1. Select a topic that genuinely interests you. Look at course readings, class notes, Google, Wikipedia, CQ Researcher or Credo Reference for initial ideas.
2. Consider the scope of your topic.
If it is too narrow, you might have trouble finding enough information.
If it too broad, you can be overwhelmed with information.
3. Turn your focused topic into a research question. It should be a question that will have a concrete, specific and measurable answer that has not already been definitively answered (you want to contribute something new to the discussion!).
Questions to guide the development of your research question:
Knowing the right keywords to search will help you start your search off right. Often, when students aren't finding good information - or any information at all about a topic - it is because they aren't using the correct keywords.
The best thing you can do before ever getting into a database is to think about the keywords that will best represent your topic. Write down your thesis statement and pull out the major terms in it. Then, think of as many different ways as you can to say those key terms. For example:
Thesis: Although often overlooked, libraries and librarians played an important role in the American Civil Rights Movement through an emphasis on the professional principles of equal access to all as well as by supporting literacy and voting rights campaigns.
Some keywords in this sentence are: Libraries, librarians, civil rights, literacy, voting. However, searching for these terms will get you only a fraction of the material that is out there, because if a different keyword is used to express the same concept you need to search for that keyword as well. So, other keywords that would be useful to use when researching this thesis topic would be: American Library Association, public libraries, integration. You may also broaden or narrow the search by searching for a specific library, a specific state, or a specific issue - so your keywords might include "Chicago Public LIbrary" or Louisana or segregation.
* Remember that you can combine keywords using the search limiters AND, OR, NOT. These will narrow or expand your search.
* Use quotation marks around words that make a phrase. So, search for "civil rights" rather than civil rights or civil AND rights in a database. This will ensure that the database knows that you want the phrase "civil rights" and not every article with the word civil and the word rights in it!
* Tailor your keywords to the database. Not all databases will pick up all keywords. Get your list of keywords and plug them into various databases to see whether or not they are useful for you in that database. If you go into a database with keywords and don't find anything, don't get discouraged. Take your words to a different database and see what you find there.
BUT. . .
* Remember in historical research that some databases, particularly those that search historical primary documents like newspapers and magazines, may use keywords that are outdated or distasteful to contemporary researchers. For example, searching for "African American" in some newspaper databases will not turn up much material, but searching for "Negro" will, simply because of the language that is used in the article.
Visit the Information Center for research assistance from 9am-6pm Monday-Thursday, 9am-5pm Friday and 1pm-5pm on Sunday. Staff are also available during library hours to assist with your check out, interlibrary loan, or tech support needs. View the Mansfield Library hours.
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The Mansfield Library provides a full suite of video tutorials to help you with topic selection, searching, citations, copyright and more.