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Public Health

A guide to finding public health resources in UVic Libraries.

Research step-by-step

If you are writing an analytical/compare and contrast paper, or an argumentative persuasive essay, then you will require research evidence to support your argument.

How much research you will need to do will depend on:

  • Your existing knowledge;
  • Your knowledge gaps; and
  • Any specific requirements outlined by the assignment (e.g. sometimes instructors will require a minimum number or type of sources to be used.)

RESEARCH AS INQUIRY

Here are some questions to think about (or ask yourself) when trying to figure out the scope of your research inquiry.  Creating a concept map, or brainstorming what you already know about a topic, can help you to identify areas you may want to explore further.

Research as inquiry

Information comes in a variety of packages, including:

  • books
  • journal articles
  • conference proceedings
  • websites
  • government documents
  • laws and legislation
  • newspapers
  • reports
  • white papers (what is a white paper?)
  • policy briefs
  • statistics and data

Producers of this kind of information include commercial publishers, organizations, professional associations, higher education institutions, research "think tanks", and government.  These more traditional sources of information are what students typically use when writing academic essays. Some of these sources come from commercial publishers (books and articles), while others are published as grey literature.

With the advent of social media, students can also access less traditional sources of information, such as:

  • Internet forums
  • blogs
  • wikis
  • video sharing sites (e.g. YouTube)
  • social network platforms (e.g. Facebook)

Producers of this kind of information include the same groups listed above as well as anyone who has access to Internet.  While not a traditional source of information, social media networks are often some of the first to report on breaking news events or provide commentary and can have just as much value as some of the more traditional sources depending on the kind of essay you are writing.

Whether you’re using print or online sources, you will have to look in a variety of places in order to find information.  It is unrealistic to expect to find everything by doing a simple Google search.  While this may be a good place to start, you will need to search more than Google.  It is important to not only to find information but to find good information.   After all, your research should be the most appropriate and best for your paper, not just the easiest to access.

The next tabs in this guide introduce you to the various search tools available, effective search techniques, as well as strategies to evaluate the quality of the information you find.

 

INFORMATION CREATION AS PROCESS

Here are some questions to think about (or ask yourself) when trying to figure out the kinds of information sources that might best support your research. As you can see, there are many ways in which information is made available, and in many formats.

Become familiar with information sources

The search tools researchers typically use are Google, Google Scholar, Summon, and a variety of specialized research databases:

search tool triangle, showing Google, Google Scholar, Summon, and specialized database options

 

For a description of these search tools click on the following links:

To choose a search tool, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Who is producing or publishing the information I need (individual researchers, government, research institutions)?
  2. How are they distributing their information (via websites, formal publications like books or journals)?

If you are looking for commercially published information such as journals, books, magazines and newspapers, you’ll find them via the Library's collection using tools like Google Scholar, Summon and our specialized research databases.  If you are looking for government information, publications from organizations or associations, as well as non-commercially published information (grey literature), search the open Internet using Google or any other search engine.

 

SEARCHING AS STRATEGIC EXPLORATION

Here are some questions to think about (or ask yourself) when trying to figure out which search tool or research database you might use to begin your research. As you can see, your choice of search tool will depend a lot on the type of information you need, and who is producing it, and where they make it available for searching.

Searching as strategic exploration

To determine what keywords to use when searching, write out your question on a piece of paper and then underline the words in your question that best express what it is you are looking for.   For example, if this is my research question:

Is online dispute resolution the answer to the multitude of disputes that occur in the realm of e-commerce?

I would focus in on the bolded words:
Is online dispute resolution the solution to the multitude of disputes that occur in the realm of e-commerce?

Then, I would construct my search as follows:
"online dispute resolution" AND e-commerce

If I am not happy with my search results I could think of synonyms for my search terms, then try a new search.

Instead of online dispute resolution, I could also try:

ODR

Similarly, if I am not happy with e-commerce, I could try:

"online shopping" or "online sales"

So, I could do additional searches that are similar to my first search, and get more results for my research question.

As you look through your search results, pay particular attention to the words the authors are using as well as the subject headings some articles will provide, as these can give you ideas for keywords to try in future searches.

*Remember, you want to find good information on your topic, and in order to find good information, plan to spend time searching.

For more information on search strategies, see the videos and guides on the following pages:

Other tips for finding literature on your topic:

If you are suffering from "keyword search burnout", there are other methods for finding material.  These methods should be regularly employed as part of your search process.

  1. Read the bibliographies of the resources you have already found – it will help you find additional leads to materials.
  2. Look for "related publication" links.  If you use Google Scholar, in your list of results you will notice that it provides "cited by" and "related articles" links.  These can lead you to additional information on your topic.
  3. Search by author.  If you know the name of an author who has written extensively in your field, use Summon or Google Scholar to see if you can locate more of his/her works.  Both Summon and Google Scholar allow you to search by author name (look for this option in their "Advanced Search" screen).
  4. Search for theses and dissertations on your topic.  Theses and dissertations have extensive bibliographies.  If you can find one on your topic, it is another source for resources.

Tips for evaluating search results:

Doing research to find resources for your paper will take time.  While it is tempting to use only the first few resources you find, they may not necessarily be the best resources for your purposes, so it is important to evaluate the resources as you find them.  Doing this will help you to determine whether or not you need to find more resources, or if you can stop searching and move on to the next stage of the writing process.

Reading abstracts is a quick way to determine the quality or usefulness of a resource. Most databases you search will provide abstracts along with the title of the work, the author(s), and the publisher.

The four main points you want to think about when evaluating an article are:

  1. Authority – Who is the author? Do they have valid credentials? Look at the first few pages of an article or book to see who the author is and with which institution they are affiliated. Googling authors’ names is an easy way to find what else they have published to get a better sense of their credentials/authority.
  2. Purpose – Who is the intended audience? What is the intended purpose of the publication?  To sway opinion?  To report out on a study they did?  Does the purpose of the resource suit your research?
  3. Content – How well does the resource address your topic? If it only partially addresses your topic, you may need to find additional resources.
  4. Currency – When was the work published? Look at the year when the item was published. Sometimes older material is too out of date.  If you want to find literature published within the last 5-10 years, look for a date limiter option in the database you are searching.  This is a common feature of most databases to help you refine your search results.

Finding sources appropriate for academic research requires time and critical thought.

 

AUTHORITY IS CONSTRUCTED AND CONTEXTUAL

Here are some questions to think about (or ask yourself) when evaluating a resource you might use for your research project or essay.

Authority is constructed and contextual

Citation managers:

A citation manager is a piece of software that allows you to store and organize your collection of resources in an electronic format so that you can instantly generate bibliographies in APA style.

Citation manager options:
There are several citation manager products on the market.  For a more detailed comparison of citation managers, their features, and their costs, view Wikipedia's comparison of reference management software, or the Library's citation manager guide.

If you are interested in learning more about the other citation manager software, a Google or YouTube search will bring up "how-to" videos and documentation that you can further explore.

 

INFORMATION HAS VALUE

It is really important to give credit to the ideas or information you use in your research.  Not only because it helps you to avoid plagiarism (which can have serious academic penalties!), but you yourself might get published some day and as an author you will want others to properly attribute all the hard work you've done.

Information has value

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