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Getting Started Guide

This guide will introduce you to the research process, guide you through the resources of The Daniel Library, and help you find, evaluate and successfully use research information for your course projects

Formats of Research Materials

Types of Sources

Evaluating Sources

Boolean Searching

Setting Up Your Search

Gathering Data Documenting Your Sources

Formats of Research Materials

Most research material is in the form of books and AV material (such as videos, DVDs, CDs, or audio tapes), journal or magazine articles, or the Internet. Each of these formats can provide high quality, useful information.

Generally, books tend to cover broad concepts and provide a wide range of information. Books also can take several years to write and publish, so they are most useful for getting the "big picture" on a topic, rather than the latest information.

Journal or magazine articles usually provide specific information on a very narrow point or idea. Because journals and magazines are published frequently, they can provide up-to-date information. Most books and journal articles go through a rigorous review process before they are accepted for publication. Therefore, students can be confident in using information found there.

The Internet can provide immediate, up-to-date information, and link the researcher to vast amounts of information from all parts of the world. However, students must remember that the Internet is not carefully and rigorously reviewed the way that books and articles are. Therefore, to make the best use of the amazing resources available through the Internet, students must learn to search effectively and judge the worth of resulting information.
(Evaluating Internet Information)

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Types of Sources

In all the vastness of information available to the researcher, sources will be one or two types: primary or secondary.

Primary sources are direct or firsthand sources of information. These sources can be letters, memoirs, newspaper accounts of an event, official records or histories, or a person's own writings or texts. In science, primary material also refers to data gathered by direct observation or experimentation.

Secondary sources are interpretive information derived from primary material. These sources can be be biographies, journal or magazine articles, histories, or newspaper articles that are not firsthand accounts.

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Evaluating Sources

Throughout the research process, you should strive to obtain the best, most accurate, and most reliable information possible. With such a vast amount of information available on every topic imaginable, how can you be sure that the information you are gathering is accurate and appropriate to the topic?

Just as there are criteria to evaluate cars or running shoes, there are standards to measure the quality of information. These standards, or evaluation criteria, give researchers guidance in selecting information that is appropriate and worthwhile to the topic. As you gather your research material, ask yourself if the information is scholarly enough for your project, if it is specific enough, if the author has the authority or credentials to write it, if it is new enough (or old enough), and if the information is documented. Measuring each source against these five standards will help assure that information used in a research project is appropriate to the project.

Scholarly and Popular Sources

Scholarly sources are written by experts (researchers and scholars in a field) and contribute to the knowledge base of a discipline by presenting the latest research, providing scholarly analysis, or otherwise breaking new ground. Authors of scholarly sources provide documentation of sources used in research (which can very helpful to students in tracking down additional sources). Scholarly sources are carefully reviewed by other experts before publication to assure accuracy and reliability.

Popular or general sources are written for the non-expert. One purpose of these sources is to provide factual reporting and present general information so that lay persons can read and absorb. Usually popular or general sources provide broad coverage of a topic.

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Boolean Searching

Boolean logic is an essential key to good research, which allows the researcher to organize search terms into sets and find interrelationships between two (or perhaps more) concepts. The Boolean operators and, or, or not (and also near and with) are used to link terms. The following Venn diagrams illustrate this concept.

AND Operator
The boolean operand AND shows where two or more concepts intersect, and requires that all concepts linked by AND must be included in the results. For example, in searching for material about Napoleon as a military leader, Circle A would represent resources about Napoleon, Circle B resources about leadership, and Circle C resources about military. Area D, where the circles intersect, would be information specifically on Napoleon's military leadership.

OR Operator
The Boolean operator OR pulls like concepts (or synonyms) together, and any of the terms linked by OR may be present. So, a search for information about Napoleon as both Military Leader OR Emperor would look like this:

Not Operator
The NOT operator excludes the concept(s) following it. A search for information just on Napoleon as emperor, but NOT military leader would look like this:

Setting Up Your Search

Search Strategy Worksheet

This worksheet will help you narrow a broad research topic into tight focused topic.

1. Write your research paper topic (or hypothesis) in the form of a complete sentence (either a statement or a question).

2. List the key words or key terms in that sentence.

3. Think of synonyms for those key words and list them on the grid below.

Concept A Concept B
_____________ AND _____________
_____________ AND _____________
_____________ AND _____________

4. Use these terms and their relevant Boolean Operators as you search through catalogs, databases, and the Internet.

Gathering Data

Background Information
It is often helpful to begin research on a topic by "reading up" on it in reference books. These sources introduce topics, provide an overview, and list key names, issues, dates, etc., helping the student review major themes and concepts and organize thoughts prior to beginning a research paper. In addition, many of these sources provide bibliographies of other books and journal articles.

