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English 102: Research Is Teaching Yourself Part 2

Research Is Teaching Yourself Part 2

For several sections of English 102, the library session introduced several options for using information to teach yourself something new about your research topic.  This page gives suggestions for finding the different types of information that work best at each phase of your learning.

Finding direction

These types of sources help you decide which topic you want to investigate.  They are intended for a general audience; they do not require much specialized knowledge.  You may or may not end up referring to these sources in your paper, but they are very important for (a) choosing an interesting direction for your research and (b) understanding why your question is important.

Best Search Tool:

In QuickSearch:

  • Search for: manatees
  • Use Format filter and select Reference Entries (click show more if you don’t see it right away)
  • Find a good encyclopedia entry. For example, "Dugongs and Manatees" from the Princeton Encyclopedia of Mammals.


Magazines give background information to ask good questions, especially why your topic is important and for whom. The most helpful articles will be at least 3 pages long.


Best Search Tool:

  • Academic Search Premier lets you filter results to just look at magazines! Easier to use than QuickSearch.
    • Search for: manatees AND conservation.
    • Under Source Types, click Magazines.
    • Find a magazine article that will help you learn more about your issue. For example, Furor Over a Gentle Giant in Smithsonian magazine.

CQ Researcher:

This source gives background information on political hot topics like education, environment, criminal justice, etc. 

Reports are written by experts who present multiple sides of a question and have additional recommended resources.

  • CQ Researcher lets you learn from experts but without jargon or highly technical language.
    • Investigate Hot Topics or Browse Topics if you’re still picking a research topic.
    • Use the Search Box if you already have a topic (but check report dates - they go back to 1923!)

Other possibilities:

  • YouTube often has helpful introductions to important questions, especially if you can find a TED Talk.
  • Books can be a great introduction to a topic. Some are for advanced researchers while others are for a more general audience. Skim the introduction to make sure it’s right for you. Children or young adult non-fiction books can also be helpful and are available in the TDRL (Jeopardy! sensation James Holzhauer used them to build his knowledge on unfamiliar topics!)  

Engaging with experts

Once you have decided on a direction, use these sources to learn about expert knowledge in your area of research.  Use the evidence that experts present to develop your own stance on your research question.  Eventually, you will refer to the same evidence in your paper to communicate the reasoning behind your position to your audience.


Books:  Some of our best, most important information is found in traditional books.  Not up for reading an 800-page book?  Use the table of contents in the front and the index in the back to guide you to the most relevant material.


In QuickSearch:  This video tutorial will teach you how to use QuickSearch to find books in our collection.


Scholarly Journal Articles/Peer-reviewed Articles:  These articles report original research by specialists in an academic field.  They are written by experts for other experts, so they can be quite technical.  For reports of scientific research, the introduction, discussion, and conclusion sections are often most helpful for beginners.


In QuickSearch:  This video tutorial will teach you how to use QuickSearch to find scholarly articles in our collection.


QuickSearch Alternatives:  


Academic Search Premier:  Like QuickSearch, Academic Search Premier provides information in most academic subjects.

  • Search for: manatees AND conservation.
  • Under Limit To, click the check box for Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals.
  • Find an entry that looks helpful.  For example, Influence of Manatees' Diving on Their Risk of Collision with Watercraft from the journal PLOS One.


Magazines (in-depth):  In-depth magazine articles can be of great help in interpreting events of current interest.  Journalists who write on a particular area over a long period of time build up considerable expertise in that area, even if they don't have PhDs.  Look for an article that is at least three pages long -- longer articles give the author a chance to explain the issue and why it is important.


Best search tool:

  • Academic Search Premier:  Like QuickSearch, Academic Search Premier provides information in most academic subjects.  It also gives easy access to a variety of magazines.
    • Search for: manatees AND conservation.
    • Under Source Types, click Magazines.
    • Scroll through the results to find an entry that looks helpful.  For example, Resurfacing in National Parks magazine.

Other possibilities:



Tracking the latest developments

The expert-level research sources mentioned above take a long time to research and almost as long to review and publish.  For this reason, they are not the best way to track the latest developments on your question.  For example, if you are writing about manatee conservation, a scholarly journal article will not include information about a bill to protect the manatees that was debated in Congress last week.  But this information could be crucial for your paper!  Luckily, it only takes newspapers a few days to provide coverage and analysis of recent events.   


Using date limiters in our databases will be help you keep the list of results manageable.  Make sure you can tell what has happened over the last six months to a year.


Newspapers:  With their daily or weekly updates, newspapers are among the best sources for finding out about the most recent events.  Specialized news databases often work better than general-purpose databases for finding newspapers.


QuickSearch Alternatives:


Access World News:  Research Collection:  With Access World News, you get access to thousands of newspapers and no paywalls.

  • Search for: manatees and conservation.
  • Use the Date selector to narrow your search to the latest decade, then to the last year or so. This takes two steps.
  • Find the Sort by feature above the Date Selector.  Change the sort from Newest to Best Match.
  • The most relevant, recent articles should appear at the top of the list.  Select one that looks helpful, for example, Boat strikes set record for deaths of manatees - Watercraft killed 119 in 2018 in Florida; red tide killed 91 in the Naples Daily News, January 5, 2019.


Or try Google News, but watch out for paywalls. Rather than pay for an article, work with a librarian to find a way to get it for free.


Magazines:  Magazines are also a good source of recent information.  Look for an articles written in the past year.  Longer articles are usually more helpful than short ones, but for really recent news, sometimes a short report is the best you can do.


Academic Search Premier:  Like QuickSearch, Academic Search Premier provides information in most academic subjects.  It also gives easy access to a variety of magazines.

  • Type your keywords and click search.  For example, manatees AND conservation.
  • Academic Search Premier's search filters are on the left side of the screen.  Under Source Types, click Magazines.
  • Scroll through the results to find an entry that looks helpful.  Use the Publication Date limiter on the left to limit your search to the most recent articles.  In our manatees AND conservation example, the most recent magazine was from 2017, so you are better off using newspapers (see above).


Can't I just do all of this in the Libraries' QuickSearch database?

The QuickSearch database gives you access to almost all of the Libraries' collections in a single search tool.  In most cases, it is a very powerful and convenient way to find almost anything in the Libraries' collections.  But its power is sometimes a weakness.  Because QuickSearch connects you with so many options, sometimes the best options get buried deep within the list of search results, making them difficult to find.  If you feel like this is happening to you, or if you feel that you are not getting the results you expect for some other reason, try one of the "QuickSearch alternatives" listed on this guide.

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