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Keefe Regional Technical School: Research

Research Stage

Now that you have a focused research question, it is time to find and record information so you can support your answer with strong evidence. In the RESEARCH section of this guide, you will learn to create a search strategy, evaluate sources, and take good notes. As you work, keep your research question and any assignment requirements in mind so that you stay focused. 

Many students begin this stage feeling optimistic but become confused and frustrated as they are overwhelmed by finding too much information or disappointed by finding too little. You may need to go back to PRE-SEARCH to refine your topic, making it more narrow or broad. This is a great time to ask your teacher or Mrs. Kane for help.

In this Section

  • What is a search strategy and how do I create one? 
  • Where can I find the best sources to answer my research question? 
  • How do I evaluate potential sources using the CRAAP test? 
  • How do I take organized and relevant notes in order to work efficiently and avoid plagiarism? 

Steps

CREATING A SEARCH STRATEGY

Your search strategy is your plan for finding sources to use in answering your research question. Think about what kinds of information you will need. Will you need primary sources such as political cartoons, diary entries, or photographs? Will you conduct original data collection such as interviews, surveys, observations, or experiments? Once you know what you need, you can make a list of the possible sources for that information. 

Your information may come from the following types of sources: 

  • Academic journal articles 
  • Reference books 
  • Newspaper and magazine articles 
  • Histories, biographies, and other nonfiction books
  • Literary works including novels, short stories, poems, etc. 
  • Personal interviews 
  • Direct observation, studies, experiments, etc.
  • Encyclopedia articles (check with your teacher) 
  • And more 

Although you may be in the habit of going straight to Google for information, beginning with the library's resources can save you time and effort in the end. Internet search engines often provide thousands of results and figuring out which are relevant and trustworthy can be a much bigger task. 

 


A robust search strategy will include some combination of the following: 

  • Library databases. These online resources are designed to help you to quickly locate reliable and relevant information. Results include journal articles, reference e-books, and more. Because databases are designed for researchers, they often feature useful tools like ready-made citations, related search terms, translations, and more. 
  • Library catalog. Search for books, vetted websites, and other resources available at your library. Because library catalogs search only the bibliographic record of an item, rather than the complete text, keep your search terms relatively general. For example, rather than searching for "the history of juvenile justice during the 1920s" you might look for any book on "juvenile justice" and then check the index or table of contents for your specific topic. 
  • Other libraries. The Framingham Public Library is close and convenient to Keefe Tech. Search the online catalog and make requests from any library in the Minuteman system. If you don't have a card, sign up for free at your local public library. You can also access many Boston Public Library databases, including JSTOR, from home. Sign up for an e-card, available to anyone living in Massachusetts, online in mere minutes. 
     
  • Internet search enginesThe internet is a rich source of information, but it is a little like the Wild West. Many sources on the open internet have not been edited or verified. You must be selective about which web pages you use in your research or risk undermining your own credibility and possibly using wrong information.

    Although it is tempting to go straight to Google when beginning research, it can take longer in the end because you get so many hits, results are not filtered for quality or relevance, and there are limited researcher tools. Search engines like Google and Bing only search the "visible" web, meaning that they cannot see great content behind paywalls or passwords, like our library database articles. 

    Advanced search options can help you find what you are looking for more quickly. Search for complete phrases using quotation marks (e.g., "human microbiome" or "Arab Spring"), search specific domains (e.g., site:gov), and more. As you search, visualize the kinds of results that will be most helpful to you, such as government agency and news sites and look for those. Watch this two-minute video from Common Craft to learn more. 

  • Digital archivesOnline archives and databases are especially useful for finding older primary sources, which become part of the public domain, and government documents. Search them directly, or find them through internet search engines. Here are a few we recommend. 
     
  • Original research. You may conduct original field work such as interviewing an expert, conducting a survey, performing an experiment, etc. 
     
  • Asking for help. Can't find what you need? Talk to Mrs. Kane or one of your teachers! It may save you time in the long run when formulating your search strategy. 


KEYWORD SEARCHES

You will use keywords to search for information whether in databases, online catalogs, internet search engines, and even books (use the index at the back). 

Try this brainstorming process to develop a list of potential keywords: 

List keywords that are important to each of the concepts in your research question. If you aren't sure what your keywords should be, write out your research question or a few sentences about your topic and circle the important words. For example: 
 

What are the effects of television on teenagers? > television, teenagers 


Next brainstorm SYNONYMS and RELATED CONCEPTS: 
 

teenagers > adolescents, young adults, children, students


Brainstorm NARROWER search terms: 
 

television > television commercials, advertising, product placement


Brainstorm BROADER terms:
 

television > media, entertainment 


Combine keywords to get articles that match each of your important concepts. For example: 
 

television AND childhood obesity


Mix and match these terms in your database and catalog searches to see which are most effective. 

