Welcome to Professor Al-Amin's English 102 Library Page. Here you will find all the information you need to complete your research assignments for her class. For questions, please contact Professor Al-Amin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Before using this library guide, you should read the full assignment sheets located on your class's Brightspace page.
Is this you?
If you agree with any of the above statements, you are on the right page. The resources linked on this page will help you figure out how to pick a topic for your assignment and teach you about the research process in general.
Researching information for an assignment is not a one-shot deal. You will likely have to do several searches as you narrow down your topic, look for background information, and find the scholarly sources you need to complete the assignment. The Research Process is not a straight path that everyone follows in exactly the same way. This can be frustrating and time consuming, but the resources below will help you along in the process.
Picking a Topic
Your instructor and the specifics of the assignment should help you with picking a topic. But what if you need some inspiration? It's always a good idea to pick something you are interested in otherwise it will be difficult to stay motivated about researching something you don't really care about.
Think about current events and controversial topics. Look at what is happening in the world right now. Keep up with the news and see if anything strikes your interest. Whether it's national politics, environmental issues or cultural events, looking at news events from the last few weeks can help you choose a topic.
|Fox News||Wall Street Journal|
Opposing Viewpoints covers hottest social issues, such as offshore drilling, climate change, health care, and immigration. Has full text, editor selected articles. Helps students research, analyze and organize a broad variety of information for conducting research, completing writing assignments, preparing for debates, creating presentations and more.
CQ Researcher provides award winning in-depth coverage of the most important issues of the day. The reports are written by experienced journalists, footnoted and professionally fact-checked.
It is possible that the topic you chose based on your interests is too broad for the assignment you need to do. You cannot write a 5 page paper on the topic of Feminism, for example. You would have too much information to work with and your paper would be a jumble of too many things.
You do not have to change your topic completely but there are ways to narrow it down to make it easier to research and write about.
The KWL Method
Take the time to answer these questions about your topic:
I am interested in doing my project on higher education in the United States. That topic is too broad right now so I need to narrow it down.
One approach is to ask questions about your topic to narrow it down: Think, “Who, what, when, where, and how?”
Question: What aspect of hip-hop do I want to talk about?
Possible Answers: Hip-hop and activism? Hip-hop and therapy? Hip-hop and conflict resolution?
Question: Who do I want to talk about?
Possible Answers: Teenagers? Adults? Students?
Question: Where do I want to talk about?
Possible Answers: Workplace? High school?
Possible Narrowed Topic:
How can high schools use hip-hop conflict resolution to increase student safety?
Bring Yourself into the Paper
Another approach is to take an assigned topic and then try to find out how something you are personally interested in relates to that topic.
Assigned Topic: Climate Science
How can businesses benefit by going green?
How does meat consumption impact climate and ecology?
How could concert venues become more ecologically friendly?
How could climate change contribute to social unrest in Sudan?
Because of the information life cycle, where you look for information depends in large part on when it happened. For reasons of public interest, technology, and economics, information moves through society at a somewhat predictable pace.
Why? A news team can film something happening, send it back to the station, edit it, package it, and then broadcast it on the news in a matter of hours. If the event is newsworthy, then newspapers and magazines can arrange to have coverage or commentary about the event appear in the next day’s, week’s, or month’s issue. It takes longer for something to appear in a scholarly journal because those sources publish less frequently and because the information therein typically includes in-depth analysis. Finally, books and encyclopedias take even longer to write, edit, and publish. The general rule is that the longer it takes for the source to appear, the more in-depth the coverage will be. Note, however, that encyclopedias provide general overviews, and therefore are meant only to introduce you to the topic.
A Caveat! The internet extends the timeline. Webpages or blogs can be edited and/or uploaded hourly but may contain information from any point in the past or present. Even if the information is newly uploaded, it may be old information that reflects only what was known at the time of its creation. An excellent use for such sources is to provide social or historical context to your research.
If you watch a documentary to help build background knowledge and choose a topic, you might decide to come back to that documentary later in order to use it as a source in your research essay. Before you can do that, you will need to be able to evaluate and analyze it. Completing the documentary essay assignment will show you how to analyze an argument within a documentary. This is because a documentary can be a visual argument. For this assignment, you should choose a documentary with an argument.