Encyclopedias, general and subject-specific, are especially useful for gathering background information. Encyclopedias can be found by searching the Library catalog by keyword for the needed topic and the terms "encyclopedia" or "dictionary". For example, searching for "middle ages and dictionary" will find an excellent overview of medieval history called, Dictionary of the Middle Ages, and searching for "science and encyclopedias" will find the McGraw Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology.

The Daniel Library also subscribes to a number of online encyclopedias. Finding Books
The Daniel Library catalog provides author, subject, title, and key word access to the Library's collections of books, A-V, journals, and federal government documents. Search the catalog using the terms you identified when you set up your search strategy.

Finding Journal Articles
Every discipline or field of knowledge has hundreds of journals where scholars and researchers exchange ideas and communicate with each other, and where results of research and information on current issues are published. Periodical indexes and databases provide topical access to these empirical studies, review articles, theoretical articles, and news items published in scholarly and professional journals and popular/general magazines. The Daniel Library subscribes to online full text and citation periodical indexes and databases. Additionally, the library maintains its collection of print indexes, providing historical access to older journals and magazines.

The Indexes & Databases page list all the indexes and databases to which the Daniel Library subscribes. To determine the most appropriate indexes and databases to use for a given topic, consult the Research Guides. These bring together, by discipline, electronic and print resources available from the Daniel Library.

Search the indexes and databases using the same keywords you identified in your search strategy.

Internet Searching Tips
Internet search engines interpret commands and retrieve results differently from library catalogs and journal databases. Below are some tips for getting good results in your Internet searching.
  1. Use the Daniel Library Search Engines page for easy links to librarian selected search engines (or portals).
  2. Read the search engine Help screens to learn about structuring your searches to obtain good results.
  3. Use recommended operators to construct the search.
    • Put parentheses around phrases. For example "earthquake mitigation" will find web sites with that phrase. Earthquake mitigation without parentheses will find every web site with earthquake plus every web site with mitigation.
    • The plus sign ( + ) indicates the word or phrase must appear in the results. For example +earthquake+retrofitting will only retrieve web sites with those specific terms.
    • The minus sign ( - ) eliminates words or phrases. Be careful though, the minus sign is very powerful and may leave out some important sites.
    • Many other useful search tips will be found on the help pages.
    • Use the hierarchical structure of directories such as Yahoo to narrow searches.
      • For example in Yahoo, narrow from Home > Science > Earth Sciences > Geology and Geophysics > Seismology

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Book Reviews

Book reviews provide additional information on books read for class assignments, or as research sources for critical papers, and to help determine the credibility or validity of these books you are using.

Reviews are written by writers, critics, and scholars, and provide critical analysis of authors and books. Background information on the author and on research involved in writing the book is often included.

Book reviews are published in periodicals and newspapers, and can be located by using book review and periodical indexes such as these:

In addition to general review sources, specialized periodical indexes contain citations for reviews of books in a particular field. For example, Air University Library Index publishes reviews of books on military topics; ABI-Inform reviews business books; and Historical Abstracts indexes reviews of history books.

Biographical Sources
  • Biography Resource Center provides biographical narratives and links to full text journal and newspaper articles and web sites chronicling the lives of approximately 250,000 individuals.
  • Many biographical reference books are in the Daniel Library Collection
Government Documents and Maps

The Daniel Library is a selective depository for federal documents, and actively acquires - online and in print - documents on the international, and U.S. state and local levels. Governments at all levels have utilized the web to provide a wealth of current, full text information at no cost to users. The Library's Government Information and Maps pages provide organized access to these rich resources.

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Documenting Your Sources

Any information you use from any source (books, articles, Internet) is someone else's intellectual property and MUST be cited, whether you are quoting directly or paraphrasing. Using someone else's words, thoughts, or ideas without giving them credit is stealing!

The other reason for documenting your sources is to allow others reading your work to follow up on your sources. Someone may find information in your paper very interesting and would like to read the entire article or view the whole web site.

The Daniel Library has copies of all the major style manuals, Modern Language Association (MLA), American Psychological Association (APA), Turabian, Chicago Manual of Style, etc., to help you in citing print material. However, the formats for citing full-text electronic journal articles are slightly different from that of print sources. The library has a guide to assist you in citing electronic sources (both full text articles and Internet sites) in the various citation styles.

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