GUIDELINES FOR DEVELOPING AN APPROPRIATE RESEARCH STRATEGY
1. If You Are Not Already Familiar with Your Library's Resources, Take the Time to
Learn about Them. Many campus libraries and computer service programs offer
workshops and online tutorials designed to familiarize users with resources. You can
consult Andrew Harnack and Eugene Kleppinger's Online! A Reference Guide to Using
Internet Sources www.bedfordstmartins.com/online/ for detailed information.
2. Make Appropriate Use of Primary and Secondary Sources on Your Topic. Scholars
distinguish between primary sources (such as diaries, letters, data from
experiments, and historical documents) and secondary sources (such as
encyclopedias, scholarly books, and biographies). Depending on your purpose, a
source may be either primary or secondary. For instance, if for research on the Arctic
you read Barry Lopez's Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern
Landscape, Lopez's book would be a secondary source; if you were writing about
Lopez's prose style, Arctic Dreams would be a primary source.
3. Learn the Ins and Outs of Effective Keyword Searching. Keyword searches can be an
efficient way to locate sources. If you are interested in the French Revolution, for
example, you might search for "Marie Antoinette," "Louis XIV," or "Maximilien
Robespierre." Boolean keyword searches--using the word "and" to narrow and "or"
(sometimes "+" or "-") to broaden a search--allow you to refine the ways that you
look for information. For example, a Google search for the phrase "French
Revolution" identified 76,100 hits. Narrowing the search by requesting information
on "French+Revolution+Marie+Antoinette," reduced the number of hits to 2,630.
Adding "+court+entertainment+Versailles" yielded a much more manageable 55
Because different search engines employ different keyword search strategies, it is a
good idea to review the information they provide on conducting effective searches.
4. Consult with Librarians, Teachers, and Others Who Can Help You in Your Inquiry.
Most college librarians will be best able to help you if you pose specific questions. If
you ask how to get information on a particular endangered species, for example, the
librarian can do little more than suggest you consult one of the library's databases. If
instead you inform the librarian that you are looking for recent congressional reports
on a particular endangered species, you are likely to get a more helpful response.
Your instructor can also be a good source of information about possible research