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Writing Tutorials

How to do research

This section of the Writing Guide will walk you through some helpful steps to doing research:

General Tips:

  • When you are ready to gather sources, do not get immediately bogged down trying to find sources that discuss the exact topic or perspective you are aiming for. Start off broad in your search. Find articles that discuss any aspect of your topic and perhaps your persective can grow from the research that you find.
  • When you locate a helpful article, take note of its reference list and any sources mentioned throughout. You can glean from the research they have already done. You might find some helpful sources.
  • Use wikipedia and/or Britannica online to start your research from a broad topic. You can see how they break the topic down into smaller pieces. And similar to the tip above, you can browse through their reference list to help you find books and articles that are relevant.
  • Take advantage of your local library. You will have access to additional resources, online databases and archival news outlets that will prove helpful. Most local public libraries have a vast collection of databases and electronic resources that will expand your access

Research Questions

Research questions are simply questions that are based on your topic that you want to find answers to as you do your research and that you hope to address in your essay.

Take a look at the Choose Your Topic page if you need help with brainstorming a topic.

Example Research Questions using the topic "Cobalt Mining":

  • As an industry, what impact does mining have on the environment?
  • What is the general conception of “green industry” and is it regulated or monitored in any way?
  • What is unique about the work of mining on the lives of those who work in the mining industry?
  • Are there any positive outcomes to mining?
  • What role does cobalt play in the production of lithium-ion batteries?
  • Which is better or worse: continued reliance on oil and fossil fuels for transportation or increased cobalt mining and production of lithium-ion batteries?
  • Is there a moral position to consider – perhaps related to the exploitation of the poor or exploitation of finite resources?

These questions explore ways to engage the topic of cobalt mining with the intention to be informative, to create space to compare and contrast, to invite some personal narrative, and in ways that could induce opinions and persuasion.

You may not be able to answer all of these questions, you might not find sources to address the specific nature of some of the questions, and you might find an abundance of sources so that you need to pick and choose between them; but all in all, considering your topic from the position of asking and answering questions is an important step in the research process.

Keyword Lists

Words and phrases to use in the search bars of databases and search engines. These can be phrases lifted directly from your research questions, from your topic statement – and any synonyms or similar words…

Example Keyword List using the topic "Cobalt Mining":

  • mining and the environment
  • mining industry
  • green industry standards
  • impact of mining on workers
  • benefits of mining
  • cobalt mining and lithium-ion batteries
  • cobalt mining and electric vehicles
  • crude oil verses lithium-ion
  • exploiting the poor in mining industry
  • exploiting the environment in cobalt mining
  • scripture and the environment
  • scripture and exploitation of natural resources
  • how much progress is too much progress
  • impact of colonialism on Africa
  • colonialism and mining in Africa

Examining Online Sources

When considering sources other than those retrieved from an academic database or from the list of approved outlets, please take into consideration who your source is and what kind of publication it is. In the example above, from a simple google search using the search term ‘cobalt mining’ we locate this article. Take a look at the byline (1) and the publisher (3) in order to assess its value as a source.

Criteria for assessing articles located outside of academic databases:

  • author: proven experts with credentials rather than just fame or celebrity status
  • purpose/motivation of publication: to evaluate knowledge, to share research findings, to present documented discoveries
  • quality: polished
  • audience: specialized or limited audience rather than mass consumption, best case scenario they are written for other ‘experts’ rather than for a general public
  • timeliness: date and place of publication is clear
  • advertising: small in size and do not play a major role in the publication

Assessing the article above:

When you click on the author’s byline (1), it describes him as your average run-of-the-mill journalist (2). The publication (raconteur) is a little obscure, but by scrolling to the bottom (3) you can check out its ownership which indicates that it 'specializes in producing content for business leaders’. Neither of these facts is enough to rule out using the article… but it isn't recommended as highly reliable source by itself. As is becoming clearer in our modern society, anyone can "produce content" so at the very least, look for these things so that you will know any potential bias that the article or website could exhibit.

