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Focusing Your Research Paper

Want help in making sure your paper topic is something you are interested in and you can manage to write about? Follow this step-by-step guide to improve your results. Want help creating an outline for your paper or learning how to successfully write a 1

Review and Prepare for Searching

So, you now have a list of questions you might want to answer in your paper and you've fleshed out a topic statement which will keep you focused as you go through the next steps.  What are these next steps?  You'll want to start gathering your preliminary or working bibliographyThe sources you'll find now will help you create a thesis statement and shape the direction of your research plans.

Before you start on that part of the process, though, take a moment to review a few things first:

> Review your keywords from step 1.  Have any of them changed since then, and are those changes significant?  If so, make sure that the direction you are taking is still consistent with the assignment.  Don't write a paper like the one Schroder does in "The Book Report" in the box below.

> Do the questions and claims you've listed in step 2 provide any new keywords? Look for verbs or words that describe a group, event, or action.

> Take a moment to look for some synonymns to the keywords you've identified.  These can be more specific (for "eating disorders" you can use specific varieties of eating disorders) or equivalent words ("men," "males," "teenage boys" "adolescents," etc.).

> Make sure you know what an acronym spells out as some databases will use the fully spelled out name and you could get unrelated results (AIDS, could get you results on government aid or aides to a key figure, as well as results on the disease).

> Decide on how your keywords fit together so you can use the "Boolean operators" many online catalogues and databases provide (see the box to the right).

> Think about what kind of information you need to answer your questions or claims.  This is another way to narrow your research.  If you need data, you can add the word "statistics" to your search terms; if you need public opinion on a topic or issue, you can look for resources on "opinion polls."  See the worksheet linked below for more ideas on this.

Boolean Operators

Boolean operators help form relationships among words.  The operators are AND, OR, NOT

> Words connected with AND require both terms to be in the results (teens AND eating disorders)

> Words connected with OR will return results with either or both term in the results - best used for synonyms (teens OR adolescents OR teenagers)

> Words connected with NOT return results without the word after the NOT (teens AND eating disorders NOT women)

Most of the resources you'll use will assume an AND between words if you don't supply an operator (Internet search engines do this, which is one of the reasons why you get so many results).  The Boolean operators don't have to be in upper case.

If you are going to be putting a string of synonyms together using OR check with one of the librarians or library assistants at the Jones Reference desk about how to do this without getting too many results.

If you'd like a demonstration of how Boolean operators work in a database, check out the short video in the box below.

For those of you who process information visually, check out the link below to an interactive diagram of how Boolean operators work.

Connecting Keywords with AND, OR, and NOT

You can view the short video below (from our longer Introduction to Library Research tutorial) for a demonstration of how Boolean operators work in a database.

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