Chapter 8: Gathering Research and Establishing Evidence
Your textbook and course readings may be good starting points to help you understand your research topic. However, you’ll need to do more in-depth research to find sources that support your thesis.
The creation of information—publishing in electronic or print formats—and describing and indexing information so that it can be easily found are very expensive endeavors. The information business is a multi-billion dollar global enterprise. While you can find some research for free on the internet, it remains true that much of the academic or scholarly content written by authoritative researchers is kept behind paywalls. That is where your libraries come in.
Your academic library in particular, and to some extent your public library, subscribe to huge collections of scholarly articles found in databases, to individual journals in electronic and/or print formats, and to books and e-books with scholarly content that can support the arguments you make in your research papers. Libraries also subscribe to indexing and abstracting services that help to make information easier to find. Libraries may even have powerful search engines on their websites that look like Google and search for all types of resources, from scholarly journals to trade magazines and newspapers, books and e-books, DVDs and streamed videos, and possibly even websites and visual images including photographs.
Many libraries use discovery layers or services such as Summon from ProQuest, Primo from Ex Libris, or Ebsco Discovery Service. These services may be rebranded by your library as in the case of Ryerson University Library and Archives that calls its installation of Summon “Search Everything” and Athabasca University Library that calls its installation of Ebsco Discovery Service simply “Discover.” These products bring together in one search data from the traditional library catalogue of books and audio-visual resources plus journal articles, newspaper articles and other resources from databases to which the library subscribes as well as out of print and open access resources in large digital depositories. Look for a search box on the library’s home page and near it you’ll hopefully see an Advanced Search option. Using the advanced option helps you, the researcher, think about how information is organized, indexed and made findable in a database’s search engine.
Libraries also have specialized encyclopedias, dictionaries and other reference works, in print and/or electronic formats that can provide a quick background on a topic new to you. If your professor specifies that they want you to use scholarly articles, you would not be allowed to cite these reference works as a source. However, these works are important for finding quick facts, definitions, or brief background information that may be helpful in verifying information from another source. Scholarly reference works may even include the names of the authors and cite other resources on the topic.
Two digital reference collections that are commonly available in university and college libraries in Ontario are Gale Virtual Reference Library (GVRL) and Oxford Reference. Both contain brief articles about a wide variety of subjects. Lengthier articles are often signed and include bibliographical references.
Librarians create and maintain subject-specific research guides that can usually be found on library websites. These guides can help you navigate the best possible resources in your subject area. For example, a guide on History of Canada or a History of the Caribbean may point you to databases such as America History and Life, Historical Abstracts, and Worldwide Political Science Abstracts. The subject research guides are often referred to by librarians as research guides, resource guides, course guides, pathfinders, or LibGuides (the name of a specific publishing tool for guides). If your institution does not have a helpful research guide for your discipline, you may want to consult a guide from another academic institution.
Databases on offer will vary from institution to institution. A database may contain a large collection of full-text articles from many different journals, or it may contain full-text articles from some journals and also bibliographical citations with or without abstracts (summaries) of additional articles that are not available in full-text format. MLA International Bibliography is one database that used to contain only citations but now includes links to some full-text content that the company hosting the bibliography provides to the subscribing library. Access to databases will normally be restricted to members of a research community, since these are licensed products that a university pays for on behalf of its own students, faculty, and staff. Some public libraries make databases available online to library card holders or to anyone at computers inside the library. Specialized databases often have search features that are unique to the discipline. For example, historical databases normally allow a researcher to limit a search to the historical time period when an event happened. Do not confuse this with the date of publication of an article or book.
[possible image, example of the Western libraries guide for American studies, open at the Articles section. http://guides.lib.uwo.ca/american_studies/articles]
This type of research is new for most post-secondary students. Many students face challenges when trying to understand, access and use these new types of resources. The next part of this chapter will emphasize how to find scholarly journal articles and other credible sources that you can use to inform and support your research paper.
Use your library website to identify two databases containing links to full-text articles that are appropriate for your area of study. Try to choose at least one general or multipurpose database and one that is more targeted to your discipline of study.