Choosing & Using Sources: A Guide to Academic Research at CSU-Pueblo

Background Reading

While it's tempting to start searching for articles immediately once you've picked a topic, it's wise to do some more reading first. For one reason, you probably don’t know much about it yet. Reading will also help you learn the terminology experts use to describe your topic. Those terms will be helpful when you’re looking for sources later, so jot them down.

For instance, if you were going to do research about the treatment for humans with bird flu, this background reading would teach you that professionals and scholars usually use the term avian influenza instead of bird flu. They also use H1N1 or H1N9 to identify the strain. If you didn’t learn that, you would miss the kinds of sources you’ll eventually need for your assignment.

Most information sources other than journal articles are good sources for this initial reading, including newspapers like the New York Times, Wikipedia, encyclopedias for the discipline your topic is in (horticulture for the crabapple bud development topic, for instance), dictionaries for the discipline, and manuals, handbooks, blogs, and webpages that could be relevant.

This initial reading could cause you to narrow your topic further, which is fine because narrower topics lead to greater specificity for what you have to find out. After this upfront work, you’re ready to start developing the research question(s) you will try to answer for your assignment.

Tip: Keeping Track of Your Information

While you are in the discovery phase of your research you will come across a lot of sources and won’t know yet if they will prove useful in the long run. A handy type of software to help you keep track of all your findings that will also be extremely valuable when it comes to using the resources you end up needing is called citation management software. Three of these tools are available for free to CSU-Pueblo students, staff and faculty.

Learn more about citation managers and other ways of managing your search results.

Fuel Your Inspiration

It’s worth remembering that reading, scanning, looking at, and listening to information resources is very useful during any step of the process to develop research questions. Doing so can jog your memories, give you details that will help you focus, and connect information from multiple sources—all of which will help you come up with a research question you find interesting.

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