Using Google Scholar


Using Databases: ProQuest Religion Database

The following sequence of screenshots and captions outline the process for accessing ProQuest, doing a search on a topic, and strategies for refining and narrowing your search results.

Logging In:

detailed screenshot for how to log in

You can access the ProQuest Database from many places - This is the access point from the Eternity Library Webpage (see 1 in the image above). Please note the login and password information that is also provided on the Library Webpage.

At the ProQuest site—"Log in through your Library" option at the top (see 2 in the image above)

"Find your library" box pops up, click on "more access options" (see 3 in the image above)

Enter in the username and password (see 4 in the image above)

Search Bar:

ProQuest Search Bar

Once you get logged in, you will have access to the search bar where you can enter some search terms, keywords and phrases relevant to your topic.

Search Results:

These are search results from the keyword phrase "mining in africa" - you can see the terms highlighted in yellow in the results. The search returned over 16K results. We want to reduce this number and the delimiters in the left side bar will help us do that.

Using delimiters to narrow your search:

Subject: If you want to see how your search terms overlap with a particular field of study or subject (see 2) you can click on 'more' and you will be able to include or exclude individual subject areas (see 3).

Publication Date: If you want to limit your results to a particular time of publication you can select a custom time range (see 1).

Refining the Search by Subject:

When you include or exclude a 'subject' (see 1), this singles our articles from the results which list these keywords in their cataloging data (see 2).

In this example, you can see that by limiting the results to 6 subject keywords the list of results dropped from 16K to 2K (see 3). This is a helpful way to work with the results of your search terms.

Refining the Search by publication:

Using delimiters to narrow your search:

Publication Title: Limiting your results to a particular publication title can also be helpful. This allows you to select a unique domain or content area - like International Journal of Environmental Research (see 1).

Article Overview:

Parts of a ProQuest article that will be helpful:

  • The abstract: (see 1) The abstract allows you to get an idea of what the article will cover. It provides a brief summary of the content of the article.
  • "Related Items": (see 2) When you are looking over an article in ProQuest, you will also see a side bar on the right with "related items" that can lead you to other relevant articles.
  • Your search terms will remain highlighted allowing you to scan directly to specific sections of the article that might be more interestng (see 3).

Citation Options:

You can create a personal account within ProQuest to save your search results so that you can come back to them later or you can download them.

If you click on the 'cite' button, ProQuest will write up the necessary citation for you in your preferred format which you can then copy into a document. You can also export your ciations to a citation manager like Easy Bib.

Check out the Citing Your Sources tab for more help with citations.

How to Locate Books online and Browse their contents:

Tip: BOOKS and CHAPTERS from Books are also a valuable resource for finding information on your topic.

Here is one way to search for AND track down book chapters online:

Continuing with the "mining in Africa" topic - using the EBC Library Catalog (see 1) you can do a subject search to find any relevant titles in Eternity's collection. There is one particularly relevant title and in order to browse the table of contents for the book I can use the Amazon link (see 3 to take advantage of their "Look Inside" option.

Searching a Book's Contents:

The "look inside" option on Amazon can provide you with a preview of the book's table of contents. From the table of contents you can get a better idea of what the book covers. In this example, there is a chapter that looks promising for a addressing the potential harm caused by colonialism in Africa (see 1).

Google Books:

Another option for previewing the contents of a book is Google Books. Sometimes they will have a percentage of the book available to preview (but not in this instance - see 1). There is also an option for 'similiar books' (see 2) which will offer suggestions for additional books that cover related content (see 3).

Internet Archive:

Another option for locating book content online is to use the Internet Archive. By searching for this particular title "perspectives on africa" (see 1), I located the book I wanted. I can create a free account with Internet Archive and gain access to the full content of this book - and the chapter that I would want to read for this research topic.

Additional Resources