- General Research Resources
- What Is Research?
- Source Guidelines
- Viewpoint vs. Background Sources
- Why We Cite Sources
The first place you may turn to when conducting research are a search engines like Google, but the sheer number of results these engines return make them a poor place to begin researching general topics.
You may also turn to Wikipedia. Some instructors dislike Wikipedia and discourage students from using it as a research source. For my courses, I ask that you not cite Wikipedia articles as sources in your papers. You can use Wikipedia as a good starting point for your research. Wikipedia articles often contain key names and terms on the topic you are interested in. You can then use these names and terms to refine searches made on more general web search engines. Wikipedia articles also list sources that you can review for further research leads.
Once you have key terms related to your topic, you can use them in general search engines. See the advanced Google search operators for how to narrow down these searches.
When you have a general idea of your topic, you may want to consult a librarian to locate more specific resources to consult.
Your library has access to subscription databases such as:
- Academic Search Complete
- Academic OneFile
These databases have articles published in periodicals and transcripts of media programs.
- You may also want to search a specific periodical. This UT Libraries webpage has a list of liberal & conservative publications.
- This Wikipedia page lists U.S. political magazines that may include useful opinion pieces on church-state matters (though not only church-state matters).
- And, this Wikipedia page lists U.S. think tanks that may publish papers or other media presentations related to churh-state matters (though not only church-state matters).
Don’t forget about books (which you can find through your library catalog or you can often search the contents of books online through Google Books). I don’t expect you to read books cover to cover while conducting research for my course, but you can skim & read parts of chapters. The bibliographies provided by books also make good resources—there’s nothing wrong making use of the legwork of other researchers.
Many disputes end up in court, and court documents are a good resource for viewpoint sources. The UT Libraries has a webpage describing various resources for accessing court documents. Google Scholar also provides an option to search court decisions and law journals (select the “Legal opinions and journals” option on the Google Scholar homepage).
- PDF from the Supreme Court with resources for locating briefs filed with the Supreme Court.
- FindLaw.com’s page containing Supreme Court briefs since 1999.
Kenneth Burke writes:
Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.
The Philosophy of Literary Form 110-111
Research is like a conversation; sources talk to each other. In order to find out who is talking, you have to listen to the conversation. Research is not a quick process.
The first sources you find will usually not be sources you use in your paper. They will be sources that get you to sources you will use.
After you find one source, look at the people, places, organizations and events that source talks about. Then add those terms to your search key words.
Also look at the sources the source cites and retrieve some of the ones that look potentially relevant. Source bibliographies/works cited/foot notes are valuable resources for finding other sources.
Click the “Cited by” link in Google Scholar to find related sources.
Engaging the research process should change the shape and argument of your paper. Research should not reinforce the position you have at the start of a project. Research should strengthen your position, and you strengthen your position by changing it to eliminate weaknesses, oversights and simplifications.
The more comprehensive your research process, the more complex and varied will be the positions you will consider in your research, and your paper will be stronger.
Your assignments will benefit greatly from using sources that are credible & complex enough to be useful for your arguments.
- Credible sources are those written by people with experience relevant to the issue they discuss. This experience can be professional experience (e.g. education, training and career experience) and/or sustained personal experience with the issue under consideration or experience.
- Avoid amateur commentators (e.g. the blog of an average citizen) who write on a variety of issues but have no depth of experience with particular issues. Amateurs who focus on one area may be OK, so long as they offer complex and sustained arguments.
- Professional commentators (e.g. newspaper or TV commentators) are OK, so long as they have longstanding experience offering opinion on public policies similar to the ones being debated (e.g. someone who writes monthly opinion column on medical ethics would not be a good source to turn to for church-state issues, but a person who writes on government policies in general could be.)
- Sources should be long enough to sustain a complex argument. Avoid letters to the editor. They are short and usually not written by people with relevant experience. Also avoid short blog entries. One rule of thumb: sources should be at least 500 words long to support arguments complex enough to be useful for the work done in your course.
- Sources from academic publications will provide the most information-dense material. Those sources also undergo review from experts in a given field. However, such sources may be more difficult for non-experts to understand.
What’s the Difference Between Background & Viewpoint Sources?
Characteristics of Background & Viewpoint Sources
- Evenhanded overview of information
- Gives equal time to multiple views
- Does not use overtly opinionated language
- Arguing for or against particular viewpoints
- Concentrates on one point of view
- Uses opinionated language (e.g. good/bad, right/wrong)
- Newspaper news articles
- Encyclopedia & dictionary entries
- Fact finding reports
- Congressional Research Service
- CQ Researcher
- Gale Virtual Reference Library
- Opposing Viewpoints
- Newspaper opinion articles (found through Lexis-Nexis or Academic Search Complete searches restricted to “opinion & editorials”)
- Position papers from think tanks
- Testimony before a legislature
- Court decisions & attorney arguments
- Many blog entries
Writers document their sources for four reasons:
- Careful documentation relieves the writer of any indictment of plagiarism and gives credit for words or ideas to the original writer or speaker.
- Documentation lends the writer authority as a researcher. It says to the reader, “I am honest and open to anyone wishing to retrace the steps in my research.”Undocumented (plagiarized) sources—or sources imprecisely documented, even if only slightly—suggest that the writer is careless or even dishonest.
- Documentation is a courtesy to later writers on the subject who may want to use some of the material. Documentation provides them with directions for finding it.
- Documentation allows others to follow up on a writer’s research in order to test its validity. Not only should writers tolerate such a procedure; they should welcome it. To have others look so carefully at one’s work implies that such work is important.
Adapted from Professor Robert Eddy (Washington State University, Spring 2005)