Electronic resources abound, and they can be of very high quality. The best way to find peer-reviewed, high-quality journal articles is to access them through your online library, or to purchase the articles through an article provider.
However, there are excellent sources that are both accurate and of high quality on the Web, and they are often free and not password protected.
Whether you are looking for journal articles, monographs, factual information, or high-quality publicly available resources, the same principles apply. Narrow your topic, make sure your search terms are relevant and focused, make sure your articles and your topic are in alignment, examine your sources for bias and distortion, and finally, make sure that your research provides sufficient support and background for your argument.
Let's expand the steps and look at them again. It is useful to look at each of the stages individually and to think about how and why you will be engaged in activities.
Narrow it down, but don't constrain it too much. Develop a solid thesis statement that gives you room to develop an argument. This is a great time to do brainstorming. Clusters, mind maps, concept maps, decision trees, and free-writing are all very effective.
Identifying the fields of study will help you determine which journals and subject or field-specific databases to search.
For example, you may be required to write an essay on an aspect of Hamlet in your English class. At first, you feel overwhelmed. Later, however, you think about the characters and situations that most interested you and you recall that Ophelia's speech and then her subsequent death were interesting to you. You wondered about the psychological state, and how she was perceived by the others in the play. Does her situation illustrate something essential about the human condition? You don't have any idea, but you'd like to explore it. So, you start by looking into what others have said about Ophelia in Hamlet. You find that her madness and death reflect and reinforce the overall themes of death, madness, murder, and betrayal. How does Ophelia's madness contrast with Hamlet's? You start jotting down ideas and key words. These will help you develop search terms and to focus your search by going to the correct types of journals and publications.
This requires another round of brainstorming, but this time you will be focusing on what others have written. List terms, ideas, and concepts that occur to you, and then focus on the subcategories that you find most interesting.
Then, use the list to narrow your topic. Avoid worn-out subjects and ones that are too narrow or too broad.
As you conduct preliminary research in the library, you will find books and articles on your topic. As you read the material, try to form an idea of what the major issues have been in the discussions about your topic.
For example, if your topic is on how stem cells could treat Lou Gehrig's Disease, you will need to have an idea of who the first people who started researching the topic. You will also need to identify the sides of the argument. Who is for it? Who is against it? Why? What are the issues?
Once you have a sense of the main players, you can start to do searches based on author name as well as key words or topics.
Ironically, in some cases, you may even have to be aware that the site may not have the original version of the information you're citing. They may, in actuality, be borrowing from another site. This is particularly the case with Web sites and services that subscribe to Weblogs or where the information is mirrored because they have chosen to pull the entire article in the feed.
How do you determine if a source of information is of high quality? Even if you are obtaining your data from a library database such as Lexis-Nexis, you should be aware that the articles contained in the newspapers they have in their database could be biased.
If it has advertising or links indicating that the owner is a member of an affiliate program on it, does such activity automatically make the site untrustworthy? In the past, it might have been an automatic disqualifier to see links to advertising, sponsors, or affiliate programs that pay the Website owner a few cents for referrals. However, one can not make such assumptions now. In fact, the presence of affiliate links may indicate that the Website is a labor of love, and that there are no ideological or commercial ties. Further, the lack of commercial ties may actually be a negative factor because it may mean that the enterprise is so profitable, or the ideological motivations are so strong that there are numerous well-endowed backers, or a highly successful business model.
Here are a few considerations as you evaluate your sources.
After you have found your articles, be sure to organize them so that you have a sense of where they will go in your paper. Keep your primary thesis in mind, and the points you are trying to make and will support with evidence and research findings from your articles.
This is a good time to return to your outline and to start mapping out where you plan to use your sources and citations.
As you download and read your articles, you can keep track of them by creating an "electronic notebook" which would consist of a citation of your sources. Create an entry for each source. Use the appropriate style (MLA, APA, CBE, Chicago, etc.). After you have completed that, be sure to write a one-sentence overview/summary of the article and how it relates to your topic.
If you're unsure how to cite references check out our guide on How to Avoid Plagiarism.
Re-examine your thesis. Look at your argumentation structure. Does each paragraph and subsection help support your thesis? How does your research fit? Determine where you have gaps, redundancies, or where your sources take you on a tangent.
Make a list of the places in your paper where you need additional support for your argument. Then, after eliminating redundancies, map where you need to fill gaps, and where your argument needs additional support.