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WGSS 275 (Shaw)  

Last Updated: Nov 1, 2016 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Picking a topic is research

Take some time to think about your topic before you begin doing your research. What topic is interesting to you? Do some reseach to find out more about your issue, and learn more about its background. This will help you develop a vocabulary to determine some keywords before you begin searching for sources. 

State your topic as a question. Use your question to identify the main concepts and keywords in your question. The words you use to search for information on your topic are important! Databases look for the exact words that you put in, so you need to think about what words are used to describe your topic, including synonyms and related terms. 


Develop your topic

Test your keywords. Once you have selected your research question and decided on the main concepts and keywords, use your keywords as search terms in AggreGator. 

Finding too much information? Try to narrow your topic by changing your search terms or by adding additional concepts. 

FInding too little information? Your topic may be too narrow, or your search terms may be too specific. Try using synonyms for your search terms.


Research help

Want to talk through your research project, discover the best places to start your research, or get hands on help using our indexes and research tools . . .

  • Schedule an appointment, or
  • Phone: 814-332-3769, or
  • Drop in for face-to-face help from Research Librarians and Research Desk Assistants. Reference Desk hours are:  
Monday - Thursday 11:00 am - 5:00 pm;  6:30 pm - 10:00 pm
Friday 11:00 am - 5:00 pm
Saturday 11:00 am - 5:00 pm

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What kind of information do you need?

Before you start doing research, take a moment to think about what information source will best serve your purpose for writing.

  • Do you need to find data to help support a particular point?
  • Do you need to find an opinion?
  • Do you need to find an expert analysis of this subject?
  • Do you need to find multiple perspectives on this topic? 

Scholarly vs. non-scholarly periodicals

Scholarly or peer-reviewed journal articles are written by scholars or professionals who are experts in their fields. In the sciences and social sciences, they often publish research results.

  • Scholarly journal articles often have an abstract, a descriptive summary of the article contents, before the main text of the article.
  • Scholarly journals generally have a sober, serious look. They often contain many graphs and charts but few glossy pages or exciting pictures.
  • Scholarly journals always cite their sources in the form of footnotes or bibliographies. These bibliographies are generally lengthy and cite other scholarly writings.
  • Articles are written by a scholar in the field or by someone who has done research in the field. The affiliations of the authors are listed, usually at the bottom of the first page or at the end of the article--universities, research institutions, think tanks, and the like.
  • The language of scholarly journals is that of the discipline covered. It assumes some technical background on the part of the reader.
  • The main purpose of a scholarly journal is to report on original research or experimentation in order to make such information available to the rest of the scholarly world.

Substantive news articles are reliable sources of information on events and issues of public concern.

  • News and general interest periodicals sometimes cite sources, though more often do not.
  • Articles may be written by a member of the editorial staff, a scholar or a free lance writer.
  • The language of these publications is geared to any educated audience. There is no specialty assumed, only interest and a certain level of intelligence.
  • They are generally published by commercial enterprises or individuals, although some emanate from specific professional organizations.
  • The main purpose of periodicals in this category is to provide information, in a general manner, to a broad audience of concerned citizens.

Popular articles reflect the tastes of the general public and are often meant as entertainment.

  • Popular periodicals come in many formats, although often slick and attractive in appearance with lots of color graphics (photographs, drawings, etc.).
  • These publications do not cite sources in a bibliography. Information published in popular periodicals is often second or third hand and the original source is rarely mentioned.
  • Articles are usually very short and written in simple language.
  • The main purpose of popular periodicals is to entertain the reader, to sell products (their own or their advertisers), or to promote a viewpoint.

Information abridged from "Distinguishing Scholarly from Non-Scholarly Periodicals: A Checklist of Criteria: Introduction & Definitions." With permission to adapt and reuse from Research & Learning Services, Olin Library, Cornell University Library, Ithaca, NY.

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