been covered by your topic. Check out Brookdale’s collection by visiting the Library’s Find a Book Link.
Articles are hands down the most important secondary resource you need. They can represent the pulse of your topic, pumping the lifeblood into it, by identifying current trends, fresh voices, and cutting edge analysis and discussion. That’s not to say that only the latest articles are the most valuable. “Older” articles can serve the same and perhaps even better purpose as reference works or books can in terms of supplying background and historical perspective.
A challenging part of your research will be getting the right articles to fit your needs. “Getting” means selecting, not just physically photocopying or printing them because they were the first ten titles you saw listed from index, database, or search engine results. Articles must be read closely for their potential value to your thinking and writing. Only after a close reading can you determine an article’s worth.
Your success in finding valuable articles is entirely dependent on the words you use to initiate search results. For instance, if your topic is “Coping with Death,” and you type in the words “coping with death” you may be surprised to see that not much surfaces. However, search results are dependent on commands and if articles have been “commanded” to surface only when prompted by other words then the ones you’ve used, you will miss out on getting the articles you really need. Words like “grieving,” “mourning,” and “bereavement,” for the most part, mean the same thing as coping with death; however, you will find yourself getting more “hits” using those words instead.
The kind of search you do will also influence your results. Using a subject search as opposed to using a keyword search means you have different research strategies and will produce very different outcomes.
Choosing a Subject Search using the Library’s online databases to find an article through the Academic ASAP database, with the topic Virtual Reality, will provide you with subdivisions and related topics that will not only assist you by dividing the headings of your research for you, but help you think of ways to limit the topic. Under “subdivisions” for “Virtual Reality” you might be interested to see the narrower topics of “adverse and side effects” and “health,” “recreational,” and “religious” aspects. “Related topics” for “Virtual Reality” are “Computer Graphics” and “Interactive Computer Systems.”
A benefit of the keyword search strategy is that you will have more power over the searches (note that under a subject search you are limited to what is considered to be “worthy” of a subject heading). For instance, let’s just say you have already limited your topic to the uses of virtual reality in medicine. In a keyword search, you can type in Virtual Reality and Medicine. What you are commanding the system to do for you using “and” is to search for articles with all of those words. This limits the search, thereby reducing the amount of “hits” you have to weed through and helping you aim more directly at your target.
You can also use the word “or” to expand a search, “Virtual Reality or “Games”. The word “or” in this case asks the system to look for articles with the words “Virtual Reality” or “Video Games.” Using the word “not,” “Virtual Reality not Games, asks the database to search for articles that use the words “Virtual Reality” but not with the word “Games” used.
This may all seem complicated, but keep in mind that databases are designed to simplify searches and more conveniently help researchers access vital information and even actual full texts. The best way to appreciate the system is, of course, to try it. Research takes time . . . lots of time, and a great deal of patience. Don’t expect instant gratification even if your tight schedule cries out for it. In the long run, the time, diligence, and efforts you put into your early research efforts will save you both time and frustration later on when you are called upon to focus, develop, and extend your ideas.