However, if you find a documentary with the purpose to inform and not to argue, you can use it later for the research essay, but it will not match this particular assignment. For future use, you only need to evaluate it since there is no argument to analyze.
Examples of argumentative documentaries: Waiting for Superman, The True Cost of Fashion, Terms and Conditional May Apply, etc. Please see examples of short form visual argumentative documentaries on the class Brightspace page.
Some HWC databases contain video archives that may contain speeches, interviews, or documentaries about your topic or a person of interest. Look at our video offerings here. Search for your topic and documentaries:
Academic Videos Online (many of the databases on the list are also Alexander Street Press databases and work the same way)
You may be able to find digitized versions of historical videos online. It is a good idea to verify these as much as possible before including them in your paper. Likewise, to support your claims, you can find archived newspapers, statistics and government documents, which also qualify as primary sources. Finally, YouTube or other sites featuring videos may have interviews or speeches.
Your Topic AND documentaries. One the results page, filter to videos.
Your Topic AND statistics +site:.gov
Using +site:.gov limits results only to government webpages.
Go to the youtube.com and search for:
"Your Topic" AND interview OR speech
Research questions are open-ended questions that ask specifically what we need to know to write our paper.
Many of us have been taught that we should start with a thesis statement and then write the paper to back it up. But that is not the best approach. Instead of starting with a thesis statement, try starting with a research question. This is a good idea for two reasons.
The first reason is that starting with a thesis statement presupposes that you already know enough about your topic to have not only a well-informed opinion, but the most up-to-date and expert opinion possible on the matter. The vast majority of us don’t have that kind of knowledge about academic subjects, so research is required.
The second reason is that starting with a thesis statement builds your own biases into your search and limits your findings only to the ones you expected to find in the first place, which keeps you from learning important new things. Good research questions are unbiased, provable, and open-ended.
What are the effects of fossil fuels on global temperature?
How does global warming impact the oceans?
Which crime prevention programs are most effective at cutting down on repeat offenses of juvenile delinquents?
What are the effects of pollution on frogs in marshlands?
How did Lewis Carroll portray madness in Alice in Wonderland?
How can wireless technology improve patient care in hospitals?
After you have decided on your research question(s), write down its key concepts. Write 2 or 3 key concepts from your question. If your question contains more than three keywords, you might need to do multiple searches and synthesize the results. Key concepts from one of the examples on the last tab are:
Next, connect your search terms with Boolean Operators. Boolean operators are AND, OR, and NOT.
And narrows your search:
A search for Wireless technology and patient care and hospitals
will retrieve only articles about all three concepts.
Or broadens your search:
A search for patient care or patients or medical records
will retrieve all articles about any of the three concepts.
A good search for this topic might look like this:
wireless technology OR wireless lan OR wlan OR hotspots
patient care OR PCS services OR patient recovery OR patient treatment
hospitals OR clinics OR emergency rooms
Finally, enter your terms into one or more library databases. As needed, substitute or include other terms from your list of synonyms and related concepts. Keep in ,mind that articles you retrieve can be read to find additional search terms, such as important people, related concepts, and/or Library of Congress subject headings. These new words can be added to your next search.
Complex Research Problems
Most research problems are complex. Whether you need to know how a recent change in the law will impact your business or how global warming will impact the growing regions for staple crops, you will most likely be performing multiple searches to understand the issue, define its context, and propose a solution. Consider an assignment to determine a new approach to curtailing alcohol abuse on college campuses. Such a research task would require you to research several different kinds of information and synthesize them into one document.
Research subtopics might include:
Each subtopic requires that you read the available research and make a claim based on what you learn.
Compose individual search strategies for each subtopic. For instance, the search strategy for the first part of your essay may look like this:
College students or university students
Alcoholism or alcohol abuse or binge drinking
Problems or effects or outcomes or repercussions \
Evaluate the articles for objectivity, timeliness, and authority; compare and contrast the information in the articles to look for trends or outliers; note useful or striking examples; and think about the claims each article makes and the evidence it uses for support.
