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Introduction

Welcome to the virtual library instruction session for AML 3041: American Literature II. My name is John Venecek, Humanities Librarian at UCF and liaison to the Department of English.

These modules walk you through the process of conducting research for this course while helping to refine your library skills. Each module will focus on a specific skill ranging from navigating subject databases, using effective keywords, evaluating scholarly resources, synthesizing resources, and using primary sources.

Let's begin with an overview of some basic library resources and services. This short video introduction will provide an overview of the following:

Ask Us

My Account

The Library Services page

Citation Management

The Research Tips Thursdays video series

[enter video here]

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Now let's move on to using the MLA and JSTOR databases.

Navigating Subject Databases

The UCF Libraries provide access to many high-quality subject databases that provide easy access to journal articles, books, conference papers, and other academic resources. While navigating these resources can be daunting at first, emphasizing a few key strategies can streamline your searches and take much of the stress out of conducting research. 

Watch this video for an overview of how to use the Modern Language International (MLA) database:

[enter MLA video here]

MLA Embed Code: <iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/521452514" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; fullscreen; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>

 

JSTOR Embed Code: <iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/521976304" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; fullscreen; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Although I discuss the process of searching databases in a linear manner, note that, in practice, literary research is often a highly recursive process. We’re constantly circling back through the process as we research. With this in mind, One of the cornerstones of the Association of College and Research Libraries’ (ACRL) Framework for Information Literacy is the concept of Searching as Strategic Exploration: “Searching for information is often nonlinear and iterative, requiring the evaluation of a range of information sources and the mental flexibility to pursue alternate avenues as new understanding develops.”

Further, “The act of searching often begins with a question that directs the act of finding needed information. Encompassing inquiry, discovery, and serendipity, searching identifies both possible relevant sources as well as the means to access those sources.”

In other words, be open to the recursive nature of research and embrace the idea of navigating databases and other library resources as an act of strategic exploration that involves inquiry, discovery, and serendipity.

Using Effective Keywords

Before you begin searching, take some time to think about your keywords. This is a step that may students skip and, as a result, it’s easy to be led astray. Unlike common search engines, databases are not designed to handle long phrases and queries. They’re built around subject terms. If you have a research question in mind, break it into strategic keywords before you start searching and continue to refine those terms as you review your results. For a quick overview about how to generate keywords, please watch this short video:

Keywords Pack-a-Punch from UCF Libraries on Vimeo.

Note the emphasis on breaking your research question into keywords and thinking strategically about synonyms. Here are some other key points to consider:

  • Take some time to brainstorm keywords before you start searching.
  • Note that when you enter a term into a search field, many databases will provide a list of related terms. For example, entering “Race” in the MLA database generates terms such as Race AND gender, ethnicity, minority, discrimination, relations, education, and America.  
  • Start broad and use the limiters to help you narrow and focus as you go. This refining process will continue until you start hitting on results that meet your needs. Being strategic about your keywords and learning the language of the field you’re researching is essential. For example, the subject limiter in the sidebar is designed to help researchers narrow and focus as they’re searching and there may be some new terms in there as well. See the video for a demo on how that process works.
  • Once you start finding some relevant result, dig deeper by mining the article record and noting the subject terms and author-supplied keywords (if any), then read the abstract and introduction and highlight any new terms you find there. Pay particular attention to author-supplied keywords when they appear because those are there to attracts like-minded scholars to that article and they can provide clues as to what types of terms other researchers are using.
  • Remember this is an exploratory process that involves a lot of trial and error. Be prepared to explore multiple database and tweak your keywords as you go.  

 

Evaluating Scholarly Sources

A key component of the Association of College and Research Libraries Framework or Information Literacy is the idea that Authority Is Constructed and Contextual. In other words, what makes a useful resource will differ by discipline and by the scope of your project. For example, currency, meaning the work was published more recently, is extremely important in the sciences but less so in the humanities where scholars work with old and classic texts.

As you conduct your literature review, consider criteria such as purpose, relevance, intended audience, and authority with what the ACRL calls an “attitude of informed skepticism and an openness to new perspectives, additional voices, and changes in schools of thought.” Effective researchers “understand the need to determine the validity of the information created by different authorities and to acknowledge biases that privilege some sources of authority over others, especially in terms of others’ worldviews, gender, sexual orientation, and cultural orientations.”

Watch this short video for an overview of evaluating scholarly resources:

[enter video here]

Embed Code: <iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/513463597" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; fullscreen; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>

 

Let’s review some of the main points from the video:

The CRAAP Test: Use this to glean some basic information including author affiliation as well as the journal’s history, policy, and procedures regarding submission guidelines, publishing schedule, editorial board, and their peer review process. The transparency of this kind of information says a lot about the credibility of the author and the journal.

  • Ask Critical Questions: Dig deeper by asking critical questions about the article such as:
  • What is the purpose of the book or article you’re evaluating?
  • Who is the author’s intended audience?
  • How are they adding to the discourse in their field?
  • How relevant is that discussion to your project?
  • How complete or accurate is the information?
  • Should you be concerned about bias?

Note that you’re an active participant in this process, not a passive receiver of information. Remember that those who read your paper want to know what you think and how you think. Show them how you think by leading them through a series of inferences. Imagine your work as a conversation with others in the field, be engaged and engaging, and always keep in mind why your argument is important.

Synthesizing Sources

In the intended audience section, I introduced the idea of the scholarly conversation. This analogy will be useful again as we discuss synthesizing resources. This concept can be difficult for undergraduate researchers who are naturally less experienced than the scholars they’re reading. Nevertheless, it will help to imagine yourself as a participant in the conversation as you synthesize your sources. Your readers want to know what you think and how you think. Demonstrate your thinking process by taking them on a tour through your research materials and leading them through a series of inferences. Always comment on quotes and incorporate them into your argument. Really think about conversing with others in the field, be engaged, tell your audience why this is so important.

For more about this concept, watch this short video on Creating the Ultimate Mashup: Synthesizing Information:

Creating the Ultimate Mashup: Synthesizing Information from UCF Libraries on Vimeo.