Chapter 1 Image 41 2018-06-18T19:22:35-07:00 Shannon Espinoza eb38ad3dbd79ed31d048e910d9dd1e86e9040125 30651 1 Get a good look at your topic through background reading. plain 2018-06-18T19:22:35-07:00 Shannon Espinoza eb38ad3dbd79ed31d048e910d9dd1e86e9040125
This page is referenced by:
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 InspirationIt’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.
Sources to Meet Needs
Because there are several categories of sources (see Types of Sources), the options you have to meet your information needs can seem complex.
Our best advice is to pay attention to when only primary and secondary sources are required to meet a need and to when only professional and scholarly sources will work. If your research project is in the arts, also pay attention to when you must use popular sources, because popular sources are often primary sources in the arts.
These descriptions and summaries of when to use what kind of source should help.
To Learn Background Information
When you first get a research assignment and perhaps for a considerable time afterward, you will almost always have to learn some background information as you develop your research question and explore how to answer it.
Sources from any category and from any subgroup within a category—except journal articles—can meet students’ need to learn background information and understand a variety of perspectives. Journal articles, are usually too specific to be background. From easy-to-understand to more complex sources, read and/or view those that advance your knowledge and understanding.
For instance, especially while you are getting started, secondary sources that synthesize an event or work of art and tertiary sources such as guidebooks can be a big help. Wikipedia is a good tertiary source of background information.
Sources you use for background information don’t have to be sources that you cite in your final report, although some may be.
Sources to Learn Background Information
- Quantitative or Qualitative: Either—whatever advances your knowledge.
- Fact or Opinion: Any—whatever advances your knowledge.
- Scholarly, Professional, or Popular: Any—whatever advances your knowledge.
- Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary: Any—whatever advances your knowledge.
- Publication Format: Any—whatever advances your knowledge.
One important reason for finding background information is to learn the language that professionals and scholars have used when writing about your research question. That language will help you later, particularly when you’re searching for sources to answer your research question.
To identify that language, you can always type the word glossary and then the discipline for which you’re doing your assignment in the search engine search box.
Here are two examples to try:
(Putting a phrase in quotes in most search boxes insures that the phrase will be searched rather than individual words.)
To Answer Your Research Question
You have to be much pickier with sources to meet this need because only certain choices can do the job. Whether you can use quantitative or qualitative data depends on what your research question itself calls for.
Only primary and secondary sources (from the category called publication mode) can be used to answer your research question and, in addition, those need to be professional and/or scholarly sources for most disciplines (humanities, social sciences, and sciences). But the arts often require popular sources as primary or secondary sources to answer research questions. Also, the author’s purpose for most disciplines should be to educate and inform or, for the arts, to entertain and perhaps even to sell. (As you may remember, primary sources are those created at the same time as an event you are researching or that offer something original, such as an original performance or a journal article reporting original research. Secondary sources analyze or otherwise react to secondary sources. Because of the information lifecycle, the latest secondary sources are often the best because their creators have had time for better analysis and more information to incorporate.)
Example: Quantitative or Qualitative Data
Suppose your research question is “How did a a particular king of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah, work to modernize his country?”
That question may lend itself to qualitative descriptive judgments—about what are considered the components of modernization, including, for instance, what were his thoughts about the place of women in society.
But it may also be helped by some quantitative data, such as those that would let you compare the numbers of women attending higher education when Abdullah became king and those attending at the time of his death or, for instance, whether manufacturing increased while he reigned.
So looking for sources that provide both quantitative and qualitative information (not necessarily in the same resource) is usually a good idea.
If it is not clear to you from the formats of sources you are assigned to read for your course, ask your professor which formats are acceptable to your discipline for answering your research question.
Sources to Answer Your Research Question
- Quantitative or Qualitative: Will be determined by the question itself.
- Fact or Opinion: Professional and scholarly for most disciplines; the arts often use popular, as well.
- Scholarly, Professional, or Popular: Professional and scholarly for most disciplines; the arts often use popular, as well.
- Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary: Primary and secondary.
- Publication Format: Those acceptable to your discipline.
To Convince Your Audience
Convincing your audience is similar to convincing yourself and takes the same kinds of sources—as long as your audience is made up of people like you and your professor, which is often true in academic writing. That means using many of those sources you used to answer your research question.
When your audience isn’t very much like you and your professor, you can adjust your choice of sources to meet this need. Perhaps you will include more that are secondary sources rather than primary, some that are popular or professional rather than scholarly, and some whose author intent may not be to educate and inform.
Sources to Convince Your Audience
- Quantitative or Qualitative Data: Same as what you used to answer your research question if your audience is like you and your professor. (If you have a different audience, use what is convincing to them.)
- Fact or Opinion: Those with the purpose(s) you used to answer your research question if your audience is like you and your professor. (If you have a different audience, you may be better off including some sources intended to entertain or sell.)
- Scholarly, Professional or Popular: Those with the same expertise level as you used to answer the question if your audience is like you and your professor. (If you have a different audience, you may be better off including some popular.)
- Publication Mode: Primary and secondary sources if your audience is like you and your professor. If you have a different audience, you may be better off including more secondary sources than primary.
- Publication Format: Those acceptable to your discipline, if your audience is like you and your professor.
To Describe the Situation
Choosing what kinds of sources you’ll need to meet this need is pretty simple—you should almost always use what’s going to be clear and compelling to your audience. Nonetheless, sources intended to educate and inform may play an out-sized role here.
But even then, they don’t always have to educate and inform formally, which opens the door to using sources such as fiction or the other arts and formats that you might not use with some other information needs.
Sources to Describe the Situation
- Quantitative or Qualitative: Whatever you think will make the description most clear and compelling and your question important to your audience.
- Fact or Opinion: Often to educate and inform, but sources don’t have to do that formally here, so they can also be to entertain or sell.
- Scholarly, Professional, or Popular: Whatever you think will make the description most clear and compelling and your question important to your audience.
- Primary, Secondary or Tertiary: Whatever you think will make the description most clear and compelling and your question important to your audience. Some disciplines will not accept tertiary for this need.
- Publication Format: Whatever you think will make the description most clear and compelling and your question important to your audience. Some discipline will accept only particular formats, so check for your discipline.
To Report What Others Have Said
The choices here about kinds of sources are easy: just use the same or similar sources that you used to answer your research question that you also think will be the most convincing to your audience.
Sources to Report What Others Have Said
- Quantitative or Qualitative: Those sources that you used to answer your research question that you think will be most convincing to your audience.
- Fact or Opinion: Those sources that you used to answer your research question that you think will be most convincing to your audience.
- Scholarly, Professional, or Popular: Those sources that you used to answer your research question that you think will be most convincing to your audience.
- Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary: Those sources that you used to answer your research question that you think will be most convincing to your audience.
- Publication Format: Those sources that you used to answer your research question that you think will be most convincing to your audience.