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ENG 201 - O'Neil : Getting Started

The Research Game Plan

The Research Game Plan worksheet is designed to get you on a solid footing as you begin gathering resources for your assignment. 

Choosing a Topic

Choosing and defining your topic can get you off to a good start or a bad start. You want to chose a topic that interests you, that is creative and not overused, and that is focused enough to be manageable.

The scope of your topic must not be too broad or too narrow, here are a couple of examples:

Too broad Good starting point Too narrow
employee retention

how leadership style relates to

employee retention

how leadership style relates to employee retention

in law firms in Louisville, Kentucky

barriers to healthcare access

barriers to healthcare access in

rural communities

barriers to healthcare access in

Posey County, Indiana

If your topic is initially too broad think about ways to add context, to make it more specific. Maybe choose a sub-topic of your initial topic, relate it to a place, time, population group, event, or other aspect.

If your topic is initially too narrow think about ways to simplify it. If no one has written about your very narrowly focused topic you won't find any source material to use. Try broadening it a bit, to see what is available. 

Your topic does not have to perfect at the start, your initial searches and subsequent research will often lead you to refine your topic further. That's a good thing. Don't feel locked into the first draft of your topic, be open to changing it as you learn more about the subject.

Stumped? Having trouble coming up with a topic? Try browsing the topic lists in CQ Researcher (click on Browse Topics) or Issues & Controversies (scroll down to All Issues by Subject) for ideas. 

Finding Keywords

Once you have selected a topic you want to pull out the relevant words or phrases to use in database searches. Also list synonyms, alternate spellings, and related terms for each. 

For example, having heard about the recent black bear sighting in the area I decide to do some research. My keywords would be "black bears" and "Indiana." 

Here's what I find with a Google search:

Over 52 million results. The overwhelming number of results is pretty typical for a Google search, but we have a some very promising results here, with information from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Indiana Fish & Wildlife, and the College of Agriculture at Purdue University.   .

Browsing these results from government and university websites, I find additional keyword terms that I can use as I continue my research, such as the scientific name for the American black bear, Ursus americanus. I also find some great images that I can use in my presentation. There are numerous news reports from TV and newspapers about black bear sightings in Indiana over the last few years.

Searching for "black bears" in Fusion finds a wide variety of sources from a field guide to black bears in ebook format to an encyclopedia entry on the "American black bear" to a magazine article on how to bear-proof your property and how to react if you encounter one to peer reviewed journal articles on black bear research. If I add "Indiana" to my search my new results set is smaller and the results are now more relevant to my topic because they all mention Indiana.


Types of Information

Ask yourself, "What kinds of information do I need to find for this assignment?"

If you're writing about a person you will want biographical details.

Do you need to find statistics about your topic?

What about historical information to give context to your topic?

Are you doing a presentation that would benefit from the use of relevant images and/or video?


Types of Sources

Check the assignment details to see if your instructor has given you guidelines on what types of sources are appropriate for your assignment. They may have set minimums or maximums for various types, excluded one or more types, be requiring that you use a particular resource such as a specific library database, or even specific publications.

Rice Library has nearly 200 research databases containing all types of source material. 

Search Tips

ALWAYS use the advanced search where available. You will get better initial results making searching faster and less frustrating.

The Advanced Search in Fusion has three search fields by default, but you can use the plus sign button to the right to add additional search fields.

You can use the filters on the left-hand sidebar in Fusion to limit your results by time period, source type, geography, etc.

You can put a * (Shift + 8) at the end of a word root to find multiple words that start the same way to maximize your search. For example, access* will find results containing access, accessible, and accessibility.

We have many databases that contain material from hundreds of years ago, which will show up in your results. If you are not interested in what people wrote about your topic in the 12th century, use the publication date limits to show only more recent results.

Finding the Full-text

Many results will have the full-text readily available as either HTML, PDF, or linked full-text. Others may give you a link to the resource in another database, or on a website. Items that are not available in full-text may be requested via our Interlibrary Loan (ILL) service. ILL is a free service where we contact other libraries to get the materials that you need. Copies of articles and book chapters may arrive in just a few hours to a few days, print books can take up to two weeks to arrive, depending on where the lender is located.