Planning Your Research Strategy
Before beginning your search of print and online resources, it is necessary to ask yourself several questions. First, do you understand your topic? Have you consulted the syllabus or any additional instructions that your professor has given regarding your assignment? Once you have your topic in hand, then you can pull keywords that will be used in the searching of databases and the library catalog.
Let’s take a hypothetical research assignment and highlight keywords that we will extract:
“Write a 5-7 page paper discussing the consequences of the lack of integrity in the life of God’s servants”
We can assume that a book or article dealing integrity in God’s servants would discuss the failure to act with integrity, so it is not necessary to include ‘consequences’ as a keyword. Remember that keywords should be straightforward and objective. ‘God’s servants’ is a loaded phrase that can conjure several ideas. Pastor or church worker is much more straightforward. Remember that books and articles are classified by librarians with objective, academic keywords and subjects and thus, ‘God’s servants’ will not likely yield any results. Once we have some keywords to guide our search, we also need to think about alternate strategies in case these keywords do not yield results.
Broadening or Narrowing the Topic
In case our search strategy does not yield many results, we can broaden the search keywords to yield more results. For example, integrity could be broadened to ethics-a keyword that would encompass a slightly broader set of ideas.
In certain cases, we might need to narrow the keywords or combine search keywords to yield fewer results. With the following example, ‘God’s servant’s’ could refer to several distinct groups: vocational ministers, lay ministers, or perhaps all committed Christians. In any case, we could search for ‘pastor’ or ‘lay minister’ as a narrower keyword.
Finding Related Keywords
In some cases, our keywords do not yield relevant results. In this scenario, we should consider synonyms and related words. For example, we could search for books and articles on ‘calling’ or ‘vocation’ in addition to ‘integrity.’ Some related words are ‘clergy’ and ‘minister’.
Books? Articles? Websites?
At this point, we need to decide if we will search books, articles or websites. For the purpose of academic research, websites have limited uses. Your instructors will check your sources to ensure the authority of them. In many cases, researching facts (as opposed to research personal opinion or observation) should lead you to use library resources.
In the case that you would like to use outside websites, consult the Evaluating Websites page.