"Take Five!" Research Process pg. 1

Research Process 1 | Research Process 2

Knowing when you need information, how to find it, and being able to evaluate and organize are important skills. Information literacy enhance our personal lives, school work, and careers. Thinking about "research" as a process helps. The most popular method presented in schools is the Big6. "Take Five!" presents a simple system that emphasized research as a series of tasks. The results can be used to create any type of project.

We will not talk about the final product here -- it may be a report, speech, multi-media project, Web page, video, or any other type of presentation. We will focus on gathering and evaluating information before actually using that information.

Different projects, in different formats, require different approaches. If you want more information about writing, please check out our Mr. B's Writing Quick Tips for some "tips & tricks" and links to other Websites that cover virtually all aspects of a writing project.

"Take Five!" Research Process

  1. Define Need or Topic
  2. Preliminary Research
  3. Locate Sources
  4. Evaluate Information
  5. Document Sources

While we have presented these processes as a numbered list, in practice, it is not sequential. We are defining a set of tasks. At any point in the process, it may be valuable or appropriate to "revisit" what we have done. Preliminary research can help us shape and refine our need or topic.

The availability of suitable sources may require us to do more preliminary research to help us discover better keywords and subject headings. To get the most out or "Take Five!," do not consider it a linear set steps.

Task 1: Define Need or Topic. The first part of any research project is to think about what you want to accomplish. In school, teachers often assign topics or general subject areas. Most of us will enjoy a project more if it is based on something we are personally interested in. When looking for ideas for topics or themes, there are Web sites that can help, try Hot Paper Topics, Idea Generator, and Essay Topic Generator.

Task 2: Preliminary Research. Let's look at an example. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lived a rich life that touched many people. The life and times of Dr. King could support a wide array of topics. It's a good idea to do a little preliminary research on a general topic BEFORE selecting a specific topic.

This helps us think about what aspects of our general topic will be most interesting. Consulting an encyclopedia can be a great way to do some quick, basic research. Be sure to check out the reference section of your library or try Encyclopedia Britannica, Reference.com, Encyclopedia.com, or Infoplease

If you are going to use a wiki, this stage is the only place to do so and never use a wiki as a formal source.  And please remember, some teachers / professors will not accept the use of a wiki under any circumstances. 

Task 3. Locate Sources. Once you have a fuller understanding of what you are looking for, it will be easier to do meaningful research. Use a variety of sources in different formats -- a reference librarian or library media specialist can help you get started finding material in their collection. Libraries are organized to provide "intellectual access" to resources.

This means that information is organized so that you can find it based on ideas, topics or information needs. For information about search strategies, check out the links to resources at the reference page HERE. You will find basic and advanced search strategies as well as sources for a variety of information in various formats.

Keywords versus Subject Headings

Most of us are familiar with keyword searches, where computers scan for the occurrence of terms in a document. Keyword searches can be good places to start and represent how most search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing, DuckDuckGo, and Ask work. You can also do keyword searches in most electronic library catalogs, but to really take advantage of how libraries are organized, you have to look for subject headings.

The problem with keyword searches is that many search terms will appear in a variety of different contexts from different documents. Keyword searches can generate many results, but the results may represent such a broad range of topics that the search becomes unmanageable. For example, a search on AIDS will retrieve items on aids for the hearing impaired, school aids, AIDS (the disease).

Professional librarians organize collections by subject headings, carefully used terms that collect resources that relate to specific topics. The advantage of using subject headings is that, once you locate appropriate subject heading for your search, the results will be more useful for your research. When using an online library catalog, try using keyword searches to get started.

When you find a good resource for your needs, see what subject headings have been used to catalog it. Then, do a subject heading search for similar resources. Usually, this just requires clicking on those subject headings, conducting a new search. You can also try to use these subject headings as keywords searches too.

Many documents that present common or overlapping information will not appear together in searches that are done by keywords. Subject headings provide connections between similar resources, even when these documents do not contain the same keywords or rankings. Library collections are organized so that information can be located by subject (cataloging or "intellectual access") and by looking at books on shelves, called browsing (classification).

Check out the Library Media page at Breitlinks for more information about how libraries catalog and classify information. Of course, you could just talk to your friendly, helpful local librarian too!

Taking Notes: Paraphrase

Be sure to take careful notes, being sure to keep track of what information comes from each source. DO NOT "COPY & PASTE" OR TAKE NOTES WORD FOR WORD from a given source unless you intend to directly quote and fully cite a source. Write your notes in your own words; this is called paraphrasing. Not only does this help you better understand the information, it helps avoid problems with plagiarism (stealing someone else's work).

Start by getting the basic facts, dates, statistics, definitions, and general background information together. Basic reference books are a great source to document general facts; these will provide guides to locate more in-depth information about a topic. When researching a controversial topic, it is especially important to obtain fact and details from sources that will be acceptable to people with different views on the topic.

The Internet is full of sources, though it will be an advantage to have basic facts documented before going online. Remember, information on the 'net may or may not be "refereed," meaning edited and fact-checked, by others. Having basic facts BEFORE checking the Internet will help us when we get to our next task, evaluating the information we find. For now, be sure that online sources generally agree with facts from other sources.

Don't forget databases either. Wisconsin provides access to a number of high-quality information database resources bundled together as "BadgerLinks." Many libraries and school also have subscriptions for other academic and professional database.

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