SEARCH TIPS  

Advanced search strategies will allow you to achieve more accurate and precise results. Try these: 

  • Use quotation marks to search for phrases. For example:
"muscular dystrophy" or "Of Mice and Men" 
  • Use advanced search options and filters. Make use of advanced search options. These differ among databases and search engines but may include filters for full-text, scholarly articles, or articles with images; reading level; year of publication; etc. Most also allow you to exclude terms that you do NOT wish to see in your results (for example, if you are searching for the fish called a mullet and do NOT want to see results about hairstyles!). Truncation and wildcard characters are two other advanced search options.
  • Check your spelling. If you don't find anything on your topic, sloppy spelling may be to blame!

THE CRAAP TEST FOR SOURCES

(For a more simplified evaluation, you can try the C.A.P. test

As you choose sources, spend some time skimming them before you add them to your bibliography and begin to take notes. For books, skim the index (at the back of the book) and table of contents (at the front of the book) for your keywords. When skimming shorter works like articles, look at subheadings and section breaks as well as the first and last paragraphs. 

Two important questions arise as you look at each of your sources:

  1. Is the information provided relevant and useful to your project? Remember, you have a focused research question that will be answered by a specific claim or thesis. Choose sources that directly relate to your claim. 
     
  2. Is the source valid and credible? Much of the information on the internet is not edited or verified. Citing such sources will undermine your own credibility, detracting from your argument, and may result in wrong information in your work.
Use the CRAAP test to help you determine what's a quality source and what's, well, you know. CRAAP stands for: 
  • Currency - timeliness of the information 
  • Relevance - importance of the information to your topic/question 
  • Authority - qualifications of the source 
  • Accuracy - how correct the information is 
  • Purpose - why the information exists 
Use the questions below to evaluate potential sources. Questions in italics are for websites. 

Currency
  • When was the information published or posted? 
  • Has it been revised or updated? 
  • Does your topic require current information, or will older sources work as well? 
  • Do all of the links work? 
Relevance
  • Does the information answer your research question? 
  • Who is the intended audience? 
  • Is the information at an appropriate level, or is it too easy or difficult? 
  • Did you look at a variety of sources before choosing this one? 
Authority
  • Who is the author, publisher, or sponsor? 
  • What are the author’s credentials or affiliations? 
  • Is the author qualified to write about this topic? 
  • Is there contact information available? 
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source (e.g., .com, .edu, .gov)?  
Accuracy
  • Are there clear and credible citations for the information provided? 
  • Has the source been reviewed or refereed, such as in a scholarly journal? 
  • Can you verify the information from other sources or personal knowledge? 
  • Are there spelling, grammar, or typographical errors? 
Purpose
  • What is the purpose of the information? To inform, teach, sell, persuade? 
  • Do the authors make their purpose clear? 
  • Is the information based in facts and evidence, or opinions and propaganda? 
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial? 
  • Are alternative views presented fairly? 
  • What kind of bias is present? 

Source: The CRAAP Test is adapted from Meriam Library at California State University, Chico

 

CRAAP Test

Use this worksheet to evaluate your sources
 

Learn More

 

Research Tip

Pay special attention to evaluating websites and their creators. A site that is attractive and well designed does NOT mean it is credible. 

If you don't see it immediately, you may need to click around to find the author’s name, date, publisher, etc. Look for tiny print at the top and bottom of pages. Try navigating back to the homepage of a website and look for "about us" links. 

If you cannot find a link to the homepage, try to access higher levels of the site by DELETING parts of the URL up to each slash.
 
Also remember that although the domain may provide a clue as to the intention of the site, there are no guarantees. For example, just because a website has a .edu address, it does not mean that its contents are endorsed by the university. It may be a personal page, student work, etc. 
 
THREE KINDS OF NOTES 
You will take three types of notes from sources in your research: direct quotations, paraphrase, and summary. 
  • Quotations. Quotations are the original words EXACTLY as they were written by the original author and MUST be enclosed in quotation marks. Quotations should be used sparingly in your final paper, and are most often used when the original language is especially vivid or provocative. Make sure all quotations are clearly labeled and resist the temptation to do too much copy-and-paste when you take notes. 
     
  • Paraphrase. Paraphrasing is when you restate the original text in your own words. A paraphrase typically contains all of the author’s original ideas but may be slightly shorter than the original. Be sure that your notes are ONLY your own words when you paraphrase. 

