Chapter 31.1: Gathering Reliable Information contd.

Part 6: Chapter 31

With the expansion of technology and media over the past few decades, a wealth of information is available to you in electronic format. Some types of resources, such as a television documentary, may only be available electronically. Other resources—for instance, many newspapers and magazines—may be available in both print and electronic form. The following are some of the electronic sources you might consult:

  • Online databases

  • CD-ROMs

  • Web search engines

  • Websites maintained by businesses, universities, nonprofit organizations, or government agencies

  • Newspapers, magazines, and journals published on the web

  • E-books

  • Audio books

  • Industry blogs

  • Radio and television programs and other audio and video recordings

  • Online discussion groups

The techniques you use to locate print resources can also help you find electronic resources efficiently. Libraries usually include CD-ROMs, audio books, and audio and video recordings among their holdings. You can locate these materials in the catalog using a keyword search.

CNM’s databases can be accessed online from anywhere, and the bulk of CNMs library research is accessible through the internet. Library databases are not as easy to search as Google; however, the information you receive through the databases is vetted, so you spend less time weeding through questionable sources. Your instructor will likely recommend that you use the library any time you need to use outside research. You can find popular articles on the databases, free of charge, and your student fees pay for your access to the libraries, so you might as well get your money’s worth.

The library’s databases are located on the library page:

CNM Library Home Page

On this page, you can search using OneSearch, the library’s database which searches many databases at once. Or you can click on “databases” below the research button, and pick specific databases to search. They are divided up thematically by topic and discipline. Practice searching them before you have an assignment. The process may seem cumbersome at first, but becoming literate in research is a college competency that will benefit you throughout your educational career.

Using Internet Search Engines Efficiently

When faced with the challenge of writing a research paper, some students rely on popular search engines as their first source of information. Typing a keyword or phrase into a search engine instantly pulls up links to dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of related websites—what could be easier? Unfortunately, despite its apparent convenience, this research strategy has the following drawbacks to consider:

Even though 18,000,000 hits is impressive, a general web search can provide a helpful overview of a topic and may pull up genuinely useful resources. To obtain the most out of a search engine, however, use strategies to make your search more efficient. Use multiple keywords and Boolean operators to limit your results.

Boolean operators, simple words like AND, OR, NOT, are used to refine database searches to help you filter your results in popular search engines.

While using a search engine, you can click on the Advanced Search link on any search engine’s homepage to find additional options for streamlining your search. Depending on the specific search engine you use, the following options may be available:

  • Limit results to websites that have been updated within a particular time frame.

  • Limit results by language or country.

  • Limit results to scholarly works available online.

  • Limit results by file type.

  • Limit results to a particular domain type, such as .edu (school and university sites) or .gov (government sites). This is a quick way to filter out commercial sites, which can often lead to more objective results; however, you will still need to use your critical thinking skills to determine whether a .gov or .edu site is credible. Sites with a variety of extensions can contain bias. Determine for yourself whether a site is appropriate for a college-level class. Read Chapter 32 to further understand what makes a source credible.

You can then use the Bookmarks or Favorites feature of your web browser to save and organize sites that look promising.

Using Other Information Sources: Interviews

With so many print and electronic media readily available, it is easy to overlook another valuable information resource: other people. Consider whether you could use a person or group as a primary source. For instance, you might interview a professor who has expertise in a particular subject, a worker within a particular industry, or a representative from a political organization. Interviews can be a great way to obtain firsthand information while obtaining a first-hand perspective.

To get the most out of an interview, you will need to plan ahead. Contact your subject early in the research process and explain your purpose for requesting an interview, and prepare detailed questions.

Open-ended questions, rather than questions with simple yes-or-no answers, are more likely to lead to an in-depth discussion.

Schedule a time to meet, and be sure to obtain your subject’s permission to record the interview. Take careful notes and be ready to ask follow-up questions based on what you learn.

Constructing a Working Thesis

As you begin reading and evaluating your research, you will likely start to come up with answers to your research question. When you start formulating these answers, you can begin drafting your working thesis.

A working thesis concisely states a writer’s initial answer to the main research question; it does not merely state a fact or present a subjective opinion. Instead, it expresses a debatable idea or claim that you hope to prove through additional research. Your working thesis is called a working thesis for a reason—it is subject to change. As you learn more about your topic, you may change your thinking in light of your research findings. Let your working thesis serve as a guide to your research, but do not be afraid to modify it based on what you learn.

Adapted from “Chapter 11” of Successful Writing, 2012, used according to creative commons CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Back to: Introduction to College Writing at CNM > Part 6: Research Process, MLA and APA