Research

 

Be Your Best 

Objectives

By the time you finish this you unit, you should:

  • be able to find print sources in a library;
  • know how to use URLs, subject directories, and search engines to find Internet sources;
  • have found and photocopied, borrowed, or printed at least five sources on your subject;
  • be able to summarize, quote, paraphrase, and cite source material;
  • be able to distinguish between primary and secondary sources;
  • know the meanings of the terms below.

Terms

  • ad hominem 
  • agenda
  • attributive phrase
  • bias
  • bibliography
  • Boolean operators
  • browser
  • credibility
  • database
  • fact
  • full quotation
  • interlibrary loan
  • interpretation
  • keyword
  • Library of Congress call number
  • logical fallacy
  • monograph
  • objectivity
  • paraphrase
  • parenthetical citation
  • partial quotation
  • plagiarism
  • post hoc
  • primary source
  • print source
  • quotation marks
  • red herring
  • search engine
  • secondary source
  • source
  • subject encyclopedia
  • subject directory
  • subjectivity
  • summary
  • syntax
  • tone
  • URL
  • works cited

Resources

The following Internet and print sources can help you with the concepts covered in this unit:

All American contains biographical information about authors, study questions, bibliographies, and more.

Look Smart (www.looksmart.com) features links organized by category.

Miningco (www.miningco.com) features links chosen by experts.

The Ready Reference Handbook features a chapter called "The Research Project" with useful tips on finding sources, as well as sections on logical fallacies and credibility (49b).

Sampson-Livermore Library, UNCP's main library, has hundreds of thousands of books, magazines, scholarly journals, and other items.

Who Where? (www.whowhere.com) allows you to find the e-mail and Web site addresses of people who have registered with Who Where?.

Updated February 5, 2002
Mark Canada, 2002
mark.canada@uncp.edu

Introduction

College professors share a lot of information with their students through lectures and reading assignments, but they also expect students to find, evaluate, and use information on their own.  In fact, learning to gather information effectively should be one of your major goals while in college.  Once you know how to find information, you can make much more educated decisions about your career, politics, finances, and other aspects of your life and the world.  Indeed, knowing how to conduct research is one way of extending your education beyond college.  You can build a strong foundation now by learning how to find sources in a library and on the Internet.

Finding Sources

Libraries hold thousands or even millions of print sources: books, periodicals, government documents, and other materials that appear in hard-copy form.  Despite the lure of the Internet, experienced researchers know that a good library actually can help them produce better products with less effort.  Indeed, once you know your way around the library, you will find writing easier because you can find a lot of thorough, credible information on your subject.  The best place to start your research in the  library is the reference section, where you can find a variety of subject encyclopedias with useful overviews and definitions.  Later, you can move on to monographs and periodicals.  Monographs are books and other items that stand alone and do not appear on a regular basis.  Periodicals appear periodically, perhaps once a month or four times a year, and generally contain relatively short articles on various subjects.  Some of the best-known periodicals are magazines and scholarly journals.  You can find both monographs and periodicals by using electronic databases such as BraveCat and EbscoHost.  When using these databases, type in key words-that is, words related to your subject--and connect them with Boolean operators, words such as "and" and "or," to narrow or broaden your search.  For example, if you want to find articles about the history of billiards in America, you might type "billiards and history and United States."  Before you enter the library stacks, where the books are stored, make sure that you understand the Library of Congress cataloging system, which UNCP libraries and other college libraries use to organize their books and other materials.  Under this system, each book has a unique call number, such as PS 2638 .P32, in which the first one or two letters indicate the general subject--in this case, American literature.  Because libraries put books in alphabetical and numerical order, books about similar subjects generally appear together on the shelves.  Thus, whenever you find a book on your subject, look to the left and right of it for other books that may be of use to you.  Also, always remember to check a book's bibliography, which is a list of other books and articles on similar subjects.  Use the library's online catalog or another database to find these sources, check their bibliographies, and so on.  Finally, if you learn about a book or article not available in your library, consider ordering it through interlibrary loan, an inexpensive method of obtaining sources stored in other libraries.

