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English: 76-100/101 - Interpretation & Argument: Start here

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How Do I Choose a Topic?

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Choosing a topic requires more than interest.  This video will explain why you need to do preliminary research as you select your topic.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. What have you read in class?
  2. What have you discussed with classmates or instructor?
  3. What do you already know?
  4. What do you hope to find out?

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Concept Mapping is a great way to explore your topic, especially if you are having a hard time selecting a topic.

The way concepts cluster together can provide you with clues as to how successful you will be at finding information for your research, or how much original work you have to produce.

Tip:Use a concept map more than once:

a. Before you begin your research to help you clarify your thoughts and understanding of your topic.

b. After you select a topic and based on sources you found so you can include words that may help with further research.

c. After you've identified sources you used to make sure that you can explain gaps and concepts not covered by your research.



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Why does quality matter?

There are at least two good reasons to use quality sources:

  1. Credibility: Using quality sources builds your credibility as a researcher and contributor to a debate.
  2. Positive Contribution: Quality information positively influences the research process and encourages good its good practice.

So, keep the CRAP test in mind as you locate the information you need.

To Wikipedia or Not? Now that IS a questions!

Yes and no.  Wikipedia can be a great place to start research.  You may need to get some basic information or an overview of a topic.  Wikipedia can be fine for that, as long as you're on the look out for biased or questionable information (and you run it through the CRAP test).  For more authoritative starting points, check out our digital reference shelf!  It has encyclopedias compiled by vetted scholars; some encyclopedias are general and some are specific to a field or topic. 

If you use Wikipedia, think of it as a starting point, not an ending point.  You don't know who has reviewed, revised, edited, or even censored a Wikipedia entry.  FYI: Citing Wikipedia can undermine your academic credibility. 


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Is there a short cut for this process?

Yes!  Many databases allow you to limit by "scholarly" or "peer reviewed" .. however ..

Some databases consider magazines of trade as scholarly or peer reviewed .. for example, Education Today or Wired ..

While these magazines may have articles by industry or discipline experts, they do not go through a similar review process.

If in doubt, recall the CRAP criteria and/or ask a librarian or your instructor.

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Why do I need a research strategy?

Finding the right sources takes time: 

In this digital age, not everything is available digitally nor is it free.  In fact, quality information will most likely cost somebody money and cost you time.

Finding the right information also depends on how well you know your subject.  If you're new to your topic, you will need to do background research - and that will take time.

Ask yourself:

  1. Do I need background information on my topic? or primary sources?
  2. Does my library have what I need or will I need to borrow materials from other libraries?
  3. How much time do I have to research, analyze, and present my topic?  Is my topic too broad?  Too narrow? or Does it require original work (like a survey).
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Tips for locating library books ..


Using "Advance Search" has its advantages, when you are searching for books:


The brief view of the record (before you click on the title) provides you with three key pieces of information:

  1. It's format (print, electronic, etc.)
  2. It's availability (available, checked-out, in storage, etc.)
  3. It's location (in the library or a weblink).

The long view (once you click on the title) allows you to see a map of the actual location of the book:


When you locate a record, click on the title to see the full record.  This view may provide content information (see example below - click on image to enlarge):


Once you locate a book, viewing the full record can lead you to similar items by examining the "Subject" and "Similar Items" fields as in the sample record illustrated here:

Library of Congress Call Numbers

Most of the Library uses the Library of Congress Classification System.

PS3551 The numbers following the letter(s) are read as a whole number (three thousand five hundred and fifty-one). PS3551 would come before PS3650.
.5 If there are additional numbers immediately after the whole number, you should treat them as a decimal.PS3551.5 would come between PS3551 and PS3552.
For the next part of the call number, go to the letter(s) and then treat the number(s) as a decimal. .N257 U53 would come between .N257 U450 and .N257 U6.
1999 The final number, if included, is the year of publication.This book was published in 1999.
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