The librarians at Green River College have developed this lesson to help give you a running start in the research process. As you work through the three steps of this lesson you will find help in understanding your assignment, picking and developing a topic and beginning the first steps of college -level research. If you need further help from a Green River College librarian you can reach us by phone, email or chat.
As your instructor assigns you a research assignment, the first thing you will want to do is take note of all the elements related to the research process.
Look for the following elements of your assignment:
Type of Essay (Persuasive, Informative...)
Scope of Topics (Can you choose your own topic, or choose from a focused area of study)
Citation Style (APA, MLA or Chicago?)
Length of Essay
Number of Sources
Required Source Types (Use of library databases, Books, Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles)
Your assignment will be uniquely created by your instructor and may or may not include elements listed above. Consult with your instructor for clarification concerning the required elements of your essay.
Knowing your assignment’s requirements will help keep you focused throughout the research process.
When brainstorming and selecting a topic be sure that you are choosing from within the scope of your assignment. Many assignments will give guidance about what topics you can OR cannot choose to write about. You will also want to choose a topic that is complex enough for college level writing. Be sure to think critically about possible topics and to consider multiple points of view.
If you are given a wide scope of topics to choose from, start with a broad topic that you are interested in then draw on the background research you do in Step 3 to focus your topic. Starting with a broad idea then doing some preliminary research could help you narrow in on a focused and researchable topic. As you begin the research process it is ok to start with a general topic or idea but as you conduct research look for ways to narrow in or focus your topic. This will be described in further detail in Step 3.
Need help selecting a topic?
Several of our research databases provide lists of topics. Scan through these lists to see what seems interesting and fits with your assignment.
In the CQ Researcher database, you can browse for topic two different ways.
The image below shows the main landing page in the CQ Researcher, where you can find both of these options.
(click on image to enlarge)
In the Opposing Viewpoints in Context database you can browse for topics by clicking on the Browse Issues button.The icon for this button is a light bulb. When you click on this button you will be shown a large list of broad topics. When you click on one of these topics you will be shown a collection of Viewpoint articles, which focuses in on narrow aspects of these topics.
The image below shows the main landing page in the Opposing Viewpoints Database, where you can see the icon for Browse Issues icon on the right-hand side
(click on image to enlarge)
You can also scan through the websites of media outlets to see what is currently being written about. Be sure to click through to topic pages.
...Or visit your preferred media outlets and see what’s being discussed
If you use these sources to find your topic be sure to save any articles you find and use those to help build an understanding of your topic.
Once you understand your assignment (Step 1) and have a general idea of a topic (Step 2), the best place to begin your research is in background sources like subject-specific encyclopedia or other introductory sources. Some suggestions of library databases to use to find introductory sources can be found below.
This database gives access to subject specific encyclopedia articles. These articles are excellent for giving you background and contextual information on your topic. You can use these articles to gain an understanding of your topic's history, important people and groups associated with your topic as well as key concepts and definitions. Knowing this background and context will help you continue with your research to find more complex sources.
This database gives access to articles published by CQ Press. These articles go into detail about topics that are currently being discussed in society today. If your topic is a current issue or event, then this database would be a great starting place. CQ Researcher articles include background and introductory information, discussions of important aspects of the topic, important data and a Pro/Con section.
In both databases begin searching with general keywords and phrases. For example, if your topic is Climate Change you can simply put that keyword phrase in as your initial search, or search for a specific aspect of your topic. For example, Ocean Acidification. Only include the most important concepts in your keyword search. DO NOT include extra words or terms such as PROS AND CONS or complete sentences or questions. Doing so might result in zero results.
Once you find a background article on your topic read it and take notes about the terms and ideas the article presents. Academic writing often uses specific language and these terms will then be the keywords you will use as you continue your research. Use open-ended questions to help you organize these terms and keywords. For example: WHO are the people and groups associated with this topic? WHAT are the main issues? HOW is society impacted?
This lesson is intended to get you started with college-level research. Please contact the library if you need further help getting started with your research or if need assistance continuing with the research process. We are here to help.