Starting Research: Get the Big Picture
Once you have a basic idea of what your topic is, you'll need to get an idea of the big picture. What are the major issues involved in your topic? What are the terms associated with it?
Reference sources are a great way to begin your search. They'll show you which sources experts recommend and give you ideas for specific areas of the topic you may want to research. These are often broad and general, so it's best to start here and narrow your topic down as you progress.
Narrowing the Topic
Based on your findings in books and reference sources, you'll want to narrow down your topic so that you can focus on a few main points. A few ways to do this are:
-Look at the terms used by authors of general works
-Look for the main concepts or issues mentioned in general sources
-Look at citations in general sources (the bibliography at the end of a reference article) or for mentions of experts in the field
Searching using your Keyword Bank
Research is like a treasure hunt or solving a mystery.
We have to try to combine the right terms in the right place to find the information we need.
How should you combine search terms to find what you are looking for?
Search for information using the single most important term related to your topic. Use this type of search when looking for basic background information.
Search for information by combining key concepts using the words you have brainstormed. Each concept/word should be separated by the word "AND". Use this kind of search when looking for specific evidence related to your claim/thesis.
Getting Too Many Irrelevant Results?
Add more search terms for narrower results.
Getting Too Few Relevant Results?
Change, switch out, or remove some search terms for more accurate or broader results.
Research Help @ the Pratt Libraries
Bookplate of Winward Prescott, via Pratt Institute Library's Flickr collection of book plates (click image to further explore)
To help you develop your research skills, this guide offers a collection of research strategies and resources that are helpful for Freshman English students. Learn how to use the online catalog, PrattCat, to find a book; search for articles in online databases; avoid plagiarism by citing sources in footnotes and bibliographies; and more!
Brainstorming Search Terms
When doing research on a literary topic, the best way to begin is by brainstorming keywords and concepts related to your topic.
Consider the following:
-Writer's Name - both his/her formal name and/or any nicknames or alternate name spellings.
-Title of Work - both the offical name and any alternate titles or spellings (including those of other languages).
-Literary Genre - examples include memoir, novel, poetry, short story, etc.
-Geography / Ethnicity - important for literature from a particular place/region (Mexico, Asian) or by a particular ethnic group (Chicano, Japanese).
-Date - examples include a specific year, decade or century (19th Century, 21st Century).
-Period / Style - this category can also be tied to literature of a particular time period. Examples include: magical realism, post-modern, Romanticism, etc.
Building a bank of keywords will make the rest of your research much simpler.
1. Gather background information, which will give you some key words to start with, and make your research a little easier.
2. Brainstorm other search terms: think of synonyms, or more technical terms, or official language vs. colloquial language
3. Think of some narrower search terms to get even more specific and some broader words in case you aren't finding much.
4. Think about what ideas and terms are related to your subject that might also be helpful.
Even when you've got a good keyword bank started, keep adding to it!
If you find a good article or book, look at the data record to see what other terms and subjects are used to describe it.
Remember that with library resources especially, it pays to search smart:
use AND in between search terms to group them together
use OR for more results
use NOT if you want to exempt a word from your results
use quotation marks "_" to isolate phrases
use the wildcard * to get all versions of a word
The CRAP Test
- How recent is the information?
- Can you locate a date for when the resource was written/created/updated?
- Based on your topic, is it current enough?
- Why might the date matter for your topic?
- What kind of information is included in the resource?
- Is content of the resource primarily opinion?
- Is is balanced or biased?
- Is there a Bibliography? In other words, does the creator provide references or sources for data or quotations?
- Can you determine who is the creator or author?
- What are the credentials (education, affiliation, expertise?)
- Is the publisher or sponsor reputable?
- Are they reputable?
- What is the publisher’s interest (if any) in this information?
- Are there advertisements on the website?
Purpose/Point of View
- What's the intent of the article? (to persuade you, to sell you something?)
- For web resources, what is the domain? (.com .edu, .gov?) How might this influence the purpose or point of view?
- For web resources, are there ads on the webpage? How do they related to the topic of the web resource? (for example an ad for ammunition next to an article on firearm legislation or against gun control)
- Is the author presenting fact or opinion?
Adapted from Dominican University
Get Research Help
Librarians at Pratt want to help you with your research :) Here's how to contact us:
Get Writing Help
Pratt's Writing and Tutorial Center (WTC) wants to help you become a better research paper writer. Walk-in or make an appointment to get help.
Conversation groups are also avaible for international students!
Contact the WTC
-Location: North Hall on the 1st floor
-Phone (718) 636-3459
-Monday to Thursday, 10am-8pm