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RELG 356: Death and Dying in World Religion: Getting Started

Start at the Beginning

Before you choose to do anything else, you need to have a broad topic in mind.  In the case of this particular research project, you should have something that ties your major to mediums, ghosts/hauntings, out-of-body experiences, or past-life memories.  Whichever topic you choose should have a historical, pop-cultural, cross-cultural, or religious spin to it.

Once you have your topic, it's time to move on to Forming Research Questions and Finding Keywords.

Forming a Research Question

A good research question should...

  • be focused
    • If your question is long, meandering, and hits on more than one point in itself, you need to pare it down.  For example:
      • "Did Shakespeare actually write all of the plays attributed to him, what are the basic features of his tragedies, and in what ways can Twelfth Night be viewed as a tragedy rather than a comedy?"
    • To make this sort of question manageable, choose one of the multiple parts to research.
      • "What are the basic features of Shakespeare's tragedies?"
  • be specific
    • If your question is too broad, you're not going to get anywhere beyond the basics with your research, if you can even get beyond an overview of the topic.  For example:
      • "What happened during World War II that was bad?"
    • To make this sort of question manageable, do some background research to start digging into the topic and figure out some more specific things to research.
      • "What could have been done differently after WWI to prevent Hitler's rise to power in Germany?"
  • have more than one possible answer
    • If your question is only really looking for one fact or one brief answer, you aren't going to be able to build an entire paper out of it.  For example:
      • "Are there more public libraries in the United States than McDonalds restaurants?"
    • To make this sort of question manageable, you really have to think about the topic.  Are you researching libraries or fast food restaurants?  What point are you trying to make?  From there, form a new question.
      • "What effects do the Public Library Fund have on access to information in rural communities?"
  • be objective, not subjective
    • If your question is asking for an opinion, it's not really researchable.  For example:
      • "Is Coca-Cola or Pepsi better?"
    • To make this sort of question manageable, approach it from a specific area of interest.
      • "What impact, if any, does marketing have on the popularity of Coca-Cola versus Pepsi?"

Finding Keywords and Performing Searches

Once you have successfully formed and narrowed your research question, it's time to find some keywords.

"What impact, if any, does marketing have on the popularity of Coca-Cola and Pepsi?"

First look for the nouns in your question:

  • Coca-Cola
  • Pepsi
  • marketing
  • popularity

From there, see if there are any adjectives.  In this case, there aren't, so we can go ahead and get started with our search.

You may need to fall back on concepts and terms you've come across during previous/background research or that you've learned during prior coursework in order to help narrow that down.  See the tips and tricks below for some additional ways to narrow down your searching.

 

Database Tips and Tricks

Tricks for Database Searching

  • Truncation: use the * symbol to get various words that may begin the same. Examples: teen*, identit*, advertis*
  • Wild card: for similar words where a letter may be different. Example: searching "wom?n" will return results with woman and women.
  • Quotation marks: use to find an exact phrase, like "social media" or "interpersonal communication".

Use Boolean Operators

  • AND: find BOTH terms. Only articles with both terms will be returned.
  • OR: find one or the other. This is useful for finding similar terms. Ex: young adult OR teen
  • Use AND and OR to create more specific searches.
    • (adolescent OR teen* OR "young adult") AND "social media"

Use Subject Headings

  • While searching in EBSCO databases, take a look at the predicted text that shows up under what you're typing in.  It may provide alternative terms for what you're looking for, leading to more results.
  • On the detailed records of sources you like, look at the subjects provided by the publisher/authors/database.  You can click on these to start new searches under the same subjects.