Deep, scholarly, academic research takes time, and when it's correctly done, the research practically writes the paper for you. Outlined below are general steps to help you focus on how to perform scholarly research and how to get the most out of the information you learn.
Step 1: Prior Knowledge Assessment
What do you already know about the research topic? Take some time to jot down all the information you know about your topic. It will give you a stronger understanding of what information gaps you need to fill and help direct you in your research.
Step 2: Build Background Knowledge
Take time to figure out what information you must learn on your topic in order to write your paper. When you think about your topic, what questions about it come into your head? What information must you find so that your paper is comprehensive and insightful? To find the answers to your questions, consult reference resources. They offer great, contextual information. See the box "Why start with Reference Resources?" for more information on the benefits of references works.
Step 3: Identify Keywords
Up to this point you have identified what you know, taken note of what you want to learn, and used reference works to gain a basic/better understanding of your topic. In Step 3, you will start to lay the foundation for your in-depth research. Take a piece of paper and begin jotting down any keywords that describe your topic. Use a thesaurus or reference tool to help generate the list, since both types of sources provide general information. These words act as great search terms when you begin researching in the library's databases. Having the correct keywords can open up your search results and return may helpful articles and sources. With the wrong keywords or non-descriptive ones, your searching will return shallow results and take longer to perform. You will notice that some guides contain a "Search Terms" box to help you get started with your keyword formulation.
Step 4: Using Boolean Operations
If you want to discover the best search results, use Boolean Operations. Stringing your search terms together with different connectors will result in better search results.
Give it a try! Go to your favorite search engine (Google, Yahoo!, Ask, Dogpile) and perform the following two searches:
Search terms: biographies on african americans (without quotation marks)
"biographies on african americans" (with quotation marks)
Notice the difference in results. Without quotation marks returned 2,570,000 websites. With quotation marks returned 46 website.
Abstract: Often author generated, these brief summaries provide the researcher with the article's essence. If your search term is used in the abstract, chances are the article will focus on that topic, and not just mention it in passing.
Subject: Many databases feature an internal thesaurus. It acts like a book index. Like the abstract, subject terms are often supplied by the author. If the author lists one of your search terms as a subject term, it is very likely that their article will be of use to you in your research.
Title: If your search terms appear in the title, it is likely the article will be useful.