Hey Flinders Fam,
Lauren here, and this week we’re talking about research. Many of you probably have big assignments looming on the horizon and nine times out of ten, when you have a big assignment, it means lots of research. We research to understand the background of our assignments and what the topic is really about; we research to understand what has been written about the topic, by whom and when and how it all fits together; and we research to understand where our own beliefs, positions, and arguments fit into all of this.
I don’t think I truly appreciated the value and importance of good research until I started my PhD and these days, I rely on those research skills in my job every day. And not just my job as a teacher, which might seem obvious. I’m also a podcast producer and writer and research skills are absolutely vital to producing good work. Research, whether you like it or not, will probably follow you for the life of your career, whether you become a teacher, a medical professional, an engineer, a computer scientist, a business strategist, a policy analyst … you name it, you’ll need it!
But because so much of how we frame our own understanding and positions in relation to topics and ideas relies on research or, more importantly, the quality of research that we do, it can often feel quite overwhelming and it’s difficult to know where to start.
So, I had a chat with Tim Ormsby, one of the fabulous and super friendly learning and teaching librarians here at Flinders to grab some of his best research tips for and to find out where you can go for more help. So, without any further ado, over to Tim!
My name is Tim Ormsby. I’m a teaching and learning librarian here at Flinders. My job is to teach students information literacy, so that’s how to find and use information effectively. Mostly for assignments, but also for wider research.
What are the main steps in the research process?
- Familiarise yourself with the question
First, look at the research question. Generally, we ’ll do some background reading first just to get an idea of what the questions actually asking you, so what’s the topic about? Textbooks are fantastic for this because they’re written to give background information.
- Pull outthe key words
Once we’ve got an idea, we’ll start pulling out the subject words or the key words. These are the words in the question that describe the subject of the question.
- SearchFindIt@Flinders or Google Scholar
- Expand your search into databases
- Evaluate your search
Once you find some results, it’s important to evaluate your search. So, is what you’re looking at on your topic? Of an appropriate age, or too old? Are you getting enough, or are you not getting as many as you thought? These might be signs that your search isn’t as targeted as it could be.
- Start reading
Once you start thinking that your search is okay, you can start pulling out your results, getting the full text and start reading the articles themselves.
How do you turn an assignment question into search terms?
The first thing I tend to do when I’m turning a question into search terms is pick out the words in the question that describe the subject, so these are the key words. Then I will write them down or put them into a Word document. I do this for a couple of reasons. One is that I know that I’m going to be searching in different places, not just one database but different databases, so I want to be able to use those terms across those databases. Also, the search terms you get out of your question are just your starting point, so when you do background reading or when you start reading your references, you’re going to find other key words to use. It’s much easier to keep track of them if you write them all down.
What does it mean to scope your search?
Scoping your search for us means doing some background reading, basically it’s your starting point when doing your research to get an idea of your topic. It also gives you an idea of what sorts of literature is out there. This will really save you time as it will help you target your search better: what to search for, where to search, and what types of information to search for.
How do you become better at Google?
Evaluate everything that Google brings back as a search result. Really question what is the URL? Is it form a reputable organisation, government department or university? Who is the author, are they qualified to speak on the subject? Can you find more about who they are? Do another Google search on the author to find out are they qualified? Who are they? Because depending on what you’re looking at, you might not be able to find anything on them and they might not be who they say they are.
Use Google’s Advanced Function
A lot of students don’t know about this, but Google actually has an advanced search, and this is really useful for narrowing down a Google search to more credible and academic information. You can limit in advanced search by domain, so .org, .gov, .edu, rather than .com which tend to be more general information. You can also, depending on the type of information you’re looking for, limit it to PDF files. This is really important if you’re looking for government reports or documents from the government because this will just knock out any general websites.
What quick tips do you have for using FindIt@Flinders and Google Scholar?
Access Google Scholar via the Library
Both Google Scholar and FindIt@Flinders are very useful search tools and they’re even more useful when you use them together. When you use Google Scholar always go through the Library website because then Google Scholar will recognise you as a Flinders student and then it’ll link with FindIt@Flinders and let you know what you have available to you for free. It’ll give you a FindIt@Flinders link next to each search result and you can click on that link, it’ll search for that article in FindIt@Flinders and let you know where else you can find the full text of that article. Otherwise, google Scholar might just let you know hat few PDFs are available for free, but you’re missing out on a whole lot that the university has paid for access for you to able access for free.
Use the Cite Function
Both FindIt@Flinders and Google Scholar have a cite function, so this is a quick and easy way for you to get your references. You can click on that and get the formatted reference that you can copy and paste into your assignment in a variety the major referencing styles, so you have Chicago, APA, MLA. Just always check that they’re correct because errors do creep in and you don’t want to lost marks because you didn’t double check!
Only Search Key Words
Also, with FindIt and Google Scholar, you really only need to put in your key words, not your whole question. It’ll really confuse it because they will search for exactly every single word that you put in there. So that’s why identifying your key words form your question is so important. That way, you’re much more likely to get back relevant results and really what you’re looking for.
Use the Search Filters
Another way to make sure you get relevant results is to use the filters on the right-hand side of FindIt, the left-hand side of Google Scholar. In fact, most databases these days will have filters somewhere on the screen and they allow you to narrow down your search results to just books or peer review articles, if that’s what you’re after. You can also narrow down by date range; say you’re looking for literature written in the last ten years, you can knock out results that are older than what you’re looking for.
Take Your Time to Research
I think one of the most important things is take your time. Doing research is not going to be a quick process. It’s going to take a little bit of time, especially when you’re first starting out. It might seem a bit complex, a bit daunting, but the more you do it the easier and quicker your research is going to be.
What are some common mistakes and misconceptions about research?
One is that Google will find everything, and it does not. Google will only find 2-3% of all the world’s information. Everything else is hidden behind paywalls and passwords and that’s where the vast majority of academic information lives, and this is the type of information that you actually need to use in your assignments at university. So that’s why the university library pays for access to this information for you, so you don’t have to. It’s best to use FindIt@Flinders or Google Scholar rather than a plain Google search. Google can still be useful to get some background information, but when it comes to finding academic information, it’s best to stay away.
I think the other misconception that students fall into is that its going to be quick and easy to find information that is relevant and credible. I think this largely comes by that up until university, Google is their only form of searching. And look, we use Google all the time in everyday life. It’s easy to use and until you’ve been exposed to another type of information and type of searching, you don’t actually realise the limitations of Google, because it does look like it can find everything. A lot of students think that searching for academic information is going to be as simple, and we as librarians wish that it was, but unfortunately it isn’t. So, you just have to think a bit more about what you’re searching for and where you’re searching.
Where can students go for more information?
We have a few topics in FLO now to help you with your research. If you need more help, you can come to the library either physically or virtually. Come to the information desk at your branch. You can also catch us online; we’ve just launched a new chat feature so you can chat to a librarian during office hours. You can also phone us, email us, and if you have an in-depth question, you can also book a librarian.
Good luck researching those major assessments everyone! Next week, we’ll be talking all things exam preparation! What are the best evidence based study tips that will help you remember and retain more information and then I’ll be chatting with Gareth about how you can improve your focus and tame your brain.
In the meantime, be sure to check out the library’s FLO topics, both beginner and intermediate, to really dig into the research process and hone up your skills. The Student Learning Support Service also have a range of resources that can help you integrate that research once you’ve done it!
See you next time 😊