This guide is designed to describe the process for doing academic research generally. Along the way it will make particular suggestions about doing research for COMM 107: Principles and Practices.
The Four-Step Research Process
There are four steps to the research process. Important points to remember when doing your work is to take your time and do each step in the process as carefully and completely as possible. Paradoxically, this is the way to complete your work most quickly. Each step is like a link in a chain. Your work will be only as good as whatever step you do most poorly. Do each step sequentially, but you can go back to early steps to improve them if you find you are having trouble.
STEP ONE: Write your research sentence
Research begins with a topic to research. Select a topic that is important to you and one about which your knowledge will be expanded by doing research. Be sure that it is one that you can make interesting to your classmates. Once you have a topic, you will need to sharpen your understanding of what about it you plan to research. Do this by writing a sentence that describes your topic. Make sure the sentence is complete and concise. It should contain some reference to everything you care about in the topic, but only the most important ideas. By doing this, you will discover the central ideas of your research. Research questions commonly contain about three central elements but there may be more or less depending on the question.
STEP TWO: Choose your information sources
There is a multitude of information sources in the world. At step two, your task is to collect as many sources as might be relevant to your search as you can find, but at the same time, leave out the unimportant ones. Your goal is to find the best database available to you to begin your search. When looking at databases in Research Port, write down as many as you can find under each of the relevant subject categories listed there. From your list, select the one you think is likely to be the best source for your research. Do not start searching in the first database that looks like it might be good. It will probably be a mediocre source. Constructing a query will be difficult in a mediocre source. Take your time investigating databases to find the best one before searching. You will save a great deal of time by taking your time at this stage.
STEP THREE: Construct your query
To do effective research, use the advanced search screen. These screens usually have three dialog boxes. They are for your central ideas. For each central idea, think of as many synonyms as you can to express the idea and link them with the word “or.” Here is an example search for the research topic. The central ideas are in bold.
“What are the arguments used in the controversy over the therapeutic use of marijuana.”
Construct your search following the model below.
(controversy OR debate OR opinion)
(therapeutic OR medical OR medicinal)
(marijuana OR cannabis OR pot)
This will allow the computer to find articles that contain information relevant to all of your central ideas and it will give the computer several terms to express each of the concepts. You may use more than three synonyms to express each concept.
STEP FOUR: Find your results
The databases available to you in Research Port are of three kinds: citation databases, abstract databases, and full-text databases. Full-text databases are quite convenient. They provide a link to the full-text. Citation databases and abstract databases will require you to do further searching to find the actual text of the article you are seeking, but it is amazingly easy. The yellow “find it” button associated with each citation or abstract will help you get to the text. By clicking on the “find it” button, a screen will pop up which will give you a link to another database that has your article in full-text. If the article is not available in full-text anywhere, but we own the article in print, the “find it” button will give you a link to the catalog record for the journal so that you can find a print copy of the article in the Library. In cases where we have neither and electronic version nor a print version, the “find it” button will give you a link to our interlibrary loan service, where you can place a request for the article. It may take some time to receive and article via interlibrary loan, but you should get it via email in a few days.
FINAL NOTE: When doing academic research it is important to cite the sources that you use to do your work. There are several formats that are used to properly cite your sources. This guide contains a tab describing the most common citation formats.