THE RESEARCH PROCESS
Developing a Search Strategy
2) What Is Research?
3) Choosing a Topic
4) Determining Sources of Information
5) Developing a Search Strategy
5: Choose appropriate access tools, develop a search strategy for each tool, and
conduct a systematic, planned search using each tool.
you've determined what kind of information you need and what types of sources
might provide that information, you need to choose the right access tool,
plan a strategy for using that access tool, and conduct a search for
information. An access tool is simply a print or computerized
"finding aid" that leads you to various kinds of information. For
example, online catalogs (OPACs) and periodical indexes are access tools.
crucial to remember at this stage that the access tool(s) you decide to use
depends on the type and level of information you're seeking. In other words,
the tool must be able to access (or at least describe in the form of a
bibliographic citation) the information you need. If, for example, you're
looking for an in-depth overview of 20th-century Chinese history,
one type of information source you probably need is a book. The access tool
to find books is the library catalog, not
an index or abstract. On the other hand, if you were seeking the results of
the most recent national elections in China, a periodical index or the
Internet would be the most helpful access tool.
you've chosen a tool, you must develop a search strategy for
using it. A search strategy is a specific plan for how you'll conduct an
efficient and effective search so that you uncover the most relevant
information that a particular access tool can provide on your topic. Taking
the time to plan a search strategy adds precision to your search and saves
you lots of time: A carefully crafted search helps you avoid the frustration
of wading through long lists of irrelevant citations. Listed below are the
main steps to follow when developing a search strategy for any given access
tool. You will learn more about each of these steps as you progress through
Steps for Developing a Search
1. Divide your research question into concepts (main ideas).
2. Identify synonyms or related terms for each concept.
3. Combine terms using Boolean logic (AND, OR).
4. Conduct a search of the database in the keyword mode.
5. Consider field searching, truncation, and proximity
operators if the access tool provides these features.
6: Evaluate the citations your search found and select only the most relevant
to your topic.
that you have conducted a search using appropriate access tools, you will be
presented with a list of citations (sometimes called references, entries,
records, or hits) that describe books, articles, or other sources of
information. At this point, it is extremely important that you evaluate these citations for
relevancy and quality. Even though you may have conducted a carefully planned
search, you are still very likely to encounter "false hits"
(irrelevant citations) in your search results list. The fact that a citation
contains your search term(s) does not guarantee its relevancy to your topic,
and it would be a mistake to print out or write down every citation that
appears. It is crucial that you take the initiative and exercise your
critical thinking and evaluation skills in a significant way at this point in
the research process. Computers do not
make research decisions, you do.
below are three important parts of a citation that you should closely
examine. Citations often contain "clues" that help you decide if
the entire item is of sufficient quality and relevance to track down and read
in its entirety:
Title: Read the entire title, especially the subtitle if there is one, and
look for key words and phrases that indicate relevance to your topic.
Abstract: Computerized indexes sometime include brief abstracts
(summaries) of the item described. Reading the abstract will help you decide
if the item is relevant to your topic.
Author: Is this an author that you have come across before in your reading,
e.g. in an encyclopedia article, review article, or bibliography? Is this
author discussed, referred to, or cited often by other scholars and writers?
If so, that person is probably important in the field you're researching.
Stage 7: Read, take notes, and evaluate the sources selected as relevant in
are now at the point where you are reading and taking notes from the relevant
sources you chose in Stage 6. When taking notes it is important that you use
your own words and phrases to summarize and paraphrase what you read. If you
borrow the language of your source too closely, or don't give credit to a
source either through quotation marks or proper documentation, you are guilty
of plagiarism. If you are uncertain about the process of notetaking and
avoiding plagiarism, consult one of the many research guides in
the CSM library, such as The Facts on
File Guide to Research, by Jeff Lenburg, or The Prentice Hall Writer’s Guide to Research and Documentation,
by Kirk G. Rasmussen.
Revise, refine, and repeat stages 1-7 as needed.
noted at the start of this discussion, this model of the research process is
flexible and allows you to react to what happens along the way and respond
accordingly. If, for example, your search result list in Stage 5 is hundreds
or thousands of records long, you have found too much information and may
have to narrow the focus of your topic (Stage 3) or conduct a more precise
search, perhaps with different terms. Conversely, if your search uncovers too
little information, you may have to broaden its scope. Remember, as you go
through the research process you are continually evaluating what's happening
in terms of your overall purpose -- finding information that meets your
needs. If your research goals are not being met, you have the freedom to make
the necessary corrections or adjustments at any stage of the process.
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