Synthesize the information and organize it compellingly to create claims for each subtopic. Make sure you show how the research led you to your understandings.
Search, read, and write for each subtopic. Keep in mind that you are not writing several miniessays, but one large, cohesive whole. It is up to you to show how each subtopic relates to the others, and in turn, how all of your claims work together to make the broader point of the research paper.
It is good practice to keep all your research in one place. To ensure you are on the right track, have chosen an acceptable research question, and have a good base of information, you will submit a one page research proposal. This should show you the big picture of your research project. This will also help you see if you need to switch topics, edit your research questions, or find better sources. See Research handout or Brightspace for detailed instructions.
It is good to use a variety of source information for your essay. Understanding the difference between the type of sources and how it depends on the relationship between the author and the content will come in handy as you continue to find information and evaluate. Be sure to have at least one primary source and one secondary source read, evaluated, and summarized to add to your proposal. The rest of your sources will be compiled into a list called an Annotated Bibliography.
A primary source is an original object or document from a specific time or event under study. Primary sources include historical and legal documents, interviews, eyewitness accounts, results of experiments, survey data, observations, diaries, letters, photographs, videos, paintings, works of literature, ancient pieces of pottery unearthed in Iraq, government documents, statistics and more. In the natural and social sciences, primary sources are often empirical studies — research where an experiment was done or a direct observation was made.
A secondary source is anything that’s written about a primary source, such as an essay about a novel, a newspaper article about AIDS research, a history textbook, a movie review, or subsequent thoughts on The Gettysburg Address.
Tertiary sources use primary and secondary courses to construct a narrative and/or theory. Examples of tertiary sources are encyclopedias and textbooks.
Can a single source ever be primary AND secondary?
Not really, but it can be confusing. For instance, if you are writing a paper about global warming, a newspaper article that discusses new research on the topic issue is a secondary source. But if you are writing a paper about the media’s coverage of global warming, then the newspaper article is a primary source. What you are studying changes your relationship to the material. To further muddy the water, a secondary source may very well INCLUDE primary source materials in the form of pictures, statistics, or quotes, and that MIGHT work for your teacher, but it might not. Likewise, to ensure accuracy, it is a good practice to track down the primary source if you can, just to verify it.
This chart, created by librarians at the Indiana University Bloomington, illustrates kinds of primary and secondary sources by discipline:
|Discipline||Primary Source||Secondary Source|
|Archeology||farming tools||treatise on innovative analysis of Neolithic artifacts|
|Art||sketch book||conference proceedings on French Impressionists|
|History||Emancipation Proclamation (1863)||book on the anti-slavery struggle|
|Journalism||interview||biography of publisher Randolph Hearst|
|Law||legislative hearing||law review article on anti-terrorism legislation|
|Literature||novel||literary criticism on Desolation Angels|
|Music||score of an opera||biography of the composer Mozart|
|Political Science||public opinion poll||newspaper article on campaign finance reform|
|Rhetoric||speech||editorial comment on Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech|
|Sociology||voter registry||Ph.D. dissertation on Hispanic voting patterns|
The librarians at Princeton offer a good explanation of primary resources.
Depending on the nature of your assignment, you may find primary sources in the book catalog, in the databases, and on the internet.
In the Book Catalog
Books written during the time you are studying are primary sources. Here is a search for the Civil Rights Movement limited to books that were published between 1960 and 1969.
In the Databases- Historical Articles
The databases contain two different types of primary sources. The first type is historical articles. You can specify a date range of publication when you search to find articles written during whatever time period you are writing about,
In the Databases- Original Research Articles
The databases also contain academic and peer-reviewed articles that may contain original research. To find these, search in the databases for combinations of keywords that describe your topic. Then filter your articles (left-hand side of the screen) to peer reviewed and academic journal articles.
Many of those articles will be primary sources, but not all of them. To make sure, skim the abstract, methods/methodology, and results sections of the articles. Look for statements of process showing that the author actually did the work. What kind of original research is described? Surveying, sampling, experimentation? Does the author describe a first-hand experience? (i.e.: First my team did this, then we did this, and then something happened!)
