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Research Services: Research Paper Tips

Best Practices for Research

Get started early - The 10 week trimester goes by quickly.

Be organized -  Manage your files and data with the understanding you will be accessing them in the future and possibly sharing them with others.  Name your files and folders to represent the content and version of your work. 

Use Refworks - A citation manager that will save time.  A few mouse clicks will produce your bibliography.  Most of our databases and search tools allow you to export a citation directly to Refworks.  You can create an account now; ask a librarian for assistance

Enjoy yourself  - Investigate things that are of interest to you.  Research is an exploratory and iterative process.  Identify a topic or research question; gather relevant, accurate and timely information; evaluate the quality and possible bias of that information; then processing what you've learned in a way that addresses your original question.  If you realize your original question was not framed well it may mean you have learned something.  Continue.  Finally, put it in writing, tell others what you have learned.

Contact a Librarian for assistance.  Our goal is to provide you with most appropriate scholarly content, the tools to access it, and assistance at any point along the way.  You will find a librarian at the Reference Desk between 9am and 6pm, weekdays and 10-4 on Sunday.  You can also schedule an appointment by e-mail:

Identify appropriate resources - The following search engines will help you locate books and articles (as well as reference sources and other materials). In general monographs (books, ebooks) are a thorough treatment of a research topic while journal articles are more specific and limited in scope. 

Summon - a "discovery layer" that searches across most of our licensed content (articles, monographs).  You may find Summon delivers a large number of results, especially for a general topic, i.e., women and history.  Narrow the results by refining your search terms or selecting facets in the left-hand column.  Select the "Peer-Review" facet if you are dong scholarly reseach.  Summon has licensed access to a lot of our content that Google Scholar does not.

Google Scholar - Google Scholar does not include our library catalog or all of the articles included in Summon.  We can say the search is narrower but deeper because Google indexes the full text of digital content.  Combined with the power of relevance ranking this may return useful results buried in Summon.  If this were fishing, Google Scholar's net is smaller but goes deeper.

Specific Databases (A-Z)  the library provides access to approximately 350 databases on a variety of topics.  Some databases are considered "all topic" while others are more specific (Gender Studies, World War II).  Some contain a type of publication (Reference, Newspapers).   Searching via a specific database may provide a more precise search by taking advantage of it's own unique features.

Library Catalog  the library's books, music, DVDs and more.  The catalog also provides gateway links to ConnectNY and Summon.  You can renew books, request new ones and see what new titles the library has acquired.

All of the tools above can be used more effectively after learning a few simple "operators." 

      • '*' truncation:  comput* returns results that include computer, computing, computation, etc.
      • quote a phrase:  "summer of love"  returns resources that contain that exact phrase
      • '-' excludes a term:  raymond carver -criticism  should filter out most of the literary criticism leaving books by or about the author
      • 'or' combines terms (additive, best to use parens): census (2000 or 2010)

Remember, these "operators" can't read your mind; they only do what they are supposed to do.  You can learn more by consulting the help pages for each user interface.  Most databases also allow you to e-mail articles and export citations to Refworks, along with other time-saving niceties.

Evaluate Results to identify those items that are most timely and relevant to your research

  •  This brief but helpful guide describes how an academic journal article is presented and offers suggestions for "reading strategies" that can save you time.  Most scholarly articles will include an abstract, a brief summary of the content, that will help you decide if it is relevant to your topic.
  • Look carefully at your search results.  What you think is a book may be a book review.  An article may be in an edited collection published as a book. When was it published?  Is it peer-reviewed?
  • Revise your search if you are not happy with the results.  

If you are not seeing articles or books relevant to your topic try to be more specific.  Are there unique terms associated with your topic?  If you are researching the Ainu people of Japan then searching for ainu is much better than japanese tribal culture.  Are there synonyms or equivalent terms, i.e., climate change instead of global warming.

If your results are not adequate, few in number or poor quality, you may not be searching the best database.  Make sure there are no filters or restrictions on your search.  You may be using too many search terms.  

Why Students Should Use Schaffer Library? - Watch these short videos to find out. They were scripted and produced by Trevor Martin ’14 and feature current Union undergraduates.  Why You Should Always Use Summon Instead of Google and Why Friends Shouldn't Always Rely on Friends.

Primary Sources - Your assignment may require the use of primary source material.  Simply put, primary source material is anything that is related to your topic that is not the result of someone else's research.  Typically, this is written material such as diaries, correspondence, historical newspapers, official papers and documents, etc.  Include one of these terms or all when searching, i.e., civil war (diar* or correspondence or letters or papers).  Google Search may also be a good way to locate primary sources or institutions that own them.  Here are links to the advanced search page and help using operators.

The Writing Center can help you.  Begin writing early as it can help you to clarify your thinking.