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SYA4300C - Research Methods

This course guide is for Dr. Amy Reckdenwald's SYA4300c Research Methods class - Fall 2023

Starting Your Search

Identify your topic and possibly even your thesis statement.  Unlike in Google, in our databases, you need to search by using keywords.  Keywords are the words that describe your topic.  So, start brainstorming about what words you can use to describe your topic.  

Here is a sample topic:  I am conducting a literature review on drug use, possibly even polysubstance use.  I would also like try to find research that incorporates information from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).  

Right away you can identify some key concepts:

  • Drug use
  • Polysubstance use
  • National Survey on Drug Use (NSDUH)

Now that you have identified your key concepts, you need to flesh these out to include all the various forms of these concepts - this allows for your search to be as inclusive as possible:

  • drug use or drug abuse or substance abuse or substance use or recreational drug use
  • polysubstance use or polysubstance abuse
  • drug users or drug abusers or drug addicts
  • National Survey on Drug Use and Health or NSDUH

You're now ready to begin searching!  Just remember to check-out the recommended databases to search for peer-reviewed articles!

Research Methods

Research Questions
Research proposals outline a planned research project and the research questions that will be investigated. Requirements and expectations may differ based on the discipline and whether the proposal is for a class assignment, a thesis or dissertation, or to apply for research funding or grants. However, regardless of the type, all proposals require clearly defined research questions. Some challenges for choosing good research questions often include identifying questions that have a manageable scope and locating sources that include scholarly research about the issues.

Identifying a Manageable Scope
Research questions that have a manageable scope are neither too broad nor too narrow. If a research question(s) is too broad, there will be too much information and too many issues to cover. If a research question(s) is too narrow, there may not be enough information. Keep in mind that assigned topics are often designed to be broad to allow you to choose the focus and specific issues you want to investigate. To select an appropriate scope, investigate the topic and issues by reviewing books, ebooks, encyclopedias, or handbooks that provide topic overviews.

Locating Research
To narrow a research question think about the issues associated with the broader topic or problem. Then, explore the topic by locating academic research that discusses evidence about the issues. The library provides access to resources where you can find background information about topics and scholarly research articles that discuss issues.

Tips for Writing Research Proposals

Developing an outline early in the writing process using section headings and sub headings is a good first step to get organized and begin thinking through your proposal. It is also good to establish a habit of regularly reviewing sources about your topic (books, journal articles, etc.) and keep track of the sources you read and will potentially use. Listed below are some writing tips to consider as you begin to write your proposal.

Research Proposals should include: 

  • concise title that describes the focus of your research (working titles are often changed while investigating a topic)
  • document elements that include appropriate headings/subheadings (Title, Abstract, Introduction, Literature Review, Method, 
    Proposed Timeline, References)
  • explanation of why your research is important and useful within your discipline (how does the research fit in with existing research)
  • statement of aims that indicate the goals and scope of your investigation (focus on developing a manageable topic) 
  • synthesis of "the literature" related to your research topic/questions (the literature refers to relevant research found in
    scholarly, peer-reviewed journal articles)
  • describe the research method you propose (research setting, sample, and a protocol showing the steps you will use in the process) 
  • citations to the sources you consulted for your proposal (APA style requires in-text citations and complete reference entries)

References & Resources

Creswell, J.W. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
Feig, E. (n.d.). Writing the research proposal. In OER Commons. Retrieved from https://www.oercommons.org/courseware/module/13393
Grand Canyon University. (n.d.). Developing a research proposal. In Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching. Retrieved from https://cirt.gcu.edu/
University of Central Florida Writing Center. (n.d.). Grammar and punctuation. Retrieved from http://uwc.cah.ucf.edu/find-resources/
University of Southern California USC Libraries. (2018). Writing a research proposal. In Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper. Retrieved from http://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide/researchproposal 

Literature Reviews

Literature Reviews

Literature reviews provide a synthesis of the scholarly literature related to a research question(s) or topic. They include a discussion of information reported by researchers in empirical journal articles along with your own analysis and evaluation of sources. Preparing a literature review is a two-step process that includes conducting literature searches to locate relevant empirical articles and your own analysis and synthesis of the research in the written review.

Keep in mind that there are various types of literature reviews. The most common are included as a section in an empirical research article, a chapter in a thesis or dissertation, a standalone literature review article, or a section in an academic paper.

  • Literature reviews in empirical research articles, theses and dissertations, or standalone review articles are considerably broader in scope and involve comprehensive literature searches.
  • Literature reviews in academic papers are narrower in scope and requirements are typically based on course assignments. Often, students are required to locate a certain number of empirical journal articles (research articles). Secondary sources (journal articles, books, book chapters, government reports, etc.) that often discuss empirical research or provide background information might also be included.

Academic Databases & Google Scholar

Empirical articles are published in peer-reviewed journals (sometimes called refereed), which means that articles are reviewed by experts in their field prior to publication to ensure that only reliable, high-quality information is published. Empirical journal articles for all disciplines are accessible by searching academic databases that are provided by the Libraries. The video below provides an example of how to locate Criminal Justice databases and search strategies to locate peer-reviewed research articles.

Google Scholar can also be helpful to use in combination with library database searches because it provides citations and links to empirical journal articles. Typically Google Scholar does not provide full text access to most articles. You must link to, but you can use the links provided to access the full text from the UCF Libraries pages. Google Scholar also does not include options to limit searches to view only peer-reviewed journal articles or filter options to refine searches.