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Assignment | Honors Research Project (Ross): Getting Started


Research Process

Step 1: Background Information. After you identify your research topic and some keywords that describe it, find and read articles in subject encyclopedias (not Wikipedia). Credo Reference contains items that will help you understand the context (historical, cultural, disciplinary) of your topic. Background information is the foundation supporting further research. Class textbooks also provide definitions of terms and background information.

Step 2: Dig Deeper. Exploit the citations within background information articles to dig deeper into your subject. Bring the keywords to Academic Search Complete or JSTOR databases to develop your research further. At this stage ask questions of the information specialists (librarians) to be sure you are in the right resource and using effective research strategies.

Step 3: Note Taking. Take good notes as you read. You will save time if you take notes that are in your own words (paraphrasing).

Step 4: Create Citation. Locate citation tools within the databases to help you create citations. You may be able to copy and paste the citations into your tentative citation page. Be sure to check the accuracy with an expert source.

Organize Your Topic

Organize Your Thoughts with a Mind Map

Mind maps are a great tool to help you organize your thoughts and see new information or connections that you might not have previously been aware of.  As you develop your mind map, narrow your topic down from a broad topic to a specific research question. You will use this research question, and the keywords you've identified on your mind map, to search the library databases for resources.  As you utilize the research databases, continue to fill in information on your mind map to help you see if there are gaps in your research that you need to address.

Mind Map Process

Start off with your overall central topic: in this example, we're starting with racism. What does racism impact? Education, law enforcement, voting... And what does it look like? White supremacism (though not just that, of course)...

You're trying to accumulate lots of ideas at this point! Big picture. Make connections, and write whatever comes to mind. When you start getting stuck, turn to Google, Credo Reference, and Wikipedia to get more ideas.

Once you've filled out the map of your topic a bit, look at where you have the most ideas: this is probably the strongest aspect of your topic, and what you should focus your research on.

All those other ideas? We're not going to use them. We want to deeply explore one narrow aspect of the big topic, not try to talk about everything to do with the big topic ever. (That's the job of probably a multi-volume book, not a short essay!)

It's important to still go through this process, though, even if we aren't using most of the ideas, because a) we have to see all this to figure out which thing we're targeting, and b) it still gives us context for how we actually understand the overall topic -- everything is connected! Plus, if we decide we hate our chosen topic, we can come back to drawing board and go another direction easily.

This end result of our mind map is the research topic we'd look into further for the paper: how racial gerrymandering affects representation of voters. This is what we research! Based on these ideas, and a bit on our research, we'll figure out questions to ask in that vein (which our research will provide answers for).

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