by Anna-Zoe Herr
Do any of these descriptions fit you?
- I am not sure where to start in my research for a specific topic.
- I only have a vague idea about the area I would like to explore deeper.
- I don’t have a thesis or any background knowledge on my chosen subject.
Then the frustration has an end right here and now! Here are three starting points:
- Key Terms
Sometimes we underestimate how key terms and search words can help us in starting the research process. We can use them to understand what we are really researching, to establish the parameters of our interest, and to find the right material for a stellar paper. Sit down for five minutes and make a list of terms—synonyms and ideas that float through your mind about the general area of your interest.
- Book Reviews
Once you have your key terms, use a database appropriate to the discipline of your topic and refine your search. Your key terms can help you locate articles on your topic, and find sources that give you some more general information to help you move forward: reviews and book reviews. Just check the boxes telling the database to search for these in addition to articles. This has been some of the most helpful advice as I search for material for my capstone. Book reviews typically give you background on the topic or general area, names and further key terms, a list of resources besides the one reviewed, and a summary or in-depth information of the area you are interested in. All of that in a small number of pages. In other words, book reviews are essential to expanding your understanding of a topic, finding resources, and knowing where you want to go next in your research!
- Definitions and Encyclopedias
There are many encyclopedias and dictionaries found through our Principia Library website* that you can access for in-depth articles on specific words. These articles often explain the heritage of the word but also give a lot of history, context, and further resources to consider. Having a solid understanding of the key terms will help you branch out into new areas you might not have considered before and will plant you on a solid foundation in order to deliver a bullet-proof argument. Examples of excellent dictionaries are the Encyclopaedia Britannica or Gale Virtual Reference Library. These resources are amazing because, since you’re a student, you can access them for free! Don’t underestimate the power of definitions.
*To find the lexica or dictionaries on the library website, scroll down on the homepage to the first box, then click Dictionaries & Encyclopedias.
Anna-Zoë is a first semester senior working on her final studio art portfolio and global perspectives capstone. She just returned from the Prague Abroad is excited for the last two semesters at Principia.