In the Databases--Documentaries or Interviews
The databases also contain video archives that may contain speeches, interviews, or documentaries about your topic or a person of interest. Look at our video offerings here.
On the Internet
You may be able to find digitized versions of historical images and archived newspapers online. It is a good idea to verify these as much as possible before including them in your paper. Likewise, you can find statistics and government documents, which also qualify as primary sources. Finally, YouTube or other sites featuring videos may have interviews or speeches.
Your Topic AND statistics +site:.gov
Using +site:.gov limits results only to government webpages.
Go to the youtube.com and search for:
"Your Topic" AND interview OR speech
Oftentimes, we talk about finding information, but the authors of that information is just as important. Learning about the experts and people producing work in a particular field will help you learn about the debates and gain perspectives. For this assignment, using mostly primary sources, you will choose one person on which to write how they have contributed to the field you are researching.
Experts are everywhere, but not all of them publish widely or may be famous. To find experts that have published, look back through the articles, documentaries, speeches, etc that you have already read. Who were the authors? Who did they choose to interview? Whose name keeps popping up during your searches?
EX: If I'm studying segregation in Chicago, Natalie Moore, a journalist for WBEZ may pop up often especially for reporting on the southside of the City.
Once you have a name of an expert, you can search their name in the library database for articles, studies, or books that they have published. Also look for co-authors. If you find that a study has been co-authored, you can then look up that person to see if they have published more widely to help you decide which expert you want to write about.
In order to narrow your results, perform an author search for your expert AND add a second line to denote the area of study. For instance, Michael Mann is a climatologist:
An Author Search in EBSCO
MLA 9th edition citations contain up to nine elements in the following order:
To learn more, check out the HWC MLA9 Libguide.
A quote is when you take someone else’s exact words and put them in your paper.
A paraphrase is when you take someone else’s ideas, findings, or observations and put it in your paper in your own words.
A summary is when you briefly restate the main points or main ideas of another source.
Whether you are paraphrasing, summarizing, or quoting an article, you need to lead into cited material, use parenthetical notation in the text, explain the material’s relation to your thesis, and include an entry in your works cited page.
If you are quoting an article, you will need to do all of those things as well as enclose the quoted words in quotation marks.
To lead into cited material is to prepare your reader for the shift from your ideas or words to someone else’s. A typical lead may be as simple as saying:
According to climate scientist Michael E. Mann, director of Penn State’s Earth System Science Center, the Exxon-Mobil papers prove that, “the villainy that we long suspected was taking place within ExxonMobil really was. It wasn’t just a conspiracy theory. It was a legitimate conspiracy“ (Song 2015).
By naming the source (Michael E. Mann) and establishing why he is an authoritative source (he is the director of Penn State’s Earth System Science Center), you not only alert your reader that what comes next is someone else’s words, you also establish why those words should be heeded.
You can read more about paraphrasing and summarizing in any MLA Handbook or on sites such as Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab
When to Quote, Paraphrase, or Summarize
Summaries and paraphrases should be used when you want to touch on a source’s main points.
As a general rule, exact quotes should be reserved for very precise information or for striking turns of phrase.
To summarize an article in 3 steps:
Take note of the main ideas
Consider the purpose of your summary
Combine the main ideas in a way that is easy to read
Please read the article Scientists set to prepare strongest warning that warming man-made and note how the three steps above are applied here:
1) Take note of the main ideas contained in the original article.
2) Consider the purpose of your summary to decide which aspects of the article are most important. This does not mean ignore the parts that disagree with you. It simply means that you ask questions such as, “Is it more important to point out that they are preparing for a meeting, or is it more important that they are preparing to warn us about global warming, OR are the things they are going to warn us about the actual important things?” Depending on the aim of your paper, you might want to highlight different aspects. If we focus on the things they are set to warn us about, then we are left with the following ideas:
3) Find a way to combine these ideas in a way that is easy to read (i.e.: not just a collection of randomly presented factoids) and remains true to the ideas presented in the article.
