Good research begins with clear thinking about the assigned task. The best way to start a research paper is to make sure you know what you are supposed to do, so reread the assignment and underline or highlight the critical phrases. These are the ones that tell you the subject, the kinds of resources you should use, the expected length, and the due date.
Choosing search terms
Some of your search terms will describe your specific topic and some the nature of your interest. In both cases, you need to be flexible, observant, and imaginative. Before searching for journal articles, look for encyclopedia articles or books that might give you an overview of the subject area, describe aspects of it that you were unaware of, and expose you to terminology that had not occurred to you. Look up articles from your syllabus and check the subject terms assigned to them, as well as the language in the articles themselves. For example, here are the subject headings assigned to "Workers' Weed: Cannabis, Sugar Beets, and Landscapes of Labor in the American West, 1900-1946."
Cannabis; Agricultural land; Workers; Socio-economic aspects; Raids; Landscape; 20th century; Marijuana;
Agriculture; Landowners; Deportation; Sugar beets; Farms; Criminal sentences; Landscapes; Sugar; Mexican Americans;
Farmworkers; Foreign labor; Working class; Manual workers; Net income
Start with Thinking about Your Topic
I recommend that you start by asking yourself concrete questions. As you gain a clearer picture of what you want to accomplish you can generate, and then refine, a plan of action.
The most effective researchers use what they know to find what they don't know, so here's where your topic analysis will serve you well.. The databases also have some special features that will aid your search and help you modify your search strategy.
1. You can use keywords from your analysis or the articles you read for class as search terms. Look at the subject headings assigned to the articles you find; you may want to use some of them in a new search.
2. You can use the names of authors of known articles to see if they have written other articles on the same or similar topics.
3. You can use articles cited in the bibliographies of articles you already know about.
4. You can use articles that cite the articles you know about in their bibiliographies.
5. You can look at the tables of contents of the journals that have published relevant articles, to see if they have published other, similar articles.
Of course you're familiar with social media, but you may not have thought of it as a resource for finding primary resource material.
Tips to Take Away
3. You need to know how other scholars have approached this subject. Has anyone tried to answer the same question? What related questions have they studied.
Does older research need to be updated or approached from a different point of view? Any of the databases in Sources of Journal Articles, depending on your topic,
will help you find such scholarly articles. They will also have other information, like assigned subject headings and, often, abstracts, that can help you
quickly assess how relevant they are to your research and help you learn the vocabulary that experts are using when they write about your topic.
4. If you get stuck, email me, firstname.lastname@example.org.