    When you mix your words and the authors, whether by taking phrases here and there without putting them in quotation marks or by slotting your synonyms into existing sentence structures, you are plagiarizing … even IF you cite it. 
    To avoid trouble down the road, keep the source nearby but avoid looking at it while you paraphrase in your notes. If you are not sure what is paraphrasing and what is plagiarism see the examples at the end of Avoiding Plagiarism
     
  • Summary. Summarizing is when you restate only the main ideas of the original text in your own words, leaving out the details. A summary is usually significantly shorter than the original text. Summarizing can help you to quickly establish background information or context, or present the main idea of a single source. 

You will also want to take notes on your OWN thoughts and ideas as you read, for later use. Labels these too so you know not to attribute them to a source. 

 

 

 
RECOMMENDED PRACTICES FOR TAKING NOTES
  • Avoid accidental plagiarism by taking careful notes now. Clearly identify all quoted material in your notes, using quotation marks or clear labels. Accidental plagiarism is often the result of sloppy notes, when a student goes back and does not realize that material is quoted directly or paraphrased incorrectly. 
     
  • Before you even start writing things down, make sure you have identified a clear focus for your research. It may help to create a working outline, a rough idea of what the different parts of your paper or project will contain, to guide you. If you think what you are reading is really important but it doesn't relate to your working outline, you may need to adjust your focus. 
     
  • Only write down information that you think will be useful evidence for your claims. Do not write down everything you read. Remember, you are taking notes for research, not preparing for a test on a chapter in your textbook. 
     
  • Don’t overuse quotations in your notes. If you’re copying too much into your notes, you are not digesting and synthesizing the information, which will make organizing and writing much more difficult later. When you paraphrase, make sure you are using only your own original words, not a hybrid. Be careful now to avoid plagiarism later. 
     
  • Each time you start taking notes on a new source, record all the information you need to cite it later. If you are taking notes on index cards, you can create a "source card" with this information. 
     
  • Limit yourself to ONE main point or idea per note. If each notes contains one "chunk" of information, you will be able to put them in order when you go to write your outline. Ideally your notes can be rearranged without being recopied, a benefit of index cards as well as many electronic systems of note-taking. 
     
  • Label each note with a HEADER or TOPIC to make it easy to organize later. 
     
  • Label each note with a clear SOURCE so you can cite it later. If you do not know the source, you cannot use the information in your assignment. Don't forget to include page numbers for print sources. 
     
  • You do not need to write in complete sentences, but make sure you include enough information that it will make sense to you days, weeks, or even months later, depending on the scope of the project. 
     
  • Double check your work now to save headaches later. Do all your notes have sources? Are all quotations reproduced exactly as in the original, word for word, comma for comma? Have you double checked all statistics?  
     
  • Keep copies of your digital sources and hold onto library books until you are done with your assignment, if possible. Because research is recursive you may need to go back for more information at a later stage. 
     
  • Make sure you are taking notes on diverse sources, not just focusing on one. You want to weave together ideas and information from multiple points of view when creating your own. 
     
  • Back up your notes regularly if you can, especially for longer projects. If you are taking notes in the cloud, as in EasyBib or Google Drive, this may be automatic. If you are taking notes in a computer file, make a copy in case something happens to the original. If you are writing in a notebook, consider making a photocopy (or be really, really careful!).

TOOLS FOR TAKING NOTES 

For very short or informal research, it may be enough to jot your notes in a word processing file or notebook, or on sticky notes or printouts of your sources. For longer projects, you will need something more. 
  • Index cards. Tried and true. Create one card for each source with the citation information, and then tag each note card you create using that source with the author's last name. Give each note card a topic or subtopic so that you can easily organize them later. Only write one main point on each card and avoid writing on the back so that you can lay out and organize your ideas later. It is a good idea to use ink instead of pencil and real index cards instead of paper so that your notes don’t rub away or stick together as you use them.

    Sample index card
  • Digital note cards. You can also use a computer to create note cards. As with index cards, label each note with a source and topic. Digital notes can be easily rearranged to create an outline and printed to start your rough draft. Depending on the platform, your notes may be accessible from any computer and backed up automatically. If you do take notes digitally, be careful not to overuse copy-and-paste and to clearly label all quotations.  Quizlet is free and easy to use.  You can create an account using your school's Google account.
     
  • Note-taking forms. Most note-taking forms organize the research by source. Take notes on one side of the paper only so you can cut them apart later (after labeling each note with the source) to create an outline. Use this Note-Taking form to organize your sources and notes. 
     
  • Graphic organizers. Graphic organizers can provide more structure to your note taking, especially for shorter research projects. Your teacher may provide you with a graphic organizer tailored to a specific assignment, or you can find one online or create your own. 
     
  • Mind mapping software. Use mind mapping software like Popplet or MindMeister to make a web of information as you find it, connecting and organizing ideas on the fly. 
     
  • Social bookmarking tools. Tools like Diigo allow you to bookmark digital sources and highlight and take notes directly on the web.
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