The fifth report of the IPCC will assert at least a 95% probability that human activities are the main cause of global warming since the 1950s and that left unchecked, we can expect the warming to cause more extreme weather events over this century. The report will caution that the impacts of climate change will be worsened if governments do not act to drastically curtail greenhouse gas emissions. The 4th report of the IPCC asserted a 90% probability that human activities were responsible for driving climate change, and though they do not expect the increase in probability to spur greater public awareness, scientists suggest that recent extreme weather events have made climate change more visible to the public. They likewise suggest that global economic considerations have decreased governments’ foci on global warming since the failed UN summit in Copenhagen in 2009. The IPCC will explain the 15-year hiatus in global warming by detailing “a combination of natural variations” and predicts resumption of the warming in coming years.
The annotated bibliography is a list of your sources including citations and accompanying descriptions. Sources are listed in alphabetical order by author’s last named, allowing you to keep all of your sources in one place and offering other researchers insight into your materials.
Each entry on your annotated bibliography must have at least these two parts:
More involved annotated bibliographies may also include one or both of the following:
The summary portion will consist of three points:
The evaluation of credibility will note things such as:
The assessment of the usefulness of the article to your project will disclose:
A Sample Annotated Bibliography Entry
Kharecha, Pushker A., and James E. Hansen. “Prevented Mortality and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Historical and Projected Nuclear Power.” Environmental Science & Technology, vol. 47, no. 9, 2013, pp. 4889–4895., https://doi.org/10.1021/es3051197.
In Prevented Mortality and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Historical and Projected Nuclear Power, Kharecha and Hansen(2013) hypothesized that replacing carbon-producing fuels with nuclear power could “prevent an average of 420 000–7.04 million deaths and 80–240 GtCO2-eq emissions due to fossil fuels by mid-century, depending on which fuel it replaces” (p. 4889). They correlated the historical output of CO2 to the resultant air pollution-related deaths to determine that the use of nuclear power since 1971 has prevented “ an average of 1.84 million air pollution-related deaths and 64 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent (GtCO2-eq) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that would have resulted from fossil fuel burning” (p. 4889). The authors found that increased reliance on nuclear energy would be safer and less ecologically harmful than continued reliance on fossil fuels or expansion of natural gas use. The publisher of this paper, American Chemical Society, is known to be a reputable, peer-reviewed source, but it has lately come under fire by the libertarian-leaning Watts Up With That blog for presenting a political agenda. Because of the known bias of Watts Up With That, such claims are not necessarily prohibitive; likewise, there are no peer-reviewed studies refuting the data of the article. This article is especially useful for discussing the opportunity costs of society’s dependence on coal and oil as well as for calming some of societies’ concerns about nuclear energy.
We all have opinions about how things ought to be, but research is more than simply finding sources that agree with us. Research strives to find accurate, up-to-date sources, whether they agree with our preconceived notions or not! As a general rule, people will very readily accept information they agree with and be very skeptical of information they disagree with. In order to compensate for this quirk of human nature, it is a good idea to get in the habit of evaluating all of the information you encounter for three basic things: objectivity, timeliness, and accuracy.
Objectivity means the tone of the article is neutral, and facts are presented without words that are meant to stir emotions. The source cites other sources that both agree and disagree. Rebuttals are made with evidence, not personal attacks.
Timeliness means the source is relevant to the time period under study.
Accuracy means the source is in broad agreement with other sources written by experts in the field and/or provides clear, documented, verifiable evidence for its position.
To read (much!) more about this topic, check out the links below:
Usually, a thesis statement is best described as what your paper intends to prove or show. A statement like:
I believe in position because of reason 1, reason 2, and reason 3.
In the method followed in this class, you are asked to compose a research question first, and then, only after your research is complete, to draft a thesis statement. The advantage of this method is that starting with an unbiased question exposes you to much fuller range of ideas than starting with a preconceived notion of what you want to prove.
After you have completed your research and read the articles you retrieved, in order to write a thesis statement, all you have to do is answer your research question with the information that you have discovered: