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Advanced Research for the Social Sciences and Humanities
One of my more jarring experiences as a graduate TA was meeting a student who was setting foot in the library for the first time. . . As a junior. This person had somehow gotten through nearly three years of courses without performing any significant research and was now having to catch up.
Other students had their rude awakening a little earlier. Entirely too much of my time teaching in a freshman-level course was spent repeatedly explaining why you cannot cite Wikipedia as a source on your term paper. These are skills that high schools are supposed to teach their students, but clearly not enough resources are being dedicated to research skills.
If you are a science major, your research will probably be conducted in a lab. You will have a pretty good sense of where to get your data. Social scientists and humanities majors, on the other hand, have to use some other methods.
So, here are some things you should know about research before you ever set foot in a social science or humanities class. Using these methods will save you, your instructor, and your TA a huge headache.
1.) Use books. It’s ok to have a few online resources or newspaper articles in your paper, but the bulk of the research should be from books. To begin with, more research goes into a book than an article, so it is likely to contain much more information. In addition, the quality of information found on a website can be difficult to determine; books, on the other hand, have been thoroughly edited and peer-reviewed prior to publication.
2.) Go to the library. Ok, so you followed my advice on step one, browsed through the library’s online catalogue, and had the books you need placed on the hold shelf. Why bother with more than that? Well, keyword searches can be tricky and may leave out some books that will still be relevant to your topic. Unless you managed to search for every possible related term, odds are you missed something. One way to remedy this is to find some books relevant to your research and locate that call number’s shelf. There will probably be several other books nearby that could be helpful. This approach will also allow you to quickly flip through books without checking them out.
3.) Use academic journals. They look intimidating and can be hard to follow if you’re not familiar with the topic, but academic journal articles can sometimes make or break your argument. They are usually best for providing detail about some small aspect of your paper. Journal articles can also be good for narrow or obscure topics for which there isn’t really enough material for an entire book. Your university probably has a subscription to JSTOR or Project Muse, so take advantage of it.
4.) Don’t use encyclopedias. Just don’t. That includes Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica, or any other encyclopedia. It’s not that the information in encyclopedias is wrong, it’s just that it’s cobbled together from several secondary sources. You should be reading those primary and secondary sources, not the summary provided in the encyclopedia. There is one exception to this rule and one situation in which looking at an encyclopedia might be helpful, which brings me to suggestion 5.
5.) Let one source lead to another. While it is never ok to cite Wikipedia, it is ok to go to a Wikipedia page and find the sources it used. The same goes for journal articles and books; pay attention to footnotes and other citations mentioning alternative sources. Then track down those sources and see what they use, and then what those sources use, and so on and so forth until you have assembled the information you need to write your paper.
Specific requirements are going to vary depending on course and discipline, but these broad guidelines should help you get off to a good start in any class that requires research. Remember that, while high school essentially asked you to read about something and then summarize it, college courses demand that you come up with original questions and use your research materials to answer them. This is going to require some practice, but with each paper you write you will get a little more competent and creative with your use of sources. Just make sure you are willing to work hard to get the information you need.
Sat, 2011-08-06 09:56#2
on-line library access
As an off-campus grad student I appreciate the availability of the library on-line. I often use the references cited at the end of academic journal articles for further research. Also, save your research material! You may need it later. I didn't spend much time in the library as an undergraduate student but it does supply a quiet atmosphere for concentrating on your studies, away from the hectic atmosphere of your dorm where there are so many distractions to keep you from studying. It also provides a common area for you to study with classmates as a group. Today the library, academic or public, is one of my favorite places to be.
Sun, 2011-07-31 17:13#3
First time in the library as
First time in the library as a junior?! Seriously?! I can’t even comprehend how that student managed to pull that off. Personally, I prefer using books when I can, compared to online resources. But, admittedly, I do tend to use the internet more frequently simply because it is more convenient and my previous school did not really have a good library for research. The internet can also be helpful for finding books though, and then you can take the titles to the library to check out the actual books. I think that using books for research ultimately results in a better paper.
Fri, 2011-08-12 23:52#4
Like java602 said: are you
Like java602 said: are you serious about that junior in the library for the first time? Wow. That's...incredibly sad on multiple levels. One of my favorite techniques was kind of touched on here, but it bears repeating: check out the bibliography/works cited/references/whatever in the article or book you're reading. That'll give you a great lead to check out related sources you can mine for your own research, often sources you wouldn't have even thought of in the first place. Another technique: look up the subject listings. When you find a really useful book, look it up in a library catalogue (I'd recommend WorldCat but any similar database would work) and check out the subjects listed in the entry. Let's say you're doing a paper about World War II. Look up "World War, 1939-1945" and you'll come up with hundreds, possibly thousands of subject listings. It can be time consuming, but it's a great way to explore a lot more options than what you might come up with simply from keywords.
Wed, 2011-12-28 16:04#5
My Helpful Library
I definitely agree with the others. How did this student make it to his junior year without stepping foot into a library!? I’m a junior and I would have never made it to this point without many visits to the library. Like Tiffany, I am an off campus student (my university is specifically geared toward working students) and I make good use of the online resources that my library has. They have some amazing sources like RefWorks, JSTOR, and other database systems. I absolutely love it! I would also like to add, don’t be afraid to use your librarians. Librarians are the people that you used to make fun of because they would read dictionaries for fun. Only now, that thirst for knowledge is extremely helpful to you now as a student. Librarians are very knowledgeable on a variety of subjects and they can help you come up with search terms that you might not have thought of. The head librarian at my university majored in Women’s Studies and she’s been really helpful as I’ve been doing significant undergraduate research in preparation for my capstone project. And even if you don’t need the library right now for its resources, spend some time in there anyway. It’s good to familiarize yourself with the environment so that when you do need help it’s not so intimidating.
Thu, 2012-12-06 17:30#6
I lived off campus as a graduate student. I knew it was hard to get to the library but I would often ask the librarian for information, they would gather it, then I could go get it later. Also, most research can be done online. If you need books, Google Books has a lot of the commonly used reference books. I used Google Books to gain access to a lot of books for my thesis papers. Academic journals - and JSTOR - we the best research ever. When writing my thesis that was my primary source of information. I hardly used books at all because it was a research thesis. The important work being done in an area is done in academic journals. Most people publish journal articles before books. Lastly, the library can be intimidating. If you have a TA for a class, ask them where to go in the library to find what you need. Chances are they have been there before and they can guide you to the right place. That way it doesn't seem so big when you walk in. I used the library to study, so I was familiar with it when I needed it. But online sources can be just as efficient in this day and age as a book. Don't limit yourself thinking that books have all the right information.