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Environmental Geology (GEOL 1405) Benford: Selecting a Topic

Fall 2020 | GEOL 1405| (Professor Benford)

Before You Research

The Just A Minute Game has given you a great strategy to get to know a bit about the potential topics. How did you find quick credible information? Google, right? Was the information accurate, current, unbiased and written by an expert? Evaluate information for credibility looking at these elements.

First Steps

Picking a Topic IS Research

When you're starting your research, you need to have a balance between brainstorming and looking for external sources.

On the one hand, you want to be able to feel out what you already know and explore what you think sounds like an interesting idea.

On the other hand, you want to make sure you're not going too far in the wrong direction while you're still at the starting line.

It can be tempting to think you'll save time by diving right in, but taking the time to do your background research will help in the long run! Benefits include:

  • CONTEXT! You can't really speak coherently about the impact of the automobile on society if you aren't also aware of what the horse-drawn carriage society was like, what the state of manufacturing was like, the purchasing power of the auto's target demographic, and so on.
  • You learn the JARGON. Scholarly articles are written by experts, for experts. They don't usually take the time to remind their readers what a term or process means, since the assumption is the readers already know. This can also present a barrier to finding those articles, as well. What's a non-expert to do? You've got to learn to speak the language of the field.
  • IDEA DEVELOPMENT! Let your research help you do research. As you're learning about the context and picking up on new terminology, you'll also be noticing key people, places, and events that relate to your topic... all of which will help you delve into your deeper research more effectively.

Organize Your Thoughts With a Mind Map

Mind maps are useful for capturing the connections between your ideas and revealing where you might have discovered more layers of information. You can record ideas going from broad to specific, or vice versa. As you do your background research, continue to take notes on your mind map to help flesh it out.

Research Question vs Topic

All the mind mapping exercises described above are to help you develop and narrow down your topic -- the general idea of what you're going to be researching. From that, you need to develop your research question, i.e. what is the question you are attempting to answer by doing your research? This, in turn, will form the basis for your paper's thesis.

From your central topic, you develop your research question(s) to investigate, and then finally develop a thesis statement which answers your chosen question.

Just So You Know

Research about students during the research process supports that it is an overwhelming task. The feeling of being overwhelmed by all this information is not new. In fact, research has shown that 8 out of 10 students report experiencing "overwhelming difficulties" as they start the assignment.*

What to do? Take the process one step at a time, check back with your professor for any questions, and the library staff are here to help. Just ask!

*. Head, Alison. "Project Information Literacy: What Can Be Learned about the Information-Seeking Behavior of Today’s College Students?" University of Washington, 2013.


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 (see link in the Getting Started box below) 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: Take Notes. Take good notes as you read. You will save time if you take notes that are in your own words (paraphrasing).

Step 4: Create Citations. Locate citation tools within the databases to help you create CMS citations. You may be able to copy and paste the citations into your tentative "Bibliography" page. Be sure to check the accuracy with an expert source (see Writing & Citing tab).