Whether you are assigned a research topic or you are given the choice to select your own, try to select a topic that interests you or an approach that interests you. Always consider your assignment requirements: how long does your paper need to be, what types of sources are you required to use, how many sources do you need, etc. You can always do some preliminary research on a general topic to see what's been written about it and what aspect you'd like to focus on.
Turning your research topic into a series of research questions will help guide your search and ultimately help you use that research to complete your project. Good research questions should be
While many of our library databases allow you to filter your search results to scholarly articles, it is still helpful to know the differences between popular and scholarly sources to ensure that you are fulfilling your assignment requirements. This chart summarizes some of the main distinctions between the two types of sources.
|Characteristics||Popular Source||Scholarly Source|
|Written by||staff writers, reporters, or freelance journalists||researchers, experts in a particular field|
|Audience||general public||academics, someone familiar with the field|
|Language||easy to understand and nontechnical||discipline-specific, often contains jargon|
|Length & scope||short, provides a broad overview of a topic||lengthy, provides in-depth coverage and analysis of a topic|
|Citation & research||
rarely cites sources and often reports on research conducted by others
cites sources and provides extensive references, often presents original research
|Sponsored by||corporate or nonprofit organizations||universities and other educational institutions as well as professional, nonprofit associations|
Where you start your research is dependent on three main criteria:
If you are just starting to explore this subject, and especially if you are just getting to know the field you will want to start broadly so that you can get a good feel for the context your topic lives in. What I mean by that is that all research intersects with other topics and thinkers. If you only look at your very narrow topic you might misunderstand the motivations and influences on your topic. Further, you only know what you know. Until you know more about your topic, you won't know what questions you should be asking. If this sounds like the situation you are in the best place to start is: UCF Library's Primo Search, Academic Search, or Google Scholar.
If you are working in a multidisciplinary field, it's important to make sure that you aren't missing part of the picture by choosing a database that is too narrow therefore you miss half the picture. Here at UCF, we offer an Interdisciplinary Studies degree and their librarian, Corrine Bishop, has created a great research guide to help you select databases that are ideal for interdisciplinary work.
If you topic is very focused and you have a good idea about where it fits in the context of the scholarly conversations around it, your best bet will be to choose a subject specific database. You can find databases by subject on the library's website. Remember, the power of subject specific databases is that they have curated a collection of resources related to your topic for you, but it also means that you might not find relevant resources that are slightly outside of your specific subject.