Once you have settled on a narrowed down research question and have a clear idea of the types of information you need, you will have to locate relevant and reliable sources. This section discusses some effective strategies to locate such sources.
Conducting Effective Online Searches
The Internet is filled with sources — some useful, some not. Watch this short video to learn how to effectively find information on a search engine such as Google by using boolean operators, quotation marks, and the asterisk. (These ways of defining your research terms can be used on any library database, too — including in your searches on the databases accessible through the Fanshawe Virtual Library).
Finding Scholarly Articles
Most scholarly articles are housed in specialized databases. Libraries (public, school, or company) often provide access to scholarly databases by paying a subscription fee for patrons. For instance, Fanshawe’s Library and Media Services provides access to several databases available free of charge to people affiliated with the College. You can search for a journal title or view a list of databases by subject in these databases.
Databases that aren’t subject-specific are called general databases. Google Scholar is a free general scholarly database available to all who have access to the Internet.
Sometimes, a little knowledge about how to do precise searches can save you a lot of time. To find relevant sources when searching Google or a research database you should.
- Identify the main concepts in your research question. Stick to nouns. For example, if your research question is, “How are students affected by the Vancouver Housing Crisis?” your main concepts would be ‘housing crisis’ and ‘students.’
- Find related search terms. You might choose to use a thesaurus for this. For example, you might search for “affordability crisis” or (if you discovered that some students faced homelessness because they were unable to afford a place to live) “homelessness” or “housing vulnerability.”
- Try using subject headings instead of keywords. When you visit the Fanshawe library, you will see subject guides for different topics. You can also search for subject headings within databases.
When searching in databases (or Google) us quotation marks around phrases to make your search more specific. For example, you would search for “common cold” so you don’t get info on the cold war or cold weather.
Use wildcard and truncation symbols to broaden your search. For example, if you type “wom?n” into a search engine, it will show results for “woman” and “women.” If you type “mathemat*” into a search engine, it will show results for both “mathematician” and “mathematics.”
- Use phrases like “and” and “not” to make your search more specific. For example, if you were searching a job board to try to find a job as a network administrator, but you kept finding positions as a network manager, you might search for “network administrator NOT manager.”
News as a Source
News sources can provide insights that scholarly sources may not or that will take a long time to get into scholarly sources. For instance, news sources are excellent for finding out people’s reactions, opinions, and prevailing attitudes around the time of an event.
When Are News Sources Helpful?
- You need breaking news or historical perspectives on a topic (what people were saying at the time).
- You need to learn more about a culture, place, or time period from its own sources.
- You want to keep up with what is going in the world today.
When Are News Sources of Limited Use?
- You need very detailed analysis by experts.
- You need sources that must be scholarly or modern views on a historical topic.
Other Types of Sources
News articles are typically written by journalists who are experts in investigating and get paid for their work. Usually, journalists work with an editor to make sure that their work is accurate and fair. Depending on your topic, however, you might seek sources that are not peer-reviewed and didn’t benefit from the input and verification of an editor, either:
- Social media posts: Sometimes, experts in a subject engage in public scholarship over Twitter or other social media platforms. For example, professional historians will often share their work with the public on Twitter by relating current events to historical moments. The benefit of this type of scholarship is that it can be very current, and you can often see different scholars interact with one another. The downside is, however, that this information hasn’t been vetted by anyone. You may be witnessing an expert’s “rough draft” thoughts, and experts sometimes change their mind based on new information or the peer review process. To know if you should trust social media posts, you would also have to know a lot about their authors (credentials, credibility, etc.).
- Blog posts: Though blogging is less popular now than it once was, blogs are still a great way to find out current information about a topic in a format that is more detailed than what most social media platforms allow. For example, cybersecurity experts might tweet about a new threat, but also write blog posts that outline their concerns more explicitly and provide extensive proof. However, you should remember that blogs are not vetted by an editor, and that bloggers often have a motivation to sell products or services.
- Archives: If your topic involves the past, you might check out an archive. Many museums make their collections available online through archives. The B.C. Archives, for instance, offers maps, photographs, letters and much more.