The Internet is an international network of computers connected by wires such as telephone lines. Because many people post information on the Internet in the form of World Wide Web sites, it can be a useful research tool.  Nevertheless, because the information on the Internet tends to be less credible, less thorough, and somewhat harder to find, you generally should use the Internet only to complement your library research.  You can find information on the Internet in four basic ways.  First, if possible, try typing in a site's URL, or Web address, directly.  If you don't know the address, try guessing.  For example, you might guess that the URL for the University of North Carolina is www.uncp.edu, and you would be right.  Second, try visiting a subject directory, such as www.looksmart.com, where you an look for subject headings and narrow them down until you find links to Web sites on your subject.  A third approach is to use a search engine, a computer program that looks through information on the Web and gives you a list of sites relevant to your interests.  When you use the Excite search engine, for example, you type one or more key words into a white box and click on "Search."  The next screen to appear will feature links to Web pages related to these words. To visit one, click on one of the links and write down the URL for future reference.  Finally, once you reach a Web site on your subject, click on its links, which probably will lead you to other Web sites related to your subject.

Primary Sources

What they are: Think of primary sources as collections of raw data requiring interpretation.  In many cases, they contain mainly factual material--that is physical descriptions, dates, locations, quantities, and other types of information that people generally agree is true.  It is a good idea to start your research by looking at primary sources so that you can develop your own ideas.  Here are a few kinds of primary sources:

  • Works of art--including novels, short stories, poems, plays, paintings, sculptures, films, symphonies, and songs--express authors' feelings and ideas.
  • Personal narratives, such as letters and diaries, contain factual information about people's lives.
  • Many forms of journalism, including newspaper stories and television broadcasts, report facts about events in politics, business, sports, and other fields.
  • Some government documents, such as statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, contain statistics on population, financial matters, education, and other subjects.

How to find them: Run searches on a library catalog such as Brave Cat or specialized databases such as News Bank.  For statistical data, a good place to start is the Statistical Abstract of the United States.  In some fields, such as psychology and linguistics, you can create your own primary sources by conducting surveys, interviews, or observations.  While most primary sources are still available only in print form, a vast amount of primary material is available on the Internet and can be found on World Wide Web sites such as those managed by the University of Virginia and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Secondary Sources

What they are: Secondary sources contain interpretations of raw data  The authors of secondary sources, often university professors and other scholars, analyze factual material and draw conclusions about causes, effects, and meanings.  Others may disagree with their conclusions and offer their own interpretations in separate secondary sources.  After you have begun to interpret primary sources, you can use the material in these secondary sources to qualify, support, and refine your interpretation.  Be careful, though.  Scholarly books and articles often contain very challenging language. Keep a dictionary and a subject encyclopedia at hand when you read them.  Here are a few kinds of secondary sources:

  • Subject encyclopedias are invaluable secondary sources, especially early in the research process, because they provide useful background information, are highly credible, and often contain brief bibliographies--lists of other useful sources on a particular subject.
  • Scholarly books, generally written by university professors who are experts in their fields, often provide very useful and thorough overviews of a particular subjects.  Start by reading the introduction and then skim the individual chapters for relevant information.  Finally, check the book's bibliography for other sources.
  • Scholarly journal articles, also written by experts, usually cover very specific topics.  Like popular magazines, scholarly journals appear periodically, but they contain information designed for experts, rather than the general public. 

How to find them:  One of the best places to start when looking for secondary sources is the library's reference section, where you can find thousands of subject encyclopedias.  To find scholarly books, run searches on a library catalog such as Brave Cat or research databases, which are computer resources listing thousands of books and articles in particular fields. Type in the name of a topic, title, author, or a key word. Several databases are available on the Sampson-Livermore Library Web site. If you wish to search a database when you are off campus, you may need a password. Call the library's reference desk (521-6265) for information about getting a password. You also can find scholarly books and articles by checking bibliographies.  Whenever you come across a book or article on your topic, check the end for a bibliography and copy down the citations for other books and articles on your topic. Use these citations to find the materials. In many cases, you will have to use interlibrary loan, a service through which you can order books and photocopies of articles from other libraries, often at no cost to you. If an item you need is not available at our library, ask a librarian about interlibrary loan. Once you understand the process, you can order materials by visiting the library's Web site and typing in the appropriate information. Because it usually takes about a week or two to receive an item through interlibrary loan, you should order these materials as soon as possible.

Using Sources

The great English scientist Sir Isaac Newton claimed that he achieved great things because he "stood on the shoulders of giants."  In other words, he learned from his predecessors.  Even today, scientists, doctors, teachers, business executives, and leaders in other professions do not start from scratch each time they embark on a project and make a decision.  Like Newton, they take advantage of what others have already learned.  When writing an argument, you can make your work easier and more productive if you first learn what others have learned about your subject.  In other words, start with research.

By identifying and evaluating sources, you already have begun the research process.  Now it is time to incorporate others' findings into your own article.  The key word here is "incorporate," which means to bring into a body; that is, you need to bring others' words and interpretations into the body of your own argument.  This step is perhaps the most challenging part of writing a researched argument.  If you merely string together quotations from sources, your argument will come across as fragmented and unoriginal.  On the other hand, if you borrow others' words and ideas without giving them credit, you are guilty of plagiarism, a type of academic dishonesty that can result in an F or even expulsion from the university.  Instead, you must come to understand your source material, weave it into your own argument, and give credit to sources for exact words or interpretations that you borrowed.

You can incorporate source material into your own writing in a number of ways:

  • Full Quotation: When reading a source, you may come across one or more complete sentences that are striking because of they way they are expressed; perhaps, for example, the author has used some colorful or poetic language.  In such a case, you should consider using a full quotation, which is the use of one or more complete sentences from a source.  You must place a full quotation within quotation marks.  Do not change any of the words.  Identify the source with an attributive phrase that names both the author and the publication.  After you have identified the author and publication once, you may use just the author's last name in future attributive phrases.  If the source has page numbers, place the number or numbers where the quotation appeared in a parenthetical citation at the end of the full quotation.  Below is an example, in which colors indicate the various components just described.  Pay close attention to the placement of punctuation marks, such as the period at the end of the sentence.  In particular, note that a colon appears between the verb in the attributive phrase and the quotation itself.
    • Original: While he ruled, however, he did so in the old-fashioned way: by divine right as the ultimate lawgiver, political authority, arbiter of manners and morals for his people.
    • Full Quotation: In an article on James Strang in Smithsonian magazine, Bil Gilbert explains: "While he ruled, however, he did so in the old-fashioned way: by divine right as the ultimate lawgiver, political authority, arbiter of manners and morals for his people" (84).
  • Partial Quotation:  In some cases, you may want to use only part of a sentence you found in a source--perhaps just a phrase or even a single word.  As with a full quotation, you must place the exact words you borrow within quotation marks.  Do not change any of the words that appear within the quotation marks. Identify the source with an attributive phrase that names both the author and the publication.  After you have identified the author and publication once, you may use just the author's last name in future attributive phrases.  If the source has page numbers, place the number or numbers where the quotation appeared in a parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence.  Below is an example, in which colors indicate the various components just described.  Unlike full quotations, partial quotations require no additional punctuation other than quotation marks.  Simply punctuate the sentence as you normally would, but be sure to place the final period after the parenthetical citation.
    • Original: While he ruled, however, he did so in the old-fashioned way: by divine right as the ultimate lawgiver, political authority, arbiter of manners and morals for his people.
    • Partial Quotation: In an article on James Strang in Smithsonian magazine, Bil Gilbert explains that Strang governed "in the old-fashioned way: by divine right as the ultimate lawgiver, political authority, arbiter of manners and morals for his people" (84).
  • Paraphrase: Most of the time, the material you find within a source will be valuable primarily for its content, and not for the way it is expressed.  In such cases, you should use a paraphrase, which is the rephrasing of someone else's information in your own words. To paraphrase without plagiarizing, you must change both the words and the syntax--the way the words fit together in a sentence--of the original.  Because you no longer are using the source's exact words, you should not use quotation marks.  If the material is purely factual, you generally do not need to give credit to the source.  On the other hand, you should give credit to the source if 1) the material you are paraphrasing contains any kind of interpretation, 2) presents facts--particularly statistics-- that required painstaking investigative work, or 3) includes facts that may elicit curiosity or doubt in your audience.  You should give credit to the source in the same way you give credit for quotations.  That is, use an attributive phrase that names both the author and the publication.  After you have identified the author and publication once, you may use just the author's last name in future attributive phrases.  If the source has page numbers, place the number or numbers where the quotation appeared in a parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence.  Below is an example, in which colors indicate the various components just described.  Note the placement of punctuation.
    • Original: While he ruled, however, he did so in the old-fashioned way: by divine right as the ultimate lawgiver, political authority, arbiter of manners and morals for his people.
    • Paraphrase: In an article on James Strang in Smithsonian magazine, Bil Gilbert explains that Strang exercised great power in his dominion, providing laws and even shaping his subjects' personal lives (84).
  • Summary: If you come across a paragraph, a section, or even an entire chapter or article that is valuable to you for its major point and not for all the particulars, you may want to provide a summar, which is a condensed version of the original.  Like a paraphrase, a summary must be in your own words and does not require quotation marks.  You still should identify the source with an attributive phrase that names both the author and the publication.  After you have identified the author and publication once, you may use just the author's last name in future attributive phrases.  If the source has page numbers, place the number or numbers where the quotation appeared in a parenthetical citation at the end of the summary.

No matter how you incorporate material into your article, you should interpret its significance for the audience.  In other words, use one or more of your own sentences to explain how the full quotation, partial quotation, paraphrase, or summary fits in the argument you are making.  If I paraphrasing Bil Gilbert's article to support my own argument about how religious leaders such as James Strang have turned into dictators, I might write the following:

In an article on James Strang in Smithsonian magazine, Bil Gilbert explains that Strang exercised great power in his dominion, providing laws and even shaping his subjects' personal lives (84).  The example of Strang shows how this Mormon "king," like the other religious leaders I have described, took advantage of his position to subjugate his followers.

Finally, you must include at the end of your article a list of works cited--that is, a list of the sources that you referred to specifically in your article through attributive phrases, parenthetical citations, or both.  If you borrowed only factual material from a source and have not identified it through attributive phrases or parenthetical citations in your article, do not include it in your list of works cited.  Your list of works cited should conform to the style used in the particular discipline in which you are writing or the style dictated by your instructor. When writing a paper for an English class, for example, you generally will use MLA style. See The MLA Handbook or The Ready Reference Handbook for guidelines on using MLA style. Do not assume that the format that appears in the research database is MLA format.  Instead, you generally will need to rearrange the components that appear in the citations you find on databases.

Exercises

  1. Make a Library Research Chart: Divide a sheet of notebook paper into two columns by drawing a vertical line about two inches from the left margin.  In the left column, write "Key words" at the top and "Call numbers" in the middle. On the right side of the line, write "Resources."  Use this chart to record key words you can use to search for information on your topic, call numbers of books on your topic, and the titles of subject encyclopedias, almanacs, and other resources that may contain relevant information.  The checklist in Section 47b of The Ready Reference Handbook can help you think of sources.  Finally, locate the sources and check out or photocopy them.  Place photocopies in your research notebook.  Use interlibrary loan to order items not in the library. 
  2. Conduct Research on Print Sources: Drawing on what you have learned about print sources, locate some information about an event related to your subject.  Try to find answers to the reporter's questions:  Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?  Make photocopies of all of this information, highlight important information, and place the photocopies in your research notebook. 
  3. Conduct Internet Research: Find at least five World Wide Web sites on your subject.  Begin by trying to guess the URL of a related site.  Then, explore at least two subject directories.  Finally, experiment with keywords and Boolean operators on at least two search engines.  When you have found five relevant sites, record their URLs in your notebook, print them, and place the printouts in your notebook.
  4. Distinguish Between Facts and Interpretation: Identify a fact and an interpretation in one of your sources.  Explain the difference.
  5. Assess Credibility: Use the tips above to assess the credibility of one of your Internet sources.  Consider the author's and publisher's credentials, timeliness, bias, tone, and logical fallacies.
  6. Distinguish Between Primary and Secondary Sources: Choose one of your sources and explain why it is a primary or a secondary source.  Identify the source further by labeling it as a diary, letter, subject encyclopedia, scholarly journal article, or something else.
  7. Draft Annotation: Using what you have learned in this unit, write an annotation of one of the sources you are using.