Preliminary Research Strategies
Before you dive into your research paper, you want to inform yourself about the basics of your topic. Be sure you’ve read all the assigned texts and carefully read the prompt as you gather preliminary information. This stage is sometimes called pre-research.
Beginning the Search
You shouldn’t start your research by just typing in a question like, “What were medical practices like during the Battle of Gettysburg?” Instead, you should make use of key terms, or words that will appear frequently in the source.
To search key terms, think about important words that will occur in sources you could use. Then, type one or two of those terms into the search bar. Most search engines will generate results based on how frequently those words appear in articles and their abstracts.
Let’s use our topic of medical practices at the Battle of Gettysburg as an example. You might choose keywords like “amputation,” “field medicine,” and “Gettysburg.” This should yield articles that discuss amputations on the field during the Battle of Gettysburg. You could also search something like “anesthesia” and “Civil War,” which would lead you to articles about anesthetics during the war.
While searching with key terms, you may need to get creative. Some articles will use different language than you might expect, so try a variety of related terms to make sure you’re getting back all the possible results.
Suppose you are asked to write a paper in support of this assertion:
The proliferation of fast food has led to the national problem of obesity.
It’s not a good idea to type in the entire sentence in your search, as there are many irrelevant words in this search statement. Before typing, decide which words or phrases are essential to your search and which are non-essential. There are only two concepts in this statement that are essential to its meaning: fast food and obesity. You can eliminate the word “proliferation” because it modifies the essential concept of fast food and the phrase “national problem” is not crucial because we assume any article talking about “fast food” and “obesity” will discuss some negative aspect that would represent a national problem.
Practice: Key Terms
Identify the key concepts for following topics:
1. Harsher legal penalties and virus detection software have been useful in stemming the spread of computer viruses.
- computer virus
- virus detection software
- legal penalties
2. What is the effect of the media on the body image of young adults?
